There seems to be an endless amount of coffee drinks to choose from, and some are so similar it’s hard to tell the difference at first glance. The cortado and macchiato hail from different countries and can be enjoyed in different ways at different times, and while they are both espresso-based drinks with added milk, the two coffee drinks are still significantly different. The choice between the two drinks comes down to how much sweetness you want from your espresso.
Macchiato and cortado are similar drinks using the same ingredients for the same purpose, but how much milk is added and how the milk is prepared is what sets them apart. How the espresso and milk is blended and prepared makes a considerable difference in the outcome of the flavor, texture, and even the look. Cortado is made with equal amounts of espresso and steamed milk, whereas macchiato is an espresso shot with a teaspoon of milk foam added on top.
The cortado is an espresso drink that showed up in Spain in the early 1960s, which quickly became popular and spread to Portugal and Cuba. The name cortado comes from the Spanish verb cortar which means “to cut,” referring to espresso being “cut” or diluted with milk. It’s a drink that is often enjoyed slowly in the evening after a long day of hard work. Cortado should only be served as a short 2-ounce size made from 1 ounce each of equal parts coffee and milk. Milk is intentionally added to the espresso to cut or dilute the acidity, resulting in a more balanced and sweeter taste. The cortado fully rounds out the flavor of the espresso and brings the sweet smoke and chocolate notes to the forefront. The addition of steamed milk, instead of foam, creates a smoother texture and adds enough sweetness to make the espresso feel rich and indulgent. The cortado can also be made with sweetened condensed milk which is going to elevate the sweetness and tone down any bitterness.
Macchiato is an Italian coffee drink of 3-4 ounces that’s usually consumed in the early morning. Macchiato translates as “stained” which refers to the espresso being “stained” with a touch of milk foam. Macchiato is traditionally served with one or two shots of espresso and just a dash of foamed milk and no additional sweeteners such as syrups or sugar. However, a latte macchiato is reversed and is milk-stained with a splash of espresso and there are also other flavors such as caramel macchiato with sugar syrup. The touch of milk foam is there to take the edge off the acidity and bitterness of the espresso, creating a milder coffee drink. Frothing milk won’t sweeten it as much as adding steamed milk would and doesn’t create as smooth of a texture, but it softens any harsh notes. Macchiato has the highest ratio of coffee to milk than any other coffee beverage.
Both drinks are small coffees, espresso-based, and have milk. However, if looking for a richer, sweeter, more mellow and chocolatey flavor, then cortado is best. Choose macchiato if wanting the tiniest sweet hint to round off the sharper edges, or a flavored macchiato if wanting something sweeter with just a hint of caffeine. Cortado and macchiato are both great middle-ground beverage choices for when espresso alone is too intense and other milky espresso-based drinks are too sugary.