Macchiato vs Cortado: 4 Key Differences Explained

 Have you ever felt curious about the espresso drink menu and wondered how to distinguish them? Or do you want to know which one you would prefer? We are here to help!

The main difference between macchiato and cortado lies in the amount and type of milk used. The variation of milk in these two drinks imparts their distinct flavor, and texture, as well as caffeine and calorie content.

In this article, we summarized all you need to know about macchiato vs cortado so you can find which beverage is right for you and order confidently!

Keep reading to find them out!

What is a Cortado?

To put it simply, a  Cortado is a Spanish coffee drink made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk. This means that it has a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk. Typically, the espresso in a cortado is pulled with dark roasted Robusta beans and the milk used is untextured. 

Traditional cortado was served in 2 oz. glasses, filled with one shot of espresso and topped with an ounce of steamed milk. However, when it was introduced to the United States, the Blue Bottle Company released them in 4 oz. containers called Gibraltar glasses. That is why, it’s more common for us to see a bigger serving of cortado coffee nowadays. 

If you’re curious about where it gets its cool name, well cortado comes from the Spanish word “cortar,” meaning to cut. It refers to the process of using milk to “cut” or dilute the acidity of the espresso. 

Cortado is a popular choice among coffee enthusiasts who prefer the balance of milk and espresso. This balance creates a nuanced flavor that retains the strength of espresso while offering a smoother and milder taste.

Fun Fact: Speculations say that people used to order cortado as “cafe cortado con leche” or coffee cut with milk in English. But as time went on, it was shortened to just cortado. 

What is a Macchiato?

The traditional Italian coffee, caffe macchiato, is made with an espresso shot topped with a splash of milk foam, usually about one to two teaspoons.  This gives the beverage a tease of the sweetness of milk while maintaining its strong coffee taste.

With just a dash of milk, macchiato has the highest ratio of coffee to milk compared to other espresso-based drinks. In fact, the word macchiato roughly translates to English as “marked”, as in marked with milk. 

Similar to a cortado, a macchiato is served in small glasses, typically having 3 oz. servings. Nowadays, besides the traditional macchiato, AKA espresso macchiato, you can also enjoy other variations, such as latte macchiato and iced caramel macchiato.  

Macchiato is perfect for those who find a cappuccino too weak or for those who prefer the stronger flavor of the espresso yet would like a little milky treat. 

What’s the Difference between Cortado and Macchiato?

Like many other espresso drinks, the difference between a cortado and a macchiato lies in their distinct coffee and milk proportions. Aside from their origin and serving size, for these two drinks, the type of milk used in these two drinks pronounces the disparity between them. You’ll soon find that these small tweaks influence the outcome, like flavor and texture. 

macchiato vs cortado

Type of Milk, Flavor and Texture

Fundamentally, the difference between a macchiato and a cortado is the type of milk used: Macchiato uses just a splash of milk foam, while a cortado uses a decent amount of steamed milk.

The variation in texture between these two types of milk creates differences in the coffee flavor and texture.

In a macchiato, espresso is the star of the show. The minute amount of milk added only elevates it flavor profile by adding a subtle sweetness to the drink. The fluffiness of the milk foam also allows it to have a more velvety texture. 

The milk in a cortado is made by heating milk to reach just a certain temperature so that it has a slightly glossy surface. Here, the milk isn’t frothed, so you wouldn’t really see micro bubbles like you would in a macchiato. 

Coffee Beans

Traditionally, the espresso in a cortado is made with dark-roasted Robusta coffee beans.

Primarily, Robusta beans were used in Spain as they were more available. Other reasons would that Robusta beans contain a higher caffeine content and have a more intense flavor profile. They were dark-roasted as the roasting process mellows out the bitterness of the beans.  

For a macchiato, it really depends on your personal preference or how beans or selected for a coffee shop. 

Caffeine Content

Because espresso is the only source of caffeine in both a cortado and a macchiato, the caffeine content is proportional to the number of espresso shots added.

Since a single shot of espresso contains about 62.8 mg of caffeine and because both drinks contain two shots of espresso, then a standard serving of a macchiato and a cortado would have 125.6 mg of caffeine in total (1). 

All calculations are based on the USDA food database(3).


Espresso is a black coffee and that means it contains almost ZERO calories. So really, most of the calories in a macchiato and cortado comes from the milk. 

Because there is more milk in a cortado, it contains more calories compared to a macchiato. 

With just a splash of milk foam, about 5 to 20 mL, a macchiato only has 2 to 10 kcal per 3 ounce serving (2). On the hand, a cortado uses 2 ounces or about 60 mL of milk, amounting to about 30 kcal.

Fun Fact: A macchiato has less milk than any other coffee beverage. 

Cortado vs Macchiato: Which is better?

Know you know what a cortado and a macchiato is, 

Both macchiato and cortado are espresso drinks with milk; if you prefer a strong espresso flavor and don’t want so many calories, order a macchiato; on the other hand, if you want your drink sweeter and milder, a cortado is the better choice.


What does Cortado Mean?

The word “cortado” is derived from the Spanish word “cortar,” which means “to cut.” This refers to the use of milk to “cut” the acidity of the espresso and create a milder coffee. 

Is Cortado the Same as Macchiato?

Cortado is NOT the same as macchiato. Cortado is made with equal parts coffee and milk and served in 4oz glasses; while a macchiato is an espresso topped with 1 to 2 teaspoons of milk foam to make a 3 oz serving.


(1) Caffeine – Espresso

(2) Calories in milk used in cortado and macchiato

(3) USDA food database

Photo of author


Mesphird Yang

I have been brewing and drinking coffee for almost 6 years now. At first, I was just dazzled by how baristas look and that's why I started learning. In the long run, I became obsessed with its charm. I have tried many coffee brewing methods, with different kinds of beans in various roast levels. If I could have more than 4 cups of coffee a day, I definitely would!

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