Macchiato Vs Cortado Coffee: Explained

Macchiato vs cortado: Discover the key differences between these popular coffee drinks.

Macchiato vs cortado
Macchiato vs. Cortado

I first heard about cortados when a friend explained why they weren’t macchiatos in my local coffee shop. I 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 an Italian brew containing a shot of espresso with foamed milk floating on top.

A cortado is a Spanish brew containing a double shot of espresso cut with an equal amount of steamed milk.

Macchiato vs Cortado: A Definitive Comparison

Milk and espresso are the key ingredients in most coffee beverages. However, both espresso drinks, a macchiato and a cortado, differ in how they are prepared and use milk.

What is a Macchiato?

A macchiato is a single shot of espresso with a dash of foamed milk. The milk cuts the edge off the espresso without taking away much of the flavor. Macchiatos originated in Italy and are popular as an early-morning beverage. The word Macchiato translates as stained or marked.

What is a Cortado?

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

  Macchiato Cortado
Espresso single shot double shot
Milk 1-2 tsp. equal parts
Prep foamed steamed
Size 1.5 oz 4 oz

In short, 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

Steamed and foamed milk are often used together to create popular coffee drinks. The most obvious difference between a macchiato and a cortado is the amount of milk.

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 popular Italian 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 milk is often found in a Mocha and a Macchiato.

Steamed and foamed milk are often used together to create popular coffee drinks. If you get good at frothing milk, you can create all kinds of different drinks with the same set of tools and ingredients.

Ingredients for Cortados And Macchiatos

Espresso machine pouring espresso coffee
Enjoy most espresso-based coffee beverages

Tasting both beverages is the best way to learn the difference between a cortado and a macchiato. You can prepare these and other popular coffee drinks if you can make espresso. 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 the correct ratio of espresso 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. You can always heat your milk on the stove.
  • Frothing pitcher – These small silver pitchers retain heat and let you froth or steam the correct milk ratio. Look for one with measurements down the side for a simpler brewing experience.
  • Espresso cup – A small cup, also known as a demitasse, is smaller than a traditional coffee mug. Demitasses hold about 2-3 ounces of liquid and are used to serve macchiatos and the correct ratio of espresso shots.
  • Cortado glass – A cortado is traditionally served in a small glass that holds about 4.5 ounces of liquid. Any small coffee mug will do if you don’t have a cortado glass.

These tools will set you up to enjoy most espresso-based coffee beverages, including 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 coffee beans to make both macchiatos and cortados, but espresso beans have the strongest taste. Use whole beans, and grind them before brewing.
  • Milk – It doesn’t matter whether you like whole milk or 2%. For the best taste, keep it cold and fresh until right before you steam it.

Cortados and macchiatos don’t include sugar or coffee syrup. Instead, these drinks highlight the flavor of the espresso and the artistry of the foamed or steamed milk.

How to Make A Macchiato

A traditional 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. Make sure to choose dark beans as Macchiatos are typically associated with rich, dark roasts packed with flavor. With that said, a light roast could be equally delicious.

Macchiatos only contain a small amount of milk. In fact, the name macchiato translates to “stained,” as if you’re staining the top of your espresso with a little cream. Even though you’ll use a dash, froth a full ounce of milk. Using a steam wand correctly is harder with less milk.

  1. Brew the espresso. Traditional macchiatos are made with a single shot, but there’s nothing stopping you from making a double – dollop on more milk foam.
  2. Heat the milk. If you have a steam wand, the milk will froth and heat simultaneously. 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 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 dilutes the espresso and collapses the foam. If you want more milk, add a second dollop of foam.

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

How To Make A 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.

Barista man making cortado coffee at coffee machine pouring milk in espresso cup at cafe
Pour two shots of steamed milk directly into the cortado and use a gentle motion to avoid splashing

Cortados are “cut” with milk, meaning the coffee taste will not be as robust. You can increase the acidity with a different coffee bean or highlight the flavor of the milk with a sweeter or nuttier espresso.

Since you’ll be using equal parts milk to espresso, measure two milk shots in your pitcher. Adding 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 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 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 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. Read our guide about the history of Cuban coffee.

Related Questions

What is the caffeine content for a cortado?

A cortado contains two espresso shots. Assuming you’re not using particularly strong coffee, that equals to approximately 136 mg of caffeine.

Is a cortado 1 or 2 shots?

A cortado is typically made with one shot of coffee.

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 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 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.

Is cortado the same as a latte?

These are different drinks. A cortado contains a 1:1 ratio of steamed milk and espresso. A latte is contains espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam in equal measure. It has a distinct, frothy mouthfeel and tastes sweeter.


  • Aisling O'Connor

    Aisling is an Irish food and drinks writer and journalist fueled by coffee and herbal tea. She followed up her journalism degree with nutrition studies.