Cortado Vs Macchiato – The DrinkStack ‘Know Your Coffee’ Series

Just when you think you’ve got a handle on all the different coffee drink types, another comes around to shake up your foundation.

If it’s not one term, it’s another! The difference between a wet and dry cappuccino is knowledge even some baristas aren’t familiar with, for starters. Different coffee bean varieties, from the catacurra to the bourbon, is a tapestry of agricultural detail.

We all have to start somewhere on our coffee journey, so let’s sharpen your coffee know-how.

What’s the difference between a Cortado vs Macchiato?

Defining The Cortado

Latte, mocha, macchiato, cappuccino, Americano…phew. It sounds like a lot, right? Thankfully for the cortado, it’s an extremely distinctive drink.

The biggest clue it’s not like other drinks is its size. Coming in a little espresso shot glass, the cortado is a highly concentrated drink that prefers quality over quantity.

Unlike a latte or a cappuccino, frothy milk is eschewed in favor of a simple steamed splash of milk. The appeal of this drink comes from how it brings out the savory, spicy, and toasted flavor notes of the espresso. You don’t have to worry about tart acidity or numbed flavors getting in the way of your experience.

With half milk and half espresso, this coffee drink is a pick-me-up in a bite-sized package. The cortado is very popular in Europe and more of a specialty in the United States, with many cafes not even offering it as an option.

Make sure not to get this drink confused with the ‘cortadito’, which is a sweet variety found in a few Spanish-speaking countries. You may also find yourself getting confused as to the difference between cortado vs macchiato. Speaking of which!

Fleshing Out The Macchiato

Now for the easily confused (and still oft-requested) macchiato. I think this one is bungled more than the cappuccino.

At its most basic, a macchiato is much like the cortado in terms of size and appeal. It also traditionally comes in a shot glass with a little splash of milk, even boasting a classic latte leaf if the barista’s feeling fancy.

The key difference is that the cortado often has a ‘half and half’ rule: half steamed milk, half espresso. The macchiato is even more concentrated with just the smallest splash, with most of the drink being pure coffee.

If you want a little more than usual, some coffee shops will serve their macchiato in a small mug.

Some cafes, however, have transformed the macchiato into a variation on the latte. It’s common to go into a coffee shop and see the familiar caramel macchiato on the chalkboard.

Not only is this completely different from the drink’s origins, but it also causes customers to get confused as to what they’re ordering. At the end of the day, that’s the double-edged sword of coffee. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to get mixed up!

Make A Cortado And Macchiato At Home

Come one, come all, home brewing aficionados! There’s always something new to try while you’re wiling away boredom in the kitchen.

Now that you know the difference between a cortado and a macchiato, you can start making one at home. This is possible even if you don’t have an espresso machine! A reliable way of getting a delicious, concentrated espresso is through the Moka pot.

This is a classic home brewing coffee method first made popular in Italy that is now used by millions of people across the world. Its main feature is its water pressure and filter: by steaming medium-fine coffee grounds (rather than steeping them) it creates an unparalleled result.

Steaming milk, too, can be achieved in a few ways. You can go for the old-fashioned stovetop method of heating up your milk manually, though you’ll have to maintain an even temperature so the milk doesn’t congeal.

In other words, don’t increase or lower the heat as you’re waiting. If you have a little extra cash laying around, you can always purchase a milk steamer. These range from $30 to $130 and can be used to supplement other drinks like hot chocolate and chai tea.

The cortado vs macchiato is easily mixed up for a reason. They really do look the same at a glance.

That’s just what makes coffee so fascinating, isn’t it? The tiniest of details can completely transform a drink and bring out new qualities. Since I love a good milk-to-coffee ratio, I generally prefer the cortado to the macchiato. That doesn’t mean I’ll turn down the latter if it’s offered, though!

Today’s Most Popular Coffee Drinks

As a former barista, I can make a few educated guesses on the most popular coffee drinks. I can also guess some of the least beloved.

Cappuccinos were a pretty rare request back when I was working at cafes. When they weren’t being confused for macchiatos, they were split between dry and wet varieties that left customers in a cloud of choice fatigue.

To contrast, the classic latte and the mocha were the reigning champions: both hot and cold versions were requested at any time of the day, followed close behind by caramel variants. I myself often didn’t get through a shift without at least one white hazelnut mocha.

What do modern statistics have to say about the matter? A 2020 study by Daily Coffee News found cappuccinos and lattes going neck-to-neck in terms of popularity, followed close behind by blended varieties.

The least popular are the Americano and the flat white, the latter of which is commonly confused with white coffee. Coffee drinks are often split up through culture, convenience, and the unique quirks of each cafe. Nowhere is this more clear than the cortado vs macchiato.

Similar Coffee Drinks You May Want To Know About

Before we touch on how you can make cortados and macchiatos in the comfort of your home, let’s clear up a few more drinks.

You may have heard of the steamer while browsing the cafe menu. This is a comforting drink made with steamed milk, froth, and a dash of flavor. This is not unlike the ‘babycino’, outright named as such for the lack of caffeine.

That said, the babycino still takes a cue from the cappuccino by having a healthy balance of microfoam and froth. If you’ve considered giving your children a decaf option, keep in mind decaf coffee still has a trace amount of caffeine in it. Sensitive constitutions will still be able to tell!

The flat white is very much on the same spectrum as the cortado and the macchiato. All three of these drinks prioritize the espresso to bring out its most complex flavors. What sets the flat white apart is in volume, both in terms of the cup size and the amount of milk.

Whereas the cortado has half milk and half espresso and the macchiato a tiny splash, the flat white has a little microfoam. If you love velvety mouthfeels or strong flavors, give these a try once it’s safe to visit cafes.

The Explosion Of Coffee Shops

It’s common knowledge that cafes are ubiquitous with everyday life in the West. They’re a prime spot not just to get a delicious drink, but to eat, mingle, and relax.

While the coronavirus has made visits to the cafe a thing of the past, this will no doubt bounce back nicely once it’s safe to eat and drink indoors again. The United States alone reached an impressive $47.5 billion in coffee shop revenue in 2019, maintaining its status as the undisputed worldwide coffee titan.

It’s the origin of Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, after all, and is home to thousands of large, medium, and small roasteries. I feel like I read about a cafe or a roastery having a grand opening every other week.

Believe it or not, coffee culture isn’t a standard globally. Some of today’s top coffee-producing countries, such as Uganda and Kenya, are only starting to dip their toes into the cafe space.

This has wider implications as to the efficiency of the global coffee supply chain and how it affects people, from farmers to consumers. Since the coffee shop’s popularity is only set to increase as more countries develop their own cafe culture, the coffee shop menu has no choice but to follow. This leads us to…

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