Cortado vs Macchiato (top differences)

Photo of a Cortado and a MAcchiato side by side. Cortado vs Macchiato.

Understanding what you’re ordering means looking closely at how these two coffee types line up when compared directly! So, take a closer look at the differences between a cortado vs macchiato.

There are two notable differences between a cortado and a macchiato when looking at and tasting them.

A cortado has a higher espresso ratio if it’s made authentically with two espresso shots. The second difference is that a macchiato uses just a dash of frothed milk, whereas a cortado relies on equal parts of steamed milk. Both have unique flavors and textures that will help you appreciate both popular drinks.

Take a look at the must-know details below!

What is a cortado?

This is a rich and bitter small cup of espresso that is blended smoothly with steamed milk. It contains equal parts of espresso and milk. It earns its name from the Spanish translation of “cut.” This refers to how the steamed milk in the cortado cuts the bitter taste of the espresso.

What is a macchiato?

This is a rich drink blending a tiny amount of frothy milk with a single shot of espresso. Its name comes from the Italian word that means “dashed” or “marked.” Like the cortado above, it refers to how the foamy milk can take the edge off the bite of the espresso beans that make up most of this drink! The name came from baristas looking for a way to distinguish it from a classic cup of espresso.

Cortado vs macchiato Key differences

Now that you understand some of these two strong drinks’ small surface differences, I want to get more detailed so that you can see them clearly. Even though they can often be confused for each other, they’re very different, and it’s easier to see that when you look at its finer details.


A cortado is from Spain, which you probably guessed from my explanation of a Spanish translation above. A macchiato is from…any guesses? That’s right, Italy! Historically, a cortado is older and first appeared in the 1920s, whereas the macchiato only came about in the 1960s.


The ingredient differentiations of these drinks are interesting since they look very similar visually but are so different when you get into the core differences in detail.

First, the Spanish cortado. This is made from steamed milk and a double espresso, as you already know. The ingredient difference with a macchiato will be using one espresso shot and a small amount of frothed milk. If made traditionally, it’s no more than 1-2 teaspoons, and it’s simply dolloped on top.

Brewing process 

Both a cortado and a macchiato are brewed the same, pouring an espresso in first and then adding the milk. The only difference in this would be that a cortado uses equal parts milk and espresso, and a macchiato uses much less milk in the same serving size.


Both drinks have a 5- or 6-oz (147-177 ml) serving size. Interestingly, a macchiato is one of the most unique coffee drinks because it has a very low ratio between espresso and milk. While the foam of the milk itself looks more impressive and larger than it is, the actual mount used is tiny! Sometimes a macchiato is served in a taller glass to give room for the foamed milk or to decorate it.


The taste of these drinks is very different, even though they look similar to each other visually. I think it’s one of the most exciting differences between these two drinks!

A cortado is a strong, caffeine-high drink with a bitter taste and softened with rich steamed milk. One of the reasons why this is served stirred or mixed instead of layered is to help cut the taste of the double espresso.

A macchiato is often not mixed, and it contains so little of the milk foam that it will be, impressively, even more robust than a cortado as far as the bitter espresso taste! While it’s only a single espresso, the smaller amount of milk emphasizes the more robust espresso.

As far as caffeine is concerned, a cortado is still stronger than a macchiato because it contains the double shot!

What is stronger: a cortado or a macchiato?

If you’ve been following the brewing instructions and the overall taste, you probably already know that it will be the cortado as far as the taste. Since a cortado is rarely made with one espresso shot, this makes a lot of sense.

A macchiato will be stronger because it has less milk. The only way to know for sure is to test both side by side and assume that they’ve been made authentically. In that case, a cortado would win. 

From my point of view, a cortado that is made properly with two shots of espresso will always be stronger and bolder than a macchiato just because of that difference between the espresso shots. However, if you have a double macchiato, I can see how that would be stronger….

Calories in a cortado vs. a macchiato

Calorie counting is a reality for many health-conscious coffee drinkers. It means fewer syrups and low-fat milk for many. So, how do these two drinks compare to each other?

A cortado contains 74 calories per drink, and a macchiato contains 79 calories per drink, according to myfitnesspal. That’s neat when you think about it since both drinks seem fancy and rich, but they’re both health-conscious. 

If you want to add even more health benefits to your drink of choice, try switching to plant-based milk! This has fewer calories and also a lower fat content and sugar content. 

The only difference to keep in mind is, you guessed it, that caffeine level. Too much caffeine is hard on the heart and the body in general, so try not to have three cortados in a day! However, to each their own.

Fun Fact:

Some Spanish coffee houses use condensed milk to sweeten a cordato, which turns it into a Cuban cortadito. While it sounds similar, this is a very different drink!

Which is better: a cortado or a macchiato?

Personal preference will factor in here, as you can probably imagine. However, here are my thoughts on the subject.

A cordato will be well mixed, and cut the bitter espresso with slightly sweet steamed milk. It kind of offers you a really neat blended taste in each sip. The double espresso shot will be a great jolt to help you get more done in your afternoon.

On the other hand, a macchiato is a simpler drink with just a single espresso and a dollop of micro-foamed milk. It’s a much more exciting drink as far as the texture is concerned, and it’ll still give you a noticeable perk in your energy levels. It’s not quite as complex in its flavor since the espresso will overpower the foamed milk.

I was pretty fascinated to learn about the differences between the rich cortado and the frothy macchiato. While the cortado is mixed with equal parts steamed milk and espresso, it’s a double shot. A macchiato is only a single shot of espresso, but it has a literal dollop of frothed milk instead.

Despite coming from different countries, Spain and Italy, they taste somewhat similar when looking at the core ingredients. A cortado has a higher caffeine content, and a macchiato will have a much stronger espresso taste. Both are popular in their respective countries as well as around Europe!

If you know someone who is going to love understanding the differences in these espresso drinks, consider sharing this with them to see which one wins out as their favorite!

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Robert Knowlton is an expert barista with more than 15 years of experience. Robert's main goal is to make sure everyone can enjoy the perfect cup of coffee regardless of their skill level.