Cortado vs Macchiato

Whether you’re an avid coffee drinker or just enjoy the occasional visit to Starbucks, you’ll know that there’s an almost endless variety of speciality coffee to choose from. On top of that, there’s lots of ways to make each coffee uniquely your own.

Don’t get me started on some of the orders that I’ve overheard at my local coffee shop before. It seemed like they were reciting a short story rather than giving a coffee order!

Joking aside, I know that some people are very particular about their coffee and there’s no harm in that. I’m just more fond of the simple stuff myself. But even if you stick to the “simple” orders, there are so many different things to try.

You can choose from cafe con leche, lungo, cappuccino, iced coffee, Americano, latte, mocha – the list goes on. With so many different options, it’s understandable that many people find the sheer variety a little overwhelming.

But don’t stress. I’m here to help.

Today I’ll be taking a closer look at cortado vs macchiato. What are the differences between them? What do they have in common? When should you drink them?

Read on to learn all of this and more!

What is a Cortado?

The name coratdo comes comes from the Spanish verb “cortar”, which means to cut.

It’s a medium-sized (5 oz.) coffee drink. It originated in the Iberian Peninsula, more specifically in northern Spain, in the Basque region.

Its name makes complete sense as the extra milk is supposed to cut through the acidity of the coffee.

It’s made up of a roughly 1:1 ratio of espresso to warm milk and is traditionally served in a rocks glass (or cortado glass) with a double shot of espresso.

What is a Macchiato?

A macchiato (also called an espresso macchiato) is also a mix of coffee and milk.

The name of the drink is derived from the same name macchiato (male) or macchiata (female) in Italian than translates to the adjective “stained” or “marked”.

According to its origin story, this name is a result of baristas needing to differentiate between a normal espresso and one that had a small amount of milk in it so the servers knew which one was which when bringing it to the customers.

The need to differentiate makes sense because a macchiato is also served in a demitasse cup (espresso cup) on a saucer and with a small spoon, much like its milk-free counterpart, the espresso. 

Latte Macchiato vs Espresso Macchiato

Remember that confusion about coffee I mentioned earlier? Well, for a prime example look no further than the word ‘Macchiato’.

Macchiato can refer to two drinks that both feature espresso and milk, but are almost the polar opposite of each other.

An Espresso Macchiato – the original and more traditional form of the drink, is mostly espresso, marked with a small amount of steamed milk and foam. Of the two varieties, the Espresso Macchiato has much more in common with a Cortado.

A Latte Macchiato, on the other hand, consists mostly of steamed milk, with a shot of espresso marking it. This drink much more closely resembles a Latte and tastes more strongly of milk than coffee.

Depending on where you are in the world, just ordering a Macchiato can lead to confusion. In traditional Italian coffee shops, you’ll almost always get the espresso variety. In the US, especially in big chains, you’ll often get a Latte Macchiato if you don’t clarify.

For the purposes of this article I’ll be looking specifically at the Cortado vs Espresso Macchiato.

What’s the Difference Between an Espresso Macchiato vs Cortado?

At first glance an Espresso Macchiato and cortado are pretty much exactly the same, a bit of milk and coffee, right?

Whilst seasoned coffee lovers are probably screaming at the suggestion of such confusion, those that are less well versed may not see such nuances between the two.

However, the nuances are essential and are in fact what makes all the difference.

The most glaring difference comes at the first sight as the drinks are served differently and in different sizes due to the amount of milk.

The macchiato is usually served in a demitasse cup (the cute little ones that you get an espresso in) and a cortado is usually served in a cortado glass, which resembles a rocks glass that you may get a cocktail like a gin and tonic or an Old Fashioned in.

When you visualize these glasses you can imagine that of course, the demitasse cup is much smaller. The macchiato is usually only 2-3 ounces while the cortado is a bit bigger and around 5 ounces.

The other two important differences are in the milk, specifically the type of milk and the ratio of milk to espresso. 

Type of Milk

Differentiating between the type of milk used has two parts to it. It depends on how the milk is prepared and the source of the milk.

The source of milk in the case of the macchiato vs. cortado doesn’t matter in differentiating between them as you can use any milk or milk-drink that you like whether it is 2%, nonfat, almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, etc.

The important difference is how the milk is prepared. The cortado uses steamed milk rather than the foamed milk used in a macchiato and other Italian coffees.

Steamed milk gives the drink a taste and appearance that is very smooth. 

Milk Ratio

Finally, the last big differentiator between the two coffees is the ratio of milk to espresso.

The cortado has a low ratio of espresso to milk. It’s usually about a 1:1 ratio, meaning that there are equal parts milk to coffee.

In the macchiato, which is considerably stronger, and in fact the strongest (by ratio) of the coffees that have both espresso and milk, there is about half the amount but it can vary.

Usually, it’s about 2:1 of espresso to milk or about 1-2 teaspoons. But this can depend on the size of the “splash” of milk that the barista adds. 

Cortado vs Espresso Macchiato – Which is Right for You?

So, now that you have all of the facts maybe now you know which of the coffees is more your style.

But we can break things down a bit more if you are still having trouble deciding.

Since a cortado usually has a double espresso it can be a great drink to kickstart your morning. However, it’s meant to be sipped slowly so you can still take your time and enjoy it. So, if you have some extra time in the morning to enjoy a delicious coffee then the Cortado is for you.

The macchiato on the other hand, while it does have a higher ratio of espresso, is usually served with only one shot of espresso. So if you want to indulge yourself and give yourself a nice boost later in the day, maybe the macchiato is the coffee for you. It’s also how the Italians drink it. So while you may not be in Rome, you can still do as the Romans do!

How to Make a Cortado at Home

Now we get to the fun part – making your own Cortado!

First, the things you need to make a homemade cortado are an espresso machine, coffee beans, your milk of choice (almond milk, rice milk, oat milk etc.), and if you are feeling like a Spaniard and you happen to have it, then you should also use a cortado glass or tumbler glass at the very least.  

Next, after you’ve gathered everything you need, you’ll need to grind the coffee if you’re using beans and measure the correct amount for two shots of espresso. If you’re using already ground coffee, you just need to measure the correct amount.

To maximize the flavor of the coffee you should tamp your coffee grounds. For those that don’t know, tamping is the compressing of the coffee grounds into the portafilter before you put them into the espresso machine. You can check out the importance of a tamper here

After you’ve fully prepared the grounds, place the portafilter with the coffee grounds into the espresso machine and extract two shots of espresso.

After you’ve extracted the espresso, steam your desired milk of choice whatever it may be. My favorites are whole milk or almond milk.

Finally, slowly pour the steamed milk into the espresso and make sure that you keep the 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk.

If you happen to have the appropriate glass then it makes the presentation that much nicer. It should be a treat after all! But of course, a normal coffee mug works just fine.  

How to Make an Espresso Macchiato at Home

If you decide to make a macchiato then you will need all the same equipment as when making the cortado (milk, espresso maker, coffee beans or coffee grounds, cup, tamper) but you will also need a milk frother.

You follow the same steps to make the coffee itself, however, a normal macchiato only has 1 espresso shot. Of course, you can make a double if you like!

Since one of the key differences between a macchiato and a cortado is the milk, the milk preparation is also very different.

Before or during the espresso-making process you should prepare the milk.

To do this, take your milk of choice and warm it. Then, use either a mechanical or manual milk frother to froth or “texturize” your milk until it reaches the desired texture or consistency for you. After you’ve made the espresso into an espresso cup, add the textured milk to the coffee.

Make sure to only add a splash of only 1-2 teaspoons of milk to “mark” it as the Italians do!