The Definitive Guide to Macchiato vs Cortado Coffee Drinks

As the sun rises and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the air, one question remains: Macchiato or cortado? In the great debate of macchiato vs. cortado, both drinks have their roots in European coffee culture, with the macchiato hailing from Italy and the cortado originating in Spain. But what sets them apart, and which one is the right choice for your morning caffeine fix?

Get ready to embark on a journey through the world of espresso-based beverages, exploring the history, preparation, and unique characteristics of these two popular coffee drinks. By the end of this adventure, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed choice and impress your fellow coffee enthusiasts with your newfound knowledge.

In this definitive guide, we’ll dive into the rich history and unique preparation methods of macchiatos and cortados, uncovering the secrets behind their distinct flavors and textures in the context of macchiato vs cortado.

We’ll also explore variations, alternative kinds of milk and sweeteners, and perfect food pairings to elevate your coffee experience. So let’s dive into the fascinating world of macchiatos and cortados and unravel the mysteries behind these espresso-based sensations in the macchiato vs. cortado showdown.

Short Summary

  • The macchiato is an Italian classic featuring a bold espresso flavor and foamed milk.
  • The cortado is from Spain, made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk for a smooth texture.
  • Macchiatos and cortados have distinct flavors, preparation methods & can be paired with food to elevate the coffee experience.

Macchiato: The Italian Classic

The macchiato, an Italian classic, is an espresso-based drink with a small amount of frothed milk that adds a delicate touch to the bold espresso flavor. This unique beverage lies between an espresso and a cappuccino, featuring a higher coffee-to-milk ratio than other coffee drinks.

As a result, the macchiato offers a strong taste that highlights the essence of the espresso, while the foamed milk softens its intensity just enough to create a harmonious blend of flavors.

The word “macchiato” translates to “stained” or “marked” in Italian, perfectly encapsulating the essence of this coffee drink. A single shot of espresso is marked with a small amount of foamed or steamed milk, creating an espresso macchiato that showcases the full flavor of the espresso while gently tempering its strength. The macchiato is a testament to Italian coffee craftsmanship, which values the balance between bold and delicate flavors in every sip.

Macchiato History

The history of the macchiato can be traced back to its birthplace, Italy, where it was created as a way to enjoy espresso with just a touch of milk in order to soften its intensity. This innovative coffee drink allowed Italians to savor their beloved espresso without the full force of its robust flavor, creating a harmonious balance between strength and subtlety.

The traditional Italian macchiato is a far cry from the versions commonly found at Starbucks and other popular coffee houses, such as the latte macchiato. With a high espresso-to-milk ratio, the macchiato delivers a concentrated coffee experience that is complemented by just enough milk to reduce its intensity.

Related: Comparing Macchiato vs Latte

This delicate balance made the macchiato a popular choice for Italians who desired a hint of dairy after lunch or a satisfying meal, and it remains a beloved beverage in coffee culture to this day.

Crafting the Perfect Macchiato

To craft the perfect macchiato, it’s essential to choose the right beans and master the art of frothing milk. Dark beans, typically associated with robust and flavorful dark roasts, are recommended for macchiatos. Start by grinding 8 grams of beans, then pull a shot of espresso. Steam the milk, taking care to avoid burning it, and pour it into the espresso shot with precision.

For the ultimate macchiato experience, savor every sip while paying close attention to the balance between bold espresso and the delicate touch of milk. This harmony of flavors is the hallmark of a well-crafted macchiato and a testament to the skill and artistry that goes into creating this Italian classic. So raise your espresso cup and toast to the macchiato – a true masterpiece in the world of coffee.

Cortado: The Spanish Sensation

In contrast to the macchiato, the cortado is a Spanish sensation that combines equal parts espresso and steamed milk to create a smooth and balanced taste. This delightful coffee drink offers a subtle variation of the traditional espresso flavor thanks to the addition of steamed milk, which softens the intensity of the coffee and creates a harmonious blend of flavors.

The cortado is characterized by its creamy texture and slightly sweet taste, making it an ideal choice for those who desire the rich flavor of espresso without the full force of its bitterness. This Spanish gem has made a name for itself in the world of espresso-based drinks, offering a unique and delicious alternative to its Italian counterpart, the macchiato.

Cortado Origins

The cortado, like the macchiato, has its roots in European coffee culture. It originated in Spain as a means of tempering the strong and bitter taste of traditional Spanish coffee with the addition of milk. The term “cortado” comes from the Spanish verb “cortar,” meaning “to cut,” which perfectly describes the purpose of this delightful beverage.

The traditional Spanish cortado is composed primarily of espresso, with the addition of equal parts steamed milk to create a smooth and balanced taste. This combination of flavors has made the cortado a popular choice among coffee enthusiasts, who appreciate the harmony between the strong espresso and the softening effect of the steamed milk.

The cortado is a testament to Spanish coffee craftsmanship and a beloved beverage in coffee culture across the globe.

Mastering the Art of the Cortado

Creating a delicious cortado requires attention to detail, from selecting the right espresso to steaming milk to perfection. The key to a great cortado lies in the quality of the espresso and the skillful steaming of the milk. Without the right technique, the cortado can lose its signature smooth and creamy texture.

To master the art of the cortado, start by pulling a shot of espresso using finely ground coffee. Then steam the milk without frothing, ensuring it reaches a glossy appearance and creamy texture. Finally, pour the steamed milk into the espresso shot, taking care to maintain the perfect balance between the two components.

With practice and patience, you’ll be able to create a cortado that rivals those found in the finest Spanish cafés.

Comparing Macchiato and Cortado

When comparing macchiatos and cortados, or in other words, exploring the “macchiato vs” cortado debate, it’s essential to focus on their differences in milk usage, texture, and flavor profiles.

While both drinks are espresso-based, the macchiato is characterized by its higher coffee-to-milk ratio and the use of foamed milk, which creates a lighter and airier texture. The cortado, on the other hand, combines equal parts espresso and steamed milk, resulting in a smoother and creamier texture with a more balanced taste.

In addition to their differences in milk usage and texture, the cortado vs macchiato debate also highlights the differences in flavor. The macchiato emphasizes the espresso’s flavor, with a hint of foamed milk to soften it, while the cortado combines the espresso and milk to create a harmonious and less intense taste.

Understanding these differences is crucial to finding the perfect espresso-based drink to suit your taste preferences and coffee cravings.

Milk Matters: Foamed vs. Steamed

The key difference between macchiato and cortado lies in the type of milk used in each drink. Macchiatos are made with foamed milk, which adds a delicate touch to the bold espresso flavor, while cortados are prepared with steamed milk, resulting in a smoother and creamier texture. This distinction in milk usage significantly influences the taste and overall experience of each beverage.

Foamed milk, also known as milk foam, is created by introducing air bubbles into warm milk, resulting in a light and airy texture. Steamed milk, on the other hand, is heated without introducing air bubbles, yielding a smooth, creamy, and dense texture.

The choice of milk type is essential in determining the flavor profile and mouthfeel of macchiatos and cortados, so it’s important to consider your personal preferences when deciding between these two espresso-based drinks.

Caffeine Kick: Espresso Shots and Strength

Another factor to consider when comparing macchiatos and cortados is the number of espresso shots used in each drink, which affects their caffeine content and strength.

A cortado contains more milk and less espresso than a macchiato, resulting in a lower caffeine content and a less intense flavor. However, both drinks offer a substantial caffeine kick to satisfy your morning or afternoon cravings.

The caffeine content of a traditional macchiato ranges from 70-90 mg, while a cortado contains an estimated 136 mg of caffeine. This difference in caffeine content may be a deciding factor for those seeking a stronger or milder coffee experience.

Understanding the caffeine content and strength of these drinks can help you make an informed choice and find the perfect espresso-based beverage to suit your taste and energy needs.

Related: Eight O’Clock Coffee Dark Italian Espresso

Alternative Milks and Sweeteners

As the popularity of plant-based diets and alternative sweeteners continues to rise, it’s worth exploring how these options can be incorporated into macchiatos and cortados.

Both drinks can be made with plant-based milk, such as almond or coconut milk, and sugar can be added as a sweetener if desired. These alternatives can significantly alter the taste and texture of the drinks, so it’s important to experiment and find the combination that best suits your preferences.

The use of alternative kinds of milk and sweeteners can create unique variations of macchiatos and cortados, catering to different tastes and dietary requirements. For example, using almond milk in a cortado may result in a slightly nuttier flavor, while adding sugar to a macchiato can enhance its sweetness.

By exploring these options, you can create personalized versions of these espresso-based drinks that cater to your individual tastes and preferences.

Macchiato and Cortado Variations

In addition to the classic macchiato and cortado recipes, there are numerous variations of these drinks to suit a wide range of tastes. From flavored options to regional twists on classic recipes, there is a macchiato or cortado variation for every coffee lover.

For example, an iced caramel macchiato offers a sweeter and more refreshing take on the traditional macchiato, while a cortadito replaces regular milk with sweetened condensed milk for a richer and sweeter experience.

Exploring the various macchiato and cortado variations can be a fun and delicious way to expand your coffee horizons. Whether you prefer a classic macchiato with its bold espresso flavor or a cortado with its smooth and balanced taste, there’s always room for experimentation and discovery.

By trying different flavors, ingredients, and methods, you can create personalized coffee drinks that cater to your unique preferences and satisfy your coffee cravings.

Pairing Macchiatos and Cortados with Food

Pairing macchiatos and cortados with food can significantly enhance the flavors of both the coffee and the accompanying dishes. A well-chosen food pairing can elevate the coffee experience, creating a harmonious blend of flavors that complement and accentuate each other.

For example, a macchiato pairs nicely with sweet and indulgent pastries like a buttery croissant or a slice of almond tart, while a cortado is an excellent accompaniment to savory dishes, such as a cheese plate or a charcuterie board.

To find the perfect food pairing for your macchiato or cortado, consider the flavor profiles of both the coffee and the food. A sweet dish can balance the bold flavors of a macchiato, while a savory option can complement the smooth and balanced taste of a cortado.

Experiment with different food pairings to discover the combinations that best suit your taste buds and elevate your coffee experience to new heights.

Spanish Coffee Culture vs. Italian Coffee Culture

The differences between Spanish and Italian coffee cultures have played a significant role in the creation and popularity of macchiatos and cortados. In Italy, espresso-based beverages like the macchiato are commonplace, with an emphasis on bold and robust flavors.

Related: New England Coffee Darkest Before Dawn – Rich and Bold Review

In contrast, Spain favors darker, full-flavored roasts and a more relaxed coffee-drinking atmosphere, often enjoyed on a terrace or in a bar. This has led to the development of the cortado as a popular espresso-based drink in Spain.

The impact of cultural preferences on the development of macchiatos and cortados is evident in their distinct flavors and preparation methods. The Italian preference for strong, bold espresso flavors is reflected in the macchiato, while the Spanish taste for darker, full-flavored roasts has resulted in the smooth and balanced cortado.

By appreciating the cultural influences behind these drinks, you can gain a deeper understanding of their unique characteristics and enjoy an authentic coffee experience that transcends borders, all while savoring the distinct flavors of various coffee beans.

You might also like: 10 Best Dark Roast Coffee Beans


Throughout this definitive guide, we’ve explored the fascinating world of macchiatos and cortados, uncovering the secrets behind their distinct flavors, textures, and preparation methods. We’ve delved into their rich histories, cultural influences, and various variations, revealing the unique characteristics that set them apart in the world of espresso-based beverages.

Whether you’re a fan of bold and robust macchiato or the smooth and balanced cortado, we hope this guide has inspired you to explore the diverse world of coffee and discover new flavors and experiences.

So, as you savor your next sip of macchiato or cortado, take a moment to appreciate the craftsmanship and cultural influences that have shaped these beloved beverages and enjoy the journey through the world of espresso-based drinks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is stronger macchiato or cortado?

A macchiato is stronger in flavor than a cortado since it has less milk and more espresso, resulting in a more robust coffee taste.

Related: The Best Coffee Beans for Espresso: Our Top Picks

A cortado, on the other hand, balances equal parts espresso and milk for a smoother sip.

What is a macchiato vs flat white vs cortado?

A Macchiato is an espresso with a dollop of steamed milk foam, while a Flat White has more milk and less foam.

A Cortado sits in between them, with slightly more foam than the Flat White but less milk than a Macchiato, served in a smaller 4.5oz (130ml) glass for an intense yet sweet taste.

Can I use alternative milks and sweeteners in my macchiato or cortado?

Yes, you can use alternative milk and sweeteners in your macchiato or cortado, altering the taste and texture.

What are some popular variations of the macchiato and cortado?

Popular variations of the macchiato include the iced caramel macchiato, while cortado variations include the cortadito, which swaps regular milk for sweetened condensed milk.

How do I pair my macchiato or cortado with food?

For the perfect combination, consider pairing a sweet dish with a macchiato and a savory option with a cortado to bring out the best flavors of each.

Photo of author


Nathan is the founder of The Darkest Roast (featured in the NY Times, Yahoo, and Tasting Table). He is a self-taught coffee expert and has tried 100s of coffees from around the world. Nathan's goal is to help you find the best coffee, so you only drink the best.