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Cortado Versus Macchiato: 2 Delicious & Underrated Beverages

three espresso beverages in a row on grey concrete, cortado versus macchiato

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If you’ve ever been tempted to go out on a limb and try a “new” espresso beverage but didn’t know where to turn from your go-to latte, this post is for you.

Sure, we all love a good latte or flat white. But what about a couple of the unsung heroes: Cortado and Macchiato? Which is better? What’s the difference?

Here, we’ll take a closer look at the Cortado versus Macchiato and help you decide if either (or both!) is the right espresso beverage for you.

So, let’s get brewing.

Cortado Versus Macchiato

espresso beverage in glass cup on wood table, What is a cortado coffee

What Is A Cortado Coffee?

When comparing a Cortado versus Macchiato, we must first examine where each espresso drink originated. The Cortado is a Spanish drink, while the Macchiato is, as you might expect, Italian.

The Cortado originated in Spain and remains one of the most popular espresso-type drinks today. Clearly, the Spanish know a thing or two about great espresso.

The name Cortado comes from the Spanish word for “cut.” This drink is essentially espresso that’s cut with steamed milk. It is an espresso drink designed to be consumed quickly; the milk makes it easier to drink fast.

A Cortado is made with just about equal parts espresso and milk. It’s typically served in 4-ounce portions, with 2 ounces of espresso and about 2 ounces of milk.

The Cortado has no milk foam, differentiating it from the cappuccino we all know and love. The cappuccino, for reference, features an equal amount of espresso, hot milk, and milk foam.

cortado in white cup on blue saucer, What’s in a macchiato coffee
What’s a macchiato

What’s A Macchiato?

As we mentioned, Macchiato (sometimes referred to as Espresso Macchiato) originated in Italy. But what does Macchiato mean?

The name Macchiato stems from the Italian word for “mark” or “stain,” as the espresso is marked with steamed milk in this espresso beverage. So, what’s in a Macchiato coffee?

There is more milk in a Cortado versus Macchiato, which has only a dollop or two of foamed milk. It’s about as close as you can get to drinking espresso straight when prepared traditionally.

In the United States, we often see Macchiatos prepared with much more milk and foam and served in large cups. A certain coffee chain became immensely popular for its Caramel Macchiato, which is not exactly a Macchiato by any stretch of the imagination.

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But, yes, it’s a delicious coffee drink regardless.

So what’s a Caramel Macchiato, then? Essentially, it’s a shot or two of espresso, a dollop of foamed milk, and a light drizzle of caramel over the top. But don’t expect to see it on your local coffee shop’s menu.

A traditional Espresso Macchiato is not typically flavored, as the espresso is meant to be the star here.

So, in summary, the main differences between a Cortado and a Macchiato are the espresso-to-milk ratio and the use of milk foam. But how do these two espresso drinks differ from other types of espresso beverages?

cappuccino in glass cup close up, What’s the difference between a latte and a macchiato
Macchiato mean

What’s The Difference Between A Latte And A Macchiato?

Milk is the prominent flavor in a latte vs. Macchiato, where espresso reigns supreme. The Macchiato is an espresso drink for the true espresso aficionado. A latte might be more your speed if you prefer a lighter coffee flavor.

The espresso in a Macchiato is “stained” with foamed milk, so the beverage is primarily espresso, whereas a latte is primarily steamed milk (one part espresso, four parts milk, one part foam).

tattooed barista pouring milk into espresso in glass cup, Cortado vs latte
Espresso type drinks

Cortado vs Latte

While more milk is in a cortado versus Macchiato, the Cortado still has much less milk than a latte. The Cortado is the halfway point between the Macchiato and the latte.

There are equal parts espresso and milk (typically two parts of each) in the Cortado vs latte, which includes four parts milk plus foam. So, while the espresso punch will be softened in the Cortado vs Macchiato, it is still quite an espresso-forward beverage.

On the other hand, the latte is silky and smooth with a light espresso flavor. It is one of the most popular espresso-type drinks in America because it is so easy to sip.

hand with silver ring holding cortado in glass cup on open book, cortado vs flat white
Different types of espresso drinks
Espresso and steamed milk

Cortado vs Flat White

Okay, so we’re well-versed on the differences between a Cortado and a Macchiato and a Cortado and a latte, but where does the flat white fit in?

There will be much less milk in a Cortado vs flat white as with the latte. A flat white is a middle ground between a Cortado and a latte. 

While the Cortado features basically equal parts espresso and warm milk without any foam, the flat white features one part espresso to two parts textured milk and includes a thin layer of micro-foam on the top (or no foam at all).

The flat white has a creamier mouthfeel than the Cortado and is a larger beverage. A classic flat white is served in a 6oz portion, while a Cortado is typically 4oz.

Many coffee shops use ristretto shots for their flat whites. But what does ristretto mean?

A ristretto shot is made with less hot water. The result is a smaller, more concentrated espresso shot with a sweeter, richer flavor.

The flat white is an exceptional espresso drink and a personal favorite; we love to make them both hot and iced on the regular.

pouring espresso into glass with ice on wood table, Macchiato iced

What Is A Cortado vs Macchiato Iced?

Speaking of iced espresso drinks, what about an iced Cortado vs Macchiato iced: is one better? Isn’t an iced Cortado or iced Macchiato just a hot Cortado or Macchiato poured over ice?

Not exactly. 

But, lucky for us, both the Cortado and Macchiato iced are super easy to make at home. Making a Macchiato or a Cortado iced is really straightforward.

So, how do you make a Macchiato iced?

coffee scale, timemore coffee scale
Timemore Coffee Scale

Simply weigh your beans using a coffee scale. Grind your espresso beans with a burr coffee grinder, then brew your espresso (single shot or double shot) and set it aside.

Fill a small glass or cup with ice (large cubes are best) and add a splash of your preferred milk or milk alternative (oat milk, almond milk, etc.). If making a Cortado iced, add more milk (a little more than the amount of espresso you pulled).

Pour your cooled espresso shot(s) over the top of the milk and ice and give it a stir. And there you have it, a delicious Macchiato iced.

espresso beverage in glass cup on wood table, make a macchiato
making a macchiato

Does A Macchiato Have Caffeine?

Whether you choose a Cortado or Macchiato, both will have caffeine unless ordered as decaf. The amount of caffeine in a Cortado vs Macchiato is the same, provided both drinks are made with equal parts espresso.

There may be less caffeine in a Cortado versus Macchiato in some cases because a macchiato traditionally features a higher ratio of espresso to milk than a Cortado. 

This will depend on the coffee shop, of course. As we mentioned, some larger chain coffee shops prepare a macchiato much more like a latte. 

The Cortado and Macchiato should come in only one size if you’re at a specialty coffee shop. If the shop offers a single or a double, this refers to the espresso shot and whether it includes a single shot or a double shot.

But, generally speaking, you can expect comparable amounts of caffeine in a cortado and macchiato.

Phillips 4300 series fully automatic espresso machine with LatteGo
Philips 4300 Fully Automatic Espresso Machine w/LatteGo

Final Thoughts

So which is better, Cortado or Macchiato? Honestly, there’s no clear winner in the Cortado versus Macchiato debate.

All coffee is subjective and a totally personal experience. If you like the espresso flavor, the Macchiato may be the better choice. However, Cortado’s balanced, easy-going appeal might suit you fine. You can’t go wrong with either coffee beverage if you ask us.

Don’t prefer either? We get it. Perhaps a flat white, latte, or mocha is more your speed! We think you should try them all to find out.


Heather Calatrello

Heather Calatrello owner of ShedLight Coffee Roasters