Both the macchiato and cortado coffee drinks start with the same base: espresso and milk.
They seem to be similar drinks (after all, we’re talking about those same two ingredients, espresso, and milk) and yet they’re different.
What’s the difference between the two drinks, how can you recognize the real thing, and how can you make them at home? Let’s get started.
Macchiato vs Cortado Summary
Both macchiato and cortado drinks are small cups of espresso with small amounts of foamed or steamed textured milk (or a non-dairy milk substitute).
Related Read: Espresso Drinks
Most countries that have an espresso culture have their own version of espresso served with a dab of milk. The coffee drink is called by different names around the world: cortado, macchiato, marron, café pingado, piccolo latte, or noisette.
As we already talked about, macchiato and cortado drinks are all composed of the same ingredients, coffee and milk.
So what’s the difference between these beverages? The difference is in the details.
There’s a lot of confusion about this, and one of the reasons for the confusion is there are many ways to prepare and serve each drink. The amount of espresso can vary (one shot of espresso or two shots), and the milk ratio often changes from barista to barista.
What’s the difference between a macchiato vs a cortado? I’ll make it easy for you: a general rule of thumb is that a macchiato has more coffee than milk, while a cortado has more milk.
Let’s talk about what a macchiato is. While a macchiato has a lot of variations and different flavors, there is something that coffee experts agree on: macchiato is an Italian drink, and the name macchiato translates as marked or spotted.
The idea is that the shot of espresso gets spotted with a bit of foamed milk.
From there the details of the drink get a bit murkier. Some of the questions that baristas and coffee shops have to answer are:
- Exactly how much coffee goes into a macchiato?
- How much milk should be added?
- Does it get foam or milk?
- Should you add other ingredients to a macchiato? (For instance, Starbucks adds caramel syrup)
Generally, there are two types of macchiato. There’s the latte macchiato, which as the name suggests, gets a large amount of milk. But most baristas at coffee shops will serve you an espresso macchiato.
An espresso macchiato is a single espresso served in a small cup with a tiny bit, often just a spoonful, of foamed milk. The amount of milk makes an espresso macchiato different from a latte macchiato.
What are some variations of the macchiato?
- Some baristas make macchiato with milk instead of foam
- Some make it with a double espresso
- Some make it with foam and milk
- Some baristas ask the customer what they want
Based on a one-ounce shot of espresso, a traditional macchiato may have just a touch of foamed milk. But sometimes it is served with a coffee to milk ratio closer to 1:1.
What is a cortado?
A cortado is a traditional Spanish drink. The name means cut, as in the coffee is cut with a small amount of milk.
Essentially, a cortado is a shot of espresso balanced out by an equal amount of silky steamed milk.
A cortado is different than a macchiato because it will generally have a bit more milk, as much as double the amount of espresso. The cortado has a sweeter taste because of the increased amount of warm milk, which helps balance out any bitterness.
At times made with equal parts warm milk to coffee, you often see it made with two ounces of espresso and the same amount of steamed milk. A cortado is different from a basic latte or cappuccino because it has less dairy.
When you order a cortado in the United States, it will be different than what you would be served in Spain. In Spain, coffee lovers get a small cup of coffee, while in the United States they’ll get a milky drink almost double the size.
Light roast coffee is rarely used for a cortado since the tradition in Spain is to use dark roast coffee. This creates drinks with less acidity and a smoother taste.
Related Read: Spanish Coffee Drinks
The Difference Is Milk
As you can see, the difference between a cortado or macchiato mainly lies in the amount of foamed or steamed milk and how it’s prepared.
A macchiato, which has just a little frothed milk, has different flavors than a cortado. If you want your macchiato even stronger, you can ask for a double espresso shot to get twice the coffee.
A cortado has equal parts steamed milk to coffee, which makes a milky coffee beverage. Generally, there’s less dairy in a macchiato.
The way the milk is prepared is also different. A macchiato is made with foamed milk, while cortados generally get steamed milk. That also makes a cortado more creamy.
Are macchiatos better than, for instance, a latte?
Macchiatos are loved by people who want the strength of the espresso without bitterness.
Also, downing a large, milk-based coffee beverage on a full stomach has always been an Italian no-no. For that reason, most Italians feel cappuccinos are better in the morning, not the afternoon.
That’s where a macchiato comes in handy. When you’re craving a milky drink in the afternoon, a macchiato gives you the creamy mouthfeel without the potential upset stomach.
Who likes macchiatos?
If you love espresso but crave a bit more sweetness, this drink might be for you. You get the smoother texture of foamed milk but still get the full espresso taste.
As you can see, the difference between a cortado or macchiato and a traditional latte or cappuccino is mostly in the amount of dairy. Those tiny details make a big difference.
What You Need to Make Cortado or Macchiato
Making a cortado or macchiato at home is easy and satisfying.
You do need some equipment, but you can usually adapt what you already have at home. Let’s go over the gear you need and the ingredients that go into a cortado and macchiato.
Espresso machine – You can use a manual espresso machine or an automatic one. You can even use a capsule machine. If you don’t have an espresso machine, you can get good results brewing coffee in a Moka Pot or in an immersion method like a French Press.
Coffee – Obviously, you need coffee to make a cortado or macchiato! I always recommend that you start with whole bean coffee so you can grind it fresh and specifically for your machine or brewing method. Freshly ground coffee contributes to getting the tastiest espresso shot.
Coffee grinder – Unless you’re using a capsule machine, you’ll need ground coffee. To get the best results, buy whole bean coffee and grind it according to the brewing method you have. All espresso machines require a fine grind. When brewing coffee in an immersion method, use a coarse grind and a 4-minute brewing time.
Milk – Most baristas prefer whole milk or 2%. You can also use non-dairy milk substitutes such as oat milk or almond milk.
Milk frother – If you have a full espresso machine, it will have a steam wand to froth dairy. If your espresso machine or capsule machine doesn’t have a steam wand, you can steam the milk with a milk frother, either a manual one or an automatic frother.
Perfecting The Macchiato
Making a macchiato at home lets you tweak the recipe and make the coffee beverage as strong as you want or as creamy as you want, all without having to give detailed explanations to your barista.
You can start with the basic recipe and then adapt it according to your preferences. You can add a double shot of espresso, more steamed milk, more milk foam, or even other ingredients like caramel syrup.
What goes into a macchiato?
- 18 g ground coffee fine ground (or a coffee pod)
- 1 ounce of milk (you’ll need about 50-100 ml of frothed milk, or the least amount you can froth in your machine)
A macchiato is traditionally served in a demitasse or espresso cup that has a 50-80 ml capacity.
Now let’s go step by step to see how to make a macchiato, including common mistakes that you can avoid making.
The first step in preparing coffee is weighing the coffee beans. Weigh out 18 grams of coffee. If you are using a capsule machine, you can skip to Step 4.
Grind the beans according to the way you’ll brew them. For an espresso machine, grind the beans fine. If you plan on brewing in an immersion method, keep the grind coarse so the brew doesn’t get bitter.
If you will use an espresso machine, place the finely ground coffee beans in the portafilter and tamp the grinds.
If you’re using an espresso machine, pull a shot. If you’re using a capsule machine or other brewing method, prepare a strong coffee. Pour the coffee into a small cup, such as a demitasse cup.
Steam the milk until you get about 1-2 cm of foam on top.
Barista tips: Be careful to not overheat the milk, which gives coffee drinks off-flavors or additional bitterness. Since it’s not easy to steam small amounts of milk, you might have to practice a bit first with larger amounts of milk. (You can use the extra milk for other drinks). You can also use an automatic or manual frother.
Spoon 1 tablespoon of foam on coffee. If you would like to add a bit of warm milk, you can add steamed milk to taste.
Perfecting The Cortado
What goes into the perfect cortado?
- Espresso made with 18 g of ground coffee
- 2 ounces of milk
Let’s go through the steps to make a cortado.
Weigh out 18 grams of coffee beans. If you are using a capsule machine or another brewing method, skip to Step 4.
Grind the beans fine for an espresso machine.
Place ground coffee in portafilter and tamp your grounds.
Pull an espresso shot. If you want to use a double shot of espresso, prepare accordingly.
If you’re using a capsule machine, make an espresso. If you’re using another brewing method, brew a strong coffee. Pour the coffee into a small cup.
If you’re using an espresso machine, steam the milk. It can be difficult to steam small amounts of milk, so you might have to use a larger amount of milk than you need for your cortado.
If you don’t have a steam wand, frothing milk in an automatic or manual milk frother gets good results.
Pour 2 ounces of steamed warm milk into the coffee, or more according to your preference.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is cortado the same as flat white?
The two drinks look similar, but a cortado is different from a flat white in the amount of milk used to make the beverage. A flat white starts with a doppio (double shot) that gets topped with microfoam. It generally gets 4 ounces of milk, which is more than in a cortado.
What does Starbucks call a cortado?
While not all Starbucks menus will have a cortado, you can certainly ask the barista to whip one up for you.
If the barista doesn’t know what a cortado is, you can ask for a double shot of ristretto espresso with 4 ounces of foamed milk in a 6-ounce cup. They might call it an espresso macchiato, so ask your barista before ordering.
What is the difference between a cortado and a cortadito?
The two coffee drinks sound almost the same, which makes them easy to confuse. A cortado is a Spanish drink with an espresso shot and steamed milk at a ratio of 1:2 (coffee to dairy).
A cortadito is the Cuban version of this espresso drink. An espresso (or very strong coffee) is finished off with steamed milk, evaporated milk, or sweetened condensed milk.
The ratio of coffee to dairy can vary, with 1:1 (or equal parts milk to coffee) being common. A cortadito is a very strong, heavily sweetened beverage.