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Cortado vs Macchiato: Which to Choose?

Some people prefer long, luxurious coffees made from plenty of steamed milk, foam and a sharp shot of espresso. 

Whereas, others like the no nonsense, punchy flavour of a short coffee, which emphasizes the espresso and tops it off with a small amount of milk or foam. 

In this article, I will be focussing on two of the most popular shot coffee drinks, that use a strong, double shot of espresso along with a relatively low volume of steamed milk. These are the cortado and the macchiato

Both of these espresso based drinks are very popular amongst coffee lovers that want that quick caffeine hit, without the fuss. But, what actually is the difference between a cortado and a macchiato? Well, let’s find out! 

What’s the Difference Between a Cortado and a Macchiato? 

The main difference between a cortado and a macchiato is the volume and texture of steamed milk used. Whilst both drinks start with a 2 oz double shot of freshly brewed espresso, a cortado is topped with an equal amount (1:1 ratio) of steamed milk. On the other hand, a macchiato simply contains a small spoonful of milk foam, on top of the espresso shots. 

A cortado is a well balanced coffee thanks to the use of steamed milk, foam and espresso, whereas a macchiato gets its name from an espresso shot being ‘marked’ with a dot of foam. This makes the cortado creamier, larger and less intense in flavour when compared to a macchiato. 

Another difference between the cortado and the macchiato is that the cortado originated in Spain, whereas the macchiato came from Italy. 

So, let’s dig a little deeper into exactly what cortados and macchiatos are, and which espresso based drink you should choose!  

What is a Cortado?

A cortado is a small, espresso based coffee that combines a double shot of espresso with an equal amount of lightly steamed milk, and a touch of foam to top it off. 

A cortado is actually a Spanish coffee that is served in a small espresso cup. The lightly steamed milk in a cortado is added to reduce the acidity and bitterness of the espresso itself, but generally speaking a cortado is drunk quite quickly, just like a shot of espresso. 

The cortado is a creamy, well balanced coffee that is somewhat similar to a flat white (often thought of as the ‘baby latte’), however a cortado is actually stronger and more intense than a flat white. This makes the cortado perfect for the coffee enthusiast that wants to enjoy a strong espresso, with enough steamed milk to balance out the acidity and bitterness.

Where a Cortado Comes From

The cortado originated in Spain, although it is difficult to trace any specific historical record of when it was first invented. The Cortado was popularised back in the 1930s in Cuba, where it got its name. 

The word cortado refers to the phrase “to cut” in Spanish, which insinuates that black espresso is cut with hot milk. 

What a Cortado is

A cortado is a small, espresso based drink that features roughly a 1:1 ratio of espresso and lightly steamed milk. This gives the cortado a smooth and creamy texture, but it still retains a strong espresso taste. 

A small amount of residual foam is used to top the cortado, and this is where some light barista work and patterning can occur. 

In terms of ingredients and construction, arguably the most closely related coffee to a cortado is a flat white. 

I wrote an article explaining what a Cortado is and how to make one here, so if you are interested in giving it a go yourself from the comfort of your own home, check it out! 

What is a Macchiato?

A Macchiato is a very popular, traditional espresso based drink that combines rich, earthy espresso with a dollop of milk foam on top. 

A macchiato is a close relative to a simple double shot of espresso, since it is only separated by the small dot of foam on the surface of the drink. 

A macchiato is for the coffee lover that likes the strength and efficiency of drinking a double shot of espresso, but simply wants to take a bit of the edge off by adding a small amount of milk foam for good measure. 

Where a Macchiato Comes From

The origins of the macchiato, as with many coffee based drinks, hail from Italy. The name of the macchiato stems from traditional Italian baristas showing their apprentices and waiters how to create an espresso with a ‘spot’ of milk foam. 

According to the Wikipedia page for the macchiato, the brown crema on the surface of the espresso shot was ‘marked’ (hence the name macchiato) with white milk foam, to demonstrate the difference between a standard espresso shot and one with milk.

What a Macchiato is

A macchiato is a very basic, but strong and earthy coffee that simply combines a double shot of espresso with a small amount of foam. Residual foam is created when milk is steamed, and this is added to the top of an espresso to add a touch of creaminess to an otherwise bitter espresso. 

I wrote an article explaining what a Macchiato is and how to make one here, so if you are interested in giving it a go yourself from the comfort of your own home, check it out! 

The Similarities Between a Cortado and a Macchiato: Explained

 There are a number of similarities between both of these short espresso based drinks. 

Both Use a Double Shot of Espresso

Since both a cortado and macchiato are strong coffees that emphasize the rich, earthiness of the freshly ground beans, they both use a double shot of espresso to maintain their intense flavor. 

Cortados and Macchiatos Are Intense

Compared to milky coffees like lattes and cappuccinos, both cortados and macchiatos are pretty intense. Due to the lack of milk used in both of these short coffees, the cortado and macchiato both offer a rich, aromatic coffee kick! 

The Differences Between a Cortado and a Macchiato: Explained

So, here are the main differences between a Macchiato and a cortado. Whilst they may sound relatively similar, there are actually a number of key differences between them! 

A Cortado is Larger than a Macchiato

Whilst both a cortado and a macchiato are smaller than their milkier, foamier counterparts, they are not actually the same size. A cortado is often served in a glass, and the overall volume is around 4 oz (2 oz of espresso, combined with 2 oz of steamed milk). However, a macchiato is served in a small espresso cup, since the double shot of espresso is simply topped with a small amount of foam. 

A Cortado Comes from Spain, Whereas a Macchiato Comes from Italy

You may think that the majority of coffee drinks come from Italy, and whilst this is the case for the macchiato, it is not for the cortado! 

The macchiato was first introduced in Italy when the coffee house and restaurant wonders were showing their waiting staff how an espresso shot differs when topped with milk. 

On the other hand, the cortado was first drunk in Spain, and it was later brought into the mainstream in Cuba around the 1930s. 

Macchiatos are Much Stronger than Cortados

Due to the fact that a macchiato contains a lot less milk and foam than a cortado, but still contains the same double shot of espresso, a macchiato tastes a lot stronger than a cortado. You can really taste the dark, earthiness of the espresso in a macchiato a lot more clearly than you can in a cortado.

Cortados Have a Smoother Texture than Macchiatos

Due to the extra time that the cortados’ milk is spent steaming, coupled with the foam it is topped with, a cortado has a much smoother and more creamy texture than a macchiato.

The macchiato has a foamy start, but then sharp, bitter espresso quickly washes away the milk and leaves an earthy taste at the back of the throat.  

Cortados Tend Take Longer to Drink

Because a cortado has a richer texture and simply a greater volume of liquid, it is generally enjoyed as a longer drink than a macchiato. Of course, these are short espresso based drinks, but where a cortado takes a couple of sips to get down, a macchiato can be drunk in one fell swoop! 

Macchiatos are More Acidic than Cortados

Since a macchiato contains less milk to offset the acidity of the espresso compared to a cortado, it is a more acidic drink. 

So, Which Should You Choose? 

So, Macchiato or cortado, which should you pick! 

Well, despite sounding quite similar, a Macchiato and cortado are actually quick different drinks!

If you are looking for a short, sharp coffee to pick you up and don’t mind a strong flavor kick, then a macchiato will suit you best.

However, if you want a more balanced combination of steamed milk and strong espresso, a cortado would be the better option. 


Overall, cortados and macchiatos are both short, sharp coffees that combine a double shot of espresso with a small amount of steamed milk or foam. 

However, where a cortado uses a 1:1 espresso to milk ratio, a macchiato simply tops a double shot with a dollop of airy foam. 

This makes the macchiato a stronger, more bitter coffee as it simply takes the edge off a bitter double shot of espresso. 

So, next time you are in your local coffee shop, give one of these classic coffee drinks a try!

Related Questions 

Why is a Macchiato Smaller than a Cortado?

A cortado contains a double shot of espresso, and an equal measurement of steamed milk. With this in mind, a cortado is usually served in a 4 oz espresso cup, whereas a macchiato is simply a double shot of espresso topped with a small amount of foam. This means a macchiato is often served in a small, 2 oz espresso cup. 

What is a Piccolo?

A piccolo latte is a small coffee that is most closely related to a flat white. The piccolo has been popularised in Australia, and contains a single shot of ristretto espresso, rather than the double shot of regular espresso that is found in both the cortado and macchiato. 


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