Macchiato vs cortado – two of the smallest espresso-based drinks out there.
Are they really any different?
Do they taste the same?
How are they made?
I’ll give you an overview of each one, including variations on both, and answer all your questions about these two delicious drinks.
Let’s get to it!
Macchiato: The Overview
The Macchiato originally comes from Italy a couple of decades ago as a way to separate espresso drinks that had a little drop of milk in them.
“Macchiato” in Italian means “stained” or “spotted,” and it served as a way for waiters to differentiate between espressos.
Traditionally, macchiatos are very small. They are a single or double shot of espresso with a little milk.
Macchiatos have the highest ratio of espresso to milk compared to other espresso-based drinks. The idea is to add to the taste of espresso without overwhelming.
The milk also adds a little sweetness to the espresso.
Related Reading: Latte vs Cappuccino vs Macchiato
How do you make a Macchiato?
Macchiatos are actually very easy to make. All you need is milk and espresso.
Here’s how I make traditional macchiatos:
- Start with a good espresso (you’ll need an espresso machine capable of producing a real espresso with crema)
- Pull either a single shot or double espresso, whichever you prefer
- Steam milk with a milk wand as you would for a cappuccino, or to around 145 degrees Fahrenheit (make sure you have a good layer of foam on top, like a cappuccino)
- Using a spoon, scoop foam and a little milk onto the center of your espresso drink
That’s all it takes to make a delicious espresso macchiato.
Recently, macchiatos have been popularized as latte macchiatos. These are slightly different from traditional macchiatos.
A latte macchiato has the same ratio of espresso to milk as regular lattes. However, they are not the same drink. In latte macchiatos, espresso is added to the foamed milk instead of the other way around.
The last difference between these two is that a latte macchiato is usually a layered drink.
In a regular latte, the milk and espresso are mixed to create taste. But in a latte macchiato, the espresso and milk are left unmixed after pouring the espresso over the milk.
A latte macchiato is a bigger drink, about the size of a latte.
In a latte macchiato, you want the foam to separate from the milk so the espresso creates the layered effect.
It’s a great variation on the classic macchiato if you like milky coffee.
Cortado: The Overview
The cortado is another great small espresso coffee drink for folks who like the taste of espresso but want to add a tiny bit of milk.
The cortado is equal parts espresso coffee and steamed milk. Traditionally, cortados are served in 4 oz glasses with 2 oz espresso and 2 oz steamed milk.
Some people say a cortado shouldn’t have foamed milk, others say there should be a little bit of foam. But generally, the milk in a cortado is a little less textured than milk in a latte.
Cortados originally come from Spain and are generally considered afternoon drinks. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying one in the morning!
How to make a Cortado?
Like macchiatos, cortados are actually very easy to make. You still only need espresso and milk.
You’ll need a proper espresso because the cream is important for bonding the milk and the espresso together to create a balanced taste.
Here’s how I make my cortados:
- Pull a single espresso or double espresso shot, depending on how big you want your coffee beverage to be
- Steam your milk to around 130-145 degrees Fahrenheit, or just under what you would for a latte
- Pour your steamed milk into your espresso coffee until you have a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk
Feel free to play around with the level of milk froth and the exact coffee and milk ratio of your cortado. This is a really personal drink, so make it your own.
Macchiato Vs Cortado: What is the difference?
While both the macchiato and cortado are small espresso drinks, they have a few things that make them very different.
Ingredients & Brewing Process
There isn’t any difference in the ingredients. Both macchiatos and cortados are made with espresso and milk. The real difference is in how much milk is used in each coffee drink.
An espresso macchiato only uses a small amount of steamed milk. You end up with less milk than espresso in a macchiato.
A cortado has a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk, meaning the cortado will end up bigger than an espresso macchiato.
The brewing process is the same for the espresso in both drinks. But the milk is different.
In a macchiato, you want some milk foam.
In an espresso macchiato, you use foam to stain the espresso.
A cortado has little to no milk foam, depending on who you ask. But it is almost always true that cortados have less foam and texture than macchiatos.
Taste & Strength
Both of these drinks are intended to dilute some of the espresso coffee taste.
They aren’t supposed to overwhelm the espresso but instead help balance out the espresso taste with a little texture and sweetness.
In an espresso macchiato, the espresso taste will come across strongest. That’s because you use only a tiny bit of foam to mix in with the espresso.
The good news about these drinks is that they have the same caffeine levels. They each use one or two shots of espresso, which gives you between 64-180 mg of caffeine.
The espresso macchiato will be the most acidic because there isn’t as much milk to dilute the espresso. But it’s a small amount and shouldn’t keep you from preferring a macchiato over a cortado.
Appearance & Serving
Cortados are traditionally served in Gibraltar glasses. Gibraltar glasses are small, 4 oz glasses with diamond patterns.
Because cortados have some milk texture, baristas will usually make latte art on your drink.
Espresso macchiatos can be served like regular espressos. They will be in a small cup on a saucer served with a spoon and a separate glass of sparkling water.
Some shops make their espresso macchiatos a little bigger than others. Sometimes baristas use enough milk to put some latte art on the drinks.
If you want a traditional macchiato, it’s always best to check in with your barista about how they prepare macchiatos so you get exactly what you want.
Related Reading: How to Make a Latte at Home
Cortados have many variations, so here are some of the most common questions I get asked about them.
What is the difference between a Cortado and a Cortadito?
A cortado is a drink of equal parts espresso and steamed milk. They come from Spain and are generally afternoon drinks.
Cortaditos are a Cuban variation on the cortado.
Cortaditos use a pre-sweetened espresso. This is usually done by pulling an espresso shot directly onto raw sugar. Then the sweetened espresso is topped with steamed milk like a cortado.
What’s the difference between Gibraltar and Cortado?
Gibraltars and cortados are essentially the same things. The only difference is that Gibraltars sometimes use a little less milk than cortados. They are also a relatively new drink created in the 21st century.
Gibraltars were named after the type of glass they were originally served in. Cortados, at least in the United States, are usually also served in Gibraltar glasses.
Is a Cortado same as a Cafe con Leche?
Pretty much. The Cafe con Leche is a more regional drink you would find in Spain. It’s also made with equal parts espresso and milk.
But in the regions where you would order a Cafe con Leche, you might also find that a cortado has less milk than you would expect.
Macchiatos come in a few varieties. Espresso macchiatos are espressos with a little bit of foam added. Latte macchiatos are larger and layered with milk, espresso, and foam.
Cortados are made from equal parts espresso and steamed milk.
Macchiatos and cortados are easy to make because they only use espresso and milk.
Because of the many variations on each of these drinks, it’s best to talk with your barista about how they make each one.
Interested in trying different shots of espresso? Check out our article on ristretto shots vs long shots!
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