Cortado vs Macchiato – A Head to Head Comparison

Do you love savoring the intricate flavors of an excellently pulled shot, but are not so keen on the bite of straight-up espresso?

As it turns out there are two items on the menu of traditional espresso beverages that suit this preference perfectly.

The cortado and macchiato.

At first glance, a cortado and a macchiato look like pretty much the same drink. However, there is more to them than meets the eye. Cortados and macchiatos are both small in size with quality being placed over quantity.

You may ask yourself, 

What is the difference between a cortado and a macchiato?

Read on to find out more.

Cortado vs Macchiato – A Quick Comparison :

Cortado is one or two espresso shots cut with a limited amount of steamed milk, ensuring that the taste of the espresso remains prevalent.

Macchiato is shots of espresso crowned with a dollop of steamed milk that barely makes an appearance when tasted, giving the espresso shots all the glory.

Cortado was Invented in Spain

Translate - Cortado means Cut Coffee

Cortado means chopped up or cut in Spanish. This accurately describes the composition of a cortado as an espresso drink. 

First invented in Spain, the cortado is made up of equal portions of espresso shots and steamed milk. 

It’s also called the Gibraltar. This name originated from San Francisco coffee shops where a cortado is served in a 4.5oz glass, of which exactly 2oz is a double espresso shot and the rest filled with milk foam.

In Australia, the cortado is also known as Piccolo.

When you walk into a coffee shop, a cortado is not guaranteed to be on the menu. However, most good baristas know how to make one and can produce one upon request.

Make no mistake, the absence of a cortado as a formal option does not mean it’s not popular. The cortado definitely has a following as it offers you a few very distinct and desirable qualities. 

Read More : Cortado vs Latte – A Direct Comparison

Cortado is A Delicately Portioned Coffee

Composition of Cortado Coffee

A cortado splits the stage with a dash of steamed milk, going half and half. This cut allows just the right amount of sweetness to enter the equation, resulting in a smooth and velvety experience.

Typically, only a single shot of espresso is present in a cortado and is topped with a serving of milk equal to the volume of that shot. The steamed milk used for a cortado is delicate and velvety rather than foamy and removes acidity and bitterness from the espresso.

The end result is a drink that showcases the taste of espresso while still adding an alluring creaminess into the mix.

Barista Tip : A perfectly done cortado balances the power of the espresso with a bit of creaminess in order to mellow the experience slightly.

Cortado can be Served Hot, Very Hot or Even Cold

Cortado in 4oz Glass

Traditionally, cortados are presented in 4oz glass cups

The glass is filled almost or completely to the brim as this cup provides a perfect reference for cutting the shots exactly in half with the steamed milk.

In particularly authentic Spanish cafes, you are often given the option of how hot you’d like the milk used for your cortado to be. 

Hot, very hot, and cold are all possibilities as is another that you probably weren’t expecting – condensed milk.

Great for those who think almond milk is becoming a little too mainstream!

Macchiato was Invented in Italy

Translate - Macchiato means Spotted Coffee

The macchiato originated from Italy. Similar to a cortado, the name is a straight-forward description of the drink. 

Macchiato means marked or stained, referring to what the bit of steamed milk added by the barista does to the espresso.

The addition of a touch of milk ensures that the strength of the espresso is not drowned out.

There are 2 variant of macchiatos,

  • Caffe Macchiato. This is what you’ll get when you order a macchiato. Also known as Espresso Macchiato, where a small amount of foamed milk is added to the espresso.
  • Latte Macchiato. This is a layered coffee where the half an espresso shot is added to the milk.

Don’t be confused a latte macchiato with a latte. They’re are totally different!

Macchiato Contains Mostly Espresso

Composition of Macchiato Coffee

A macchiato is even stricter about the idea that less is more in the milk category. 

The macchiato places the espresso center-stage. 

It’s a prime choice if you’re after a mouthful of rich espresso and only a quick trace of steamed milk. Instead of balancing the shots with an equal serving of steamed milk, only a dollop of foamed milk is used, allowing the drink to remain mostly espresso.

Though there is the least amount of milk possible involved in the structure of a macchiato, it’s the perfect treat if you want to live your espresso experience to the fullest with a little froth as the cherry on top.

Macchiato is Served in A Demitasse Cup

Macchiato in a Red Demitasse Cup

There is a special ceramic cup reserved for macchiatos in high-end coffee shops. 

They are called demitasse cups and are accompanied by a matching saucer and a demitasse spoon. The spoon is used for tasting the froth nestled atop the espresso.

Often times a Rosetta or heart will adorn the top of a macchiato.

Considering a macchiato requires even less milk than a cortado (which is already only an ounce or so!), the portioning is so small that a simple spot of foamed milk on top instead of latte art is permissible.

The fact that timing and the texture of the milk must be perfect in order to work within the limited space the cup affords only makes executing latte art that much more satisfying in my opinion.

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About Sarah Lee

Sarah Lee is a former barista who discovered the power of coffee while maintaining a rigorous dance and writing schedule. She trained as a barista in the third-wave coffee industry, receiving in-depth instruction about how to assemble traditional espresso drinks and perfecting her latte art skills.