Macchiato vs Cortado Coffee: Explained

Macchiato vs cortado: These coffee drinks get mixed up all the time.

In fact, I first heard about cortados because someone was explaining why they weren't macchiatos. Obviously, I then had to taste both drinks to know what people were talking about.

How is a macchiato different from a cortado? Both macchiatos and cortados are small drinks made by combining espresso with milk, but that's where the similarities end. A macchiato is a shot of espresso with foamed milk floating on top. A cortado is a double shot of espresso cut with an equal amount of steamed milk.

If I'm being honest, both of these beverages sound absolutely delicious. Let's dive into the differences between the two and learn how to make these amazing espresso drinks.

A cup of coffee on a table, with Milk and Cortado

Macchiato vs. Cortado: A Definitive Comparison

Macchiatos and cortados aren't actually very similar. Milk and espresso are the key ingredients in most coffee beverages; the distinctions come from how much milk is used and how the drinks are prepared.

A macchiato is a single shot of espresso with a dash of foamed milk. The tiny bit of milk cuts the edge off the espresso without taking away too much of the flavor. Macchiatos originated in Italy and are very popular as an early-morning beverage.

A cortado is a double shot of espresso cut in half with steamed milk. Cortados are from Spain, and the name literally means cut up. Cortados are at least 50% milk, but some baristas like to add even more for a smoother and creamier drink.

If you really want to see the difference, take a look at the recipes. The ingredients are the same, but the amounts vary quite a bit.

Espressosingle shotdouble shot
Milk1-2 tsp.equal parts
Size1.5 oz4 oz

An easy way to think about the difference between these two drinks is that macchiatos favor the espresso while cortados favor the milk. A macchiato is the closest thing you can get to an espresso shot without cutting the milk entirely. A cortado has so much milk that it changes the color and temperature of the drink.

Foamed vs. Steamed Milk

The most obvious difference between a macchiato and a cortado is the amount of milk. But there's another difference that greatly impacts the taste, and it's how the milk is prepared.

Macchiatos use foamed milk. Foamed milk can be made with either a milk frother or a steam wand. As the tool moves through the warm milk, it traps air under the surface and creates small bubbles. This results in a light and airy beverage that taste delicious in lattes, cappuccinos, and other warm coffee drinks.

Cortados use steamed milk. Steamed milk is heated, but no air bubbles are added. This results in a smooth, creamy, and dense texture. If you don't have a steam wand, you can create steamed milk on the stove by heating it until it's just about to boil.

Steamed and foamed milk are often used together to create popular coffee drinks. For example, a cappuccino is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foamed milk. If you get good at frothing milk, you can create all kinds of different drinks with the same set of tools and ingredients.

Everything You Need to Make Cortados and Macchiatos

The best way to learn the difference between a cortado and a macchiato is to taste both beverages. If you can make espresso, you can make these and many other drinks. You'll need the following tools to get started:

  • Espresso maker – Whether you prefer a modern espresso machine, a stovetop espresso maker, or a traditional espresso press, you need a way to pull delicious shots for your coffee drinks.

  • Coffee grinder – Freshly-ground beans are always best. For espresso, you'll want to use a burr grinder to create a super-fine texture.

  • Milk frother – Some espresso machines come with a steam wand. If yours doesn't, try using a handheld milk frother like this. You can always heat your milk on the stove.

  • Frothing pitcher – These small silver pitchers retain heat and let you froth or steam your milk to perfection. Look for one with measurements down the side for a simpler brewing experience.

  • Espresso cup – An espresso cup, also known as a demitasse, is much smaller than a traditional coffee mug. Demitasses hold about 2-3 ounces of liquid and are used to serve macchiatos and pure espresso shots.

  • Cortado glass – A cortado is traditionally served in a small glass like this that holds about 4.5 ounces of liquid. If you don't have a cortado glass, any small coffee mug will do.

These tools will set you up to enjoy most espresso-based coffee beverages, including both macchiatos and cortados. Make sure you know how to make espresso before you get started. In addition to tools, you'll also need the following ingredients:

  • Coffee beans – You can use any kind of coffee beans to make both macchiatos and cortados, but espresso beans often have the strongest taste. Use whole beans, and grind them right before you brew.

  • Milk – It doesn't matter whether you like whole milk or 2%. For the best taste, make sure that you keep it cold and fresh until right before you steam it.

Cortados and macchiatos don't include sugar or any kind of flavored syrup. Instead, these drinks are meant to highlight the flavor of the espresso and the artistry of the foamed or steamed milk. If you like this post, you might be interested in our short macchiato guide.

Making the Perfect Macchiato

Espresso coffee in a cup.

A macchiato is defined as a shot of espresso topped with a dash of milk. You'll need about 8 grams of beans to make a single macchiato. Prepare them using your favorite method.

You'll be tasting the full flavor of the coffee in this drink, so make sure to choose beans that you really like. Macchiatos are typically associated with rich, dark roasts that are packed with flavor. With that said, a light roast could be equally delicious.

Macchiatos only have a tiny amount of milk. In fact, the name macchiato translates to “stained,” as if you're staining the top of your espresso with just a little bit of cream.

Even though you'll be using just a dash, go ahead and froth a full ounce of milk. This will give you more liquid to work with and make foaming significantly easier.

  1. Brew the espresso. Traditional macchiatos are made with a single shot, but there's nothing stopping you from making a double – just dollop on a little more milk foam at the end.

  2. Heat the milk. If you have a steam wand, the milk will froth and heat at the same time. If not, you'll want to lightly warm your milk over the stove. Remove it from the heat before it starts boiling.

  3. Froth the milk. Milk foam is created when air bubbles are worked into warm milk. Hold the tip of your frother just below the surface of the milk, and try to create as many bubbles as possible.

  4. Pour the shot. Use a gentle hand to pour your espresso shot directly into the demitasse.

  5. Add a spoonful of milk. Scoop the fluffiest foam from the top of your pitcher, and float it gently on the surface of your drink.

Many people pour the foamed milk from the pitcher directly into their macchiatos. Although this method is valid, it tends to dilute the espresso and collapse the foam in the process. If you want more milk, try adding a second dollop of foam.

Fluffy foam is as important to this drink as rich espresso, so give yourself plenty of practice. When you're serving rich, dark shots with little milk-foam towers, you'll know that your macchiatos are perfect.

Making the Perfect Cortado

A cortado is a double shot of espresso cut with an equal amount of steamed milk. You'll need about 16 ounces of espresso beans to make a single serving of this drink.

Cortados are “cut” with milk, which means that the espresso flavor will not be nearly as robust. You can use this to calm down a more acidic coffee bean, or you can highlight the flavor of the milk by choosing a sweeter or nuttier espresso.

Since you'll be using equal parts milk to espresso, go ahead and measure out two shots of milk in your pitcher. Adding a little extra milk is traditional for a cortado, so always err on the side of too much.

  1. Brew the espresso. A cortado is traditionally made with two shots of espresso. You can use as much coffee as you like, but remember to use an equal amount of milk.

  2. Steam the milk. You don't want very many bubbles for a cortado, so immerse your steaming wand completely in the milk. Try rolling the milk around the edge of the pan or the pitcher to get a smoother texture.

  3. Pour the shot. Gently pour the entire double shot of espresso into your cortado glass or mug.

  4. Cut with milk. Pour two shots of steamed milk directly into the cortado. Use a gentle motion to avoid splashing or disrupting the crema from the espresso. Some of the milk will naturally rise to the surface, and the rest will swirl throughout the drink.

A good pour will completely change your cortado experience. Experiment with using a circular motion, or simply pour in a straight line. You don't have to worry about collapsing any foam, which makes cortados a great drink to practice your latte art on.

If the cortado is still too bitter, try making a cortadito. This popular Cuban beverage involves sweetened condensed milk instead of regular milk. If you think the condensed milk is too sweet, try mixing the two until you get the perfect ratio.

Related Questions

What's the difference between a cortado and a flat white?

A flat white uses the same amount of milk as a cortado, but the milk is foamed like a macchiato. The textured milk makes the flat white airy and fluffy, while cortados are creamy and smooth. Because of the extra foam, a flat white may be served in a slightly larger cup with more headroom.


What's the difference between an espresso macchiato and a latte macchiato?

An espresso macchiato is a classic Italian drink that involves “staining” the surface of a shot of espresso with a little foamed milk. A latte macchiato is a drink in which espresso is used to “stain” the surface of steamed milk; foamed milk is usually floated on top.

What's the difference between a cortado and a cortadito?

A cortadito is a Cuban beverage that was inspired by the traditional cortado recipe. In a cortadito, sweetened condensed milk is substituted for normal milk. The condensed milk is steamed and added to the espresso in the same fashion as a cortado.

If you found this guide helpful, check our explanation for Caramel Macchiato Vs Caramel Latte.

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