Cortado vs Macchiato: What’s the Difference? (Answers Inside)

May 26, 2024 | Uncategorized

Written By: Millie Pham
Last Updated: May 30, 2024

With so many espresso-based drinks, it's easy to get mixed up, especially when it comes to drinks like cortados and macchiatos.

They're both popular choices among coffee enthusiasts, but what really sets them apart?

I promise, by the end of this post, you'll not only know the difference between these two coffee beverages, but you'll also be able to order like a pro.

We'll explore the unique flavors, origins, and even cultural significance that make each drink special.

So, let's get started!

Cortado vs Macchiato: A Quick Look

Cortado and macchiato give you distinct coffee experiences. Cortado, a balanced blend of espresso and steamed milk, delivers a smooth, mellow sip. Macchiato, bold and succinct, gives an intense espresso hit with a dollop of foam. Choose cortado for a softer touch or macchiato for a robust espresso essence.


cortado coffee drink by millie pham

Cortado is a drink that might not always make the main board, but when it does, it's a sign of a coffee place that takes its espresso seriously.

The cortado is a straightforward, no-frills beverage.

It's what you get when you want more than a macchiato but aren't quite in the mood for a cappuccino.

In essence, it's equal parts espresso and steamed milk, usually around one-and-a-half to two ounces of each.

This simple mix results in a drink where the espresso's strength is present but softened by the milk, reducing the acidity and making for a smooth sip.

Popular in Spain and Portugal, the cortado is for those who appreciate the full flavor of espresso without the harshness.

It's espresso, tamed and toned down, and it's a solid choice for an everyday coffee ritual.



The term 'macchiato' can be a source of confusion in the coffee world, with its meaning varying from place to place.

At its core, the original espresso macchiato is simple: a shot of espresso with a small amount of steamed milk, just enough to 'stain' it.

This traditional version is what you'll typically get if you order a macchiato without any qualifiers.

However, there are a few twists on the classic. Some cafes might serve a double shot, known as a double or long macchiato, which is just a larger take on the original.

And then there's the milk. While a true macchiato has only a hint of milk, some versions add more, veering into what might be considered a small latte.

The latte macchiato flips the script, with milk as the star and espresso providing the accent.

It's a layered affair, with steamed milk forming the base and a carefully poured shot of espresso creating a distinct middle layer, capped off with foam.

Moving further from tradition, the Starbucks caramel macchiato combines espresso, milk, caramel, and vanilla syrup for a decidedly sweet concoction, with the caramel drizzle serving as the 'macchiato' element.

Cortado vs Macchiato Key Differences

1. Origins

The cortado comes from Spain and Portugal, where it's been a staple in coffee culture for years.

It's a drink born from the idea of cutting through the strong taste of espresso with just the right amount of warm milk.

On the other hand, the macchiato has Italian roots. In Italy, 'macchiato' means 'stained' or 'spotted,' and that's exactly what the drink is: espresso 'stained' with a splash of milk.

While both drinks have European origins, they reflect their unique cultural heritages in taste and presentation.

The cortado is about harmony and balance, while the macchiato is about adding a delicate touch to a robust espresso.

2. Taste and Texture

When you take a sip of a cortado, you'll notice it's smooth. The espresso is there, but it's mellowed out by the warm milk.

It's not too thick or creamy, just pleasantly velvety. Now, if you try a macchiato, it's a different story.

The espresso is the star, with just a dot of milk. It's bold, a bit sharp, and definitely for those who love the rich taste of coffee.

The texture is lighter, too, because there's not much milk in there.

So, in a nutshell, a cortado is like a gentle hug for your taste buds, while a macchiato is more of a wake-up tap on the shoulder.

3. Size of the Drink

When you're deciding between a cortado and a macchiato, one thing to consider is how big the drink is.

A cortado is usually served in a small glass and has an equal mix of espresso and warm milk.

This makes it a bit larger than a macchiato, which is mostly just a shot of espresso with a tiny bit of milk, often just a spoonful.

So, if you're looking for a quick hit of coffee, the macchiato is your go-to. But if you want something to enjoy for a few more sips, the cortado is the better choice.

4. Strength and Caffeine

A standard cortado is made with a single shot of espresso, which typically contains about 63 milligrams of caffeine.

Since the cortado is equal parts espresso and milk, the caffeine content doesn't change; it's just less concentrated because of the added milk.

On the other hand, a traditional macchiato also starts with a single shot of espresso, so the caffeine content is the same as a cortado's—around 63 milligrams.

However, because a macchiato has only a small mark of milk, the drink is smaller, and the caffeine taste is more pronounced.

In both drinks, if you opt for a double shot, you'll double the caffeine, bringing it to about 126 milligrams.

5. Preparation and Ingredients

For a cortado, you take a shot of espresso and add the same amount of steamed milk to it. That's it. You get a warm, cozy drink that's half espresso, half milk.

Now, a macchiato is even simpler: you start with a shot of espresso and just add a little spot of milk—just enough to mellow the espresso's sharpness a tiny bit.

So, the cortado has two main parts—espresso and milk—mixed together, while the macchiato is mostly just strong espresso with a dot of milk on top.

6. Cultural Image

The cortado comes from Spain, where people enjoy their coffee smooth and balanced. It's a laid-back drink, perfect for a mid-morning break or a relaxed afternoon.

In contrast, the macchiato is Italian. It's all about the love for a strong espresso shot with just a hint of milk.

It's often enjoyed as a quick, energizing pick-me-up, something to sip on the go or after a meal.

These drinks carry with them an image of the lifestyles they come from: the cortado's image is about taking a moment to pause, while the macchiato's is about savoring the boldness of life, one sip at a time.


Is flat white the same as cortado?

No, a flat white isn't the same as a cortado. A flat white typically has more milk and is made with microfoam, which gives it a velvety texture.

It's also served in a larger cup, making it a bigger drink overall compared to the smaller, stronger cortado, which has a more equal balance of espresso and milk.

Why is a cortado served with sparkling water?

Cortados are often served with sparkling water because the water helps cleanse your taste buds.

This makes it easier to appreciate the rich flavors of the espresso when you take a sip. It's like hitting the reset button on your palate between drinks.

Is a piccolo the same as a macchiato?

No, a piccolo isn't the same as a macchiato.

A piccolo, which is short for piccolo latte, is usually made with a single shot of espresso topped with steamed milk, served in a small glass.

It has a higher ratio of milk to coffee than a macchiato, which traditionally is just an espresso with a small amount of milk foam on top.

The Final Verdict: The Ultimate Coffee Drink Winner

In summary, the differences between a cortado and a macchiato boil down to the milk ratio and the intensity of the espresso.

If you prefer a milder coffee experience with a balanced blend of milk and espresso, go for a cortado.

But if you're all about that bold espresso flavor with just a hint of milk, the macchiato is your match.

Now that you're clued up, why not head to your local coffee shop and put your new knowledge to the test?

Order a cortado or a macchiato and savor the difference!

More to read: Americano Vs Cortado: What’s the Difference?

Millie Pham

Hi there! I'm Millie Pham, a devoted brewer and tea lover at heart. As the founder of Bean Leaf Cup, my mission is to share my tea and coffee expertise with you all. I firmly believe that creating a fantastic cup of tea or coffee should be easy for everyone. No matter if you're already a coffee or tea expert or just beginning your journey, I'm here to help you navigate the world of brewing. Welcome aboard!

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