Macchiato Vs Cortado (Differences & Which To Choose)

Macchiato and cortado coffees are both short drinks made with espresso and milk, so what's the difference? 

Both of these drinks are perfect for those who find espresso too bitter, but it can be difficult to choose between them because the two options are so similar.

Well don't worry, because this guide will explain the main difference between a cortado vs macchiato, and help you make the right choice.

The biggest difference between a cortado vs macchiato is the type of milk used, but let's take a closer look at both of these coffee drinks:

1. Milk Content & Type 

Macchiato and cortado are both made with an espresso shot, and warm milk, but one of the key differences between them is whether you use foamed or steamed milk. 

A macchiato is made with espresso and foamed milk. This frothed milk layer is used instead of steamed milk and gives a silky texture which disguises the strength of the espresso shot. 

An authentic cortado is made with espresso and an equal amount of steamed milk. There's usually two shots of espresso as a base, but it can vary depending on where you order from. This makes the drink stronger, and smoother.

2. Caffeine Content 

Caffeine is a key consideration for most of us when choosing an espresso coffee drink because we want to know what kind of buzz we'll get. 

A traditional macchiato has 70-90mg of caffeine from the single espresso shot. Many coffee shops serve a macchiato with a double shot of espresso which will give you 120-140mg of caffeine. 

A traditional cortado has 120-150mg of caffeine from the double espresso shot. The frothy milk can sometimes disguise the espresso coffee in a cortado, but it is a strong drink.

If you like a big energy kick and choosing between a macchiato or cortado, then a cortado is definitely the one for you.

3. Taste Comparisons 

Given the similarities in the two coffee recipes you might be surprised to know that the two brews taste quite different. 

A macchiato tastes slightly bitter like an espresso, but with some sweetness from the milk.

A cortado has a slightly sweeter taste because the steamed milk reduces the acidity of the espresso shots. 

If you enjoy an espresso you'll like either drink, but when it comes to macchiato vs cortado, a cortado is easier on the pallet because of the espresso to milk ratio.  

4. Calories 

Most espresso drinks sold in coffee shops have a surprising number of calories. However, this largely comes from the milk and sugar used in the coffee recipes - so it's less of a problem with these drinks. 

A macchiato has 20-30 calories in a serving, and a cortado has 40-50 calories

If you're on a diet then you can't go wrong with a macchiato or cortado because both of these are low calorie options. They both contain far fewer calories than other caffès like lattes, cappuccinos, or even flat whites - especially if they're made using sweetened condensed milk.

You can also reduce the calories further by using a non-fat milk, or switching to almond or oat milk. 

5. Variations And Additions

Macchiatos and cortados, like any good espresso drinks, can be customised with extra ingredients. 

Traditional espresso macchiato variations include: 

  • Caramel macchiato - made with espresso and milk, with caramel syrup layered on top. It's really popular with Starbucks drinkers
  • Latte macchiato - made with extra foamed milk so it's creamier and more like a latte
  • Doppio macchiato (the Big Mac) - made with a double shot of espresso instead of a single shot. This is sometimes called a long macchiato
  • Iced macchiato - made with normal milk and poured over ice as a refreshing summer beverage

Traditional cortado coffee variations include:

  • Café con leche and bombón - made with condensed milk instead of steamed milk and a dollop of heavy cream on top
  • Piccolo - served in small cups and made with slightly less milk. This is quite similar to a latte macchiato
  • Cortado leche y leche - made with extra milk, hot foamed milk on top and condensed milk in the bottom. It's traditionally served in a tall glass.
  • Iced cortado - this is made with cold milk and served on ice, perfect on a hot summer day

You can also add sugar (or sweetener), add more milk, or even swap to a dairy-free milk alternative to make the drinks vegan.

There's a lot of ways to customise both of these two drinks, but when it comes to cortado vs macchiato variations, you definitely have more options with a cortado. 

6. Price In Cafes 

If you don't have an espresso machine at home you're probably going to be spending money in a coffee shop to get either of these two drinks. 

A macchiato will typically cost $2.50-$4, and a cortado will cost $3.50-$4.50. The cortado is slightly more expensive because it contains two espresso shots. Just remember that if you switch out the foamed milk and add in flavored syrups then you should expect to pay a bit more.

They aren't expensive coffees, but the cost can quickly add up. If you're having coffee every day it may be worth investing in a stovetop espresso maker to bring your coffee shop spending down. 

Wanting A Cheap Option From Starbucks? Check Out Our Guide!

Macchiato Vs Cortado: How Are They Made? 


A Macchiato is an Italian espresso-based coffee drink made with a tiny bit of hot milk. Macchiato translates to "stained" or "marked" , and it's called a Macchiato because the espresso literally stains the color of the small amount of milk on top. 

To make a macchiato: 

  1. 1
    Prepare a single shot of espresso using freshly ground coffee beans. You can use a french press if you need to but it won't give you the full flavor.
  2. 2
    Froth milk using a hand frother in a frothing pitcher until you see small air bubbles forming. 
  3. 3
    Remove the top of the milk froth (dry foam) with a spoon, then float it over the espresso. Only use a little milk if you like your coffee stronger.
  4. 4
    Serve in a small coffee mug or demitasse cup, or espresso cup and enjoy!


The name "cortado" is derived from the verb "cortar," which means "to cut" in Spanish.

A cortado is equal parts espresso and steamed milk, which give it a creamy texture and a bit of sweetness. It's also important to note that a cortado is made by steaming the milk, not by frothing milk. 

To prepare a cortado: 

  1. 1
    Use your espresso machine to extract one (or two) shots of espresso from freshly ground beans.
  2. 2
    Gently steam your milk using a steam wand (most espresso machines have a steam wand attachment)
  3. 3
    Pour the equal parts steamed milk and espresso together
  4. 4
    Serve in a cortado glass, small cup, or demitasse ceramic cup, and enjoy the delicious cup of coffee!

What Does A Cortado Taste Like? 

A cortado is a coffee with character. Its smooth, full-bodied flavor has a gentle kick of espresso and a creamy finish. You'll enjoy the strong, rich, and bold character of this drink. It's available in many different variations, but its main ingredient is always espresso. 

A key ingredient of a cortado is steamed milk. The amount of steamed milk, and the ratio of steamed milk to espresso depends on the barista and each region but it's typically equal parts milk and espresso.  

The cortado is a great latte alternative because it doesn't have the strong flavor or rich aromas of espresso. Its other distinctive feature is its lack of foam, but it uses steamed milk to make a big difference to the flavor.

The milk cuts through the espresso and blend together to give a smoother texture. Coffee lovers love this drink due to its rich and creamy pronounced coffee taste. 

Macchiato Vs Cortado (Differences + Which To Choose)

What Does A Macchiato Taste Like? 

The espresso macchiato is a creamy, milky espresso drink that's more flavorful than a regular espresso. A small amount of foamed milk is blended together with a lot of strong coffee for a stronger and more rich drink. Rather than thinking of ratios, it's easier to view the macchiato as an espresso with a little frothed milk in it. 

In a market saturated with popular coffee drinks made with warm milk, an espresso macchiato could be seen as a healthier alternative to regular lattes and cappuccinos. The macchiato contains only a small amount of milk or milk foam and won't dramatically increase the drink's calorific content. 

Macchiato at cafe

Things That Impact The Taste Of These Coffees 

  • Milk 
    Sugar, protein, and fat are the three main components in milk that affect the flavor and body of the coffee. These components are also used to enhance the sweetness and reduce bitterness in brewed beverages. If you want a more richly flavored drink, then ask for your beverage to be made using less foam. Adding extra foam (milk) in a macchiato or cortado will deliver a creamier texture, and less milk will give it a stronger coffee taste. Among dairy alternatives, almond and soy milk are the most popular. Soy milk is an excellent alternative to dairy milk, offering similar protein levels and great taste when heated. However, it can curdle as a reaction to the coffee's acidity or temperature. Almond milk is a little nutty, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. That's why some people prefer to use the sweetened version of almond milk. 
  • Type Of Beans (Arabica & Robusta/other)  
    When using Arabica beans to make espresso, the taste will give a smoother taste and be more mellow than robusta beans. 
  • Roast – Light Or Dark 
    If beans with a light roast are used, then the espresso will have a milder taste that's smoother. However, darker roasts can give the espresso a bitter taste. 
  • The Grind  
    If the grind is too fine, it can cause your espresso to be bitter. The finer the grind, the longer it will take for the water to reach the coffee bean, which means more water will enter the mixture, and more coffee will be extracted. 

Macchiato Vs Cortado Common FAQs

How many shots of espresso are usually in cortado? 

That depends on where in the world you're ordering your cortado. In Spain, the cortado is typically a single espresso of espresso and a just a dash of milk. Other locations prefer to use a double shot of espresso. 

Regardless of the number of shots, the ratio of steamed milk to coffee should be about half and half. 

What is the difference between cortado, cappuccino & flat white? 

Again, this all pretty much comes down to the espresso to milk ratio. 

The cortado is a little bit smaller and a little bit stronger than a cappuccino, which is typically served in a larger mug or cup with more whole milk and foam. Sometimes, it can also be topped with chocolate powder. 

Though they have an equal amount of espresso, the flat white and cortado differ in terms of the amount of milk and how much foam is added. The flat white has more milk than the cortado and is often topped with "latte art," where the cortado has the same amount of espresso and milk, and a much more basic presentation. 

Is a cortado sweet? 

Not naturally. When you add sugar or syrup to your cortado, it makes it sweet. The taste of coffee is typically bitter, but it can be sweetened with honey, sugars, or flavored syrups. Some milk can also sweeten your drink, so be careful about what you add to your cortado if you're not a fan of overly sweet coffee. 

Is macchiato considered healthy? 

When consumed in moderation, a macchiato can be a healthy part of your diet, but if you're regularly consuming large amounts of coffee, it may be time to cut back. 

As a macchiato is typically a smaller drink, less sugar is required to sweeten the drink, and less added milk. For that reason, a macchiato is typically considered more healthy than, say, a latte or cappuccino. 


Macchiato and cortado are both espresso based Italian coffees which are easy to make, the only difference is in how much milk you add in.

A macchiato is made by brewing coffee and adding some milk foam, whereas a cortado is made with an equal espresso and steamed milk ratio, giving it a smooth texture.

Hopefully, you now you know all the differences between these two coffees, and you feel ready to start experimenting with your own versions. 

Kayla Stavridis

Head of Marketing

Kayla Stavridis
Kayla Stavridis is a coffee enthusiast and Head of Marketing for Barista HQ. She blends her professional insights and experience with a deep passion for all things coffee. Kayla offers a unique, hands-on perspective on coffee culture and trends. You can find her sipping a cold brew with just a touch of milk on the beach in the afternoon and a Corona with lime in the evening.

My favorite drink? I'd go with... Cold Brew

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