Cortado vs Cappuccino: Which Coffee Drink Reigns Supreme?

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Coffee is an integral part of many people’s daily routines, and with the rise of specialty coffee culture, there are now more options than ever to choose from.

Two popular espresso-based drinks that have gained widespread popularity are the cortado and cappuccino.

The cortado is a Spanish-originated beverage that consists of a shot of espresso with an equal amount of steamed milk, creating a balance of sweetness and boldness.

The cappuccino, on the other hand, is an Italian classic made with a shot of espresso, steamed milk, and a thick layer of milk foam, resulting in a creamy and frothy texture.

Both cortado and cappuccino have a fascinating history that dates back to the 20th century.

Cortado originated in Spain and was primarily served in cafes in Barcelona and Madrid.

Meanwhile, cappuccino has its roots in Italy, where it was first created by monks as a way to have a small yet sustaining breakfast.

The purpose of this article is to explore and compare cortado and cappuccino, examining their key differences, the factors to consider when choosing between them, and how to make both drinks at home.

We will also delve into their cultural significance, variations from around the world, expert opinions, and consumer preferences.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of which drink might be the best fit for you and your coffee preferences.

What is a Cortado?

A cortado is a type of espresso-based coffee drink that originated in Spain.

It is typically made by pouring a double shot of espresso into a small glass and then adding a roughly equal amount of steamed milk, creating a balanced and smooth taste.

The milk-to-espresso ratio in a cortado can vary depending on the region and personal preferences, but it’s generally around 1:1 or 1:2.

The goal is to balance the boldness of the espresso with the sweetness and creaminess of the steamed milk.

To prepare a cortado, first, a double shot of espresso is brewed using an espresso machine.

Then, steamed milk is added to the espresso, typically in a 4-6 oz glass, to create a smooth and creamy texture.

Some baristas will create latte art with milk foam for a visually pleasing finish.

Several variations of cortado have emerged in different parts of the world, such as the Gibraltar in San Francisco, which uses a shorter glass and a sweeter milk ratio.

Other variations include the cortado condensada in Portugal, which is made with sweetened condensed milk, and the cortado leche y leche in Argentina, which is made with a mix of steamed milk and condensed milk.

What is a Cappuccino?

A cappuccino is a traditional Italian coffee drink that consists of a shot of espresso, steamed milk, and a thick layer of milk foam.

It originated in Italy in the early 1900s and has since become a popular espresso-based drink around the world.

The milk-to-espresso ratio in a cappuccino is usually 1:1:1, with equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam.

This ratio is designed to create a creamy and frothy texture that balances the boldness of the espresso.

To prepare a cappuccino, first, a shot of espresso is brewed using an espresso machine.

Then, the steamed milk is poured into the espresso in a 5-6 oz cup, followed by a thick layer of milk foam.

The top layer of foam can be decorated with latte art, such as a heart or rosetta, to enhance the visual appeal of the drink.

Several variations of cappuccino have emerged in different parts of the world, such as the flat white in Australia and New Zealand, which uses a similar milk-to-espresso ratio but with a smoother texture and less foam.

Other variations include the dry cappuccino, which has more foam and less milk, and the wet cappuccino, which has more milk and less foam.

Cortado vs Cappuccino: Key Differences

While cortado and cappuccino may appear similar, there are notable differences between the two coffee drinks.

Here are the key differences:

Milk-to-espresso ratio

The milk-to-espresso ratio in a cortado ranges from 1:1 to 1:2, while a cappuccino typically has a ratio of 1:1:1, with equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam.

This means that a cortado has less milk and more espresso compared to a cappuccino, resulting in a bolder and richer flavor.

Texture and foam

Cortados have a smooth and velvety texture, with just a small amount of microfoam on top.

In contrast, cappuccinos have a thick layer of milk foam on top, which provides a creamy and frothy texture.

Flavor profile

Due to the higher proportion of espresso to milk, cortados have a stronger and more robust flavor compared to cappuccinos.

The milk in cappuccinos provides a milder flavor, while the thick layer of foam on top adds a creamy and sweet note.

Origins and cultural significance

Cortados originated in Spain and are popular in Spanish-speaking countries, while cappuccinos originated in Italy and have become a global coffee staple.

In Italy, cappuccinos are traditionally consumed only in the morning, while cortados are often enjoyed as an afternoon pick-me-up in Spanish culture.

Nutrient content

Cortados tend to be lower in calories and fat compared to cappuccinos due to their lower milk content.

However, cappuccinos can be a good source of calcium and vitamin D if made with milk.

Caffeine Content

A Cortado typically contains more caffeine than a cappuccino due to the higher espresso-to-milk ratio and a double shot of espresso.

However, if they both had the same number of espresso shots then their caffeine content would be pretty much identical.

Cortado vs Cappuccino: Key Similarities

Cortado and cappuccino may have their differences, but they share some similarities that make them both delicious espresso-based drinks.

For starters, both drinks have a foundation of espresso, providing a strong and bold flavor.

They also both contain milk, which is steamed and frothed to create a smooth and creamy texture.

Both cortado and cappuccino have roots in European coffee culture, with the cortado originating in Spain and the cappuccino hailing from Italy.

They both require proper milk steaming and foam techniques to achieve the ideal texture and consistency, with the milk adding sweetness and depth to the drink.

Finally, both drinks can be enjoyed as a morning or afternoon coffee beverage, making them a versatile option for any time of day.

Whether you prefer the smooth and velvety texture of a cortado or the frothy and creamy goodness of a cappuccino, these drinks have something to offer any coffee lover.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Cortado and Cappuccino

If you find yourself debating between a cortado and a cappuccino, there are several factors to consider before making your decision.

Here are some of the most important factors:

Personal taste preferences: The most important factor to consider when choosing between cortado and cappuccino is your personal taste preferences. Do you prefer a bolder, stronger coffee flavor, or a sweeter, creamier taste?

Time of day and occasion: Consider the time of day and occasion when you will be drinking your coffee. Cortados are often consumed in the morning or early afternoon, while cappuccinos are also consumed in the morning but they can also be had as a mid-day or after-dinner treat.

Caffeine content: If you are looking for a stronger caffeine kick, a cortado may be the better choice, as it typically contains more caffeine than a cappuccino due to the double shot of espresso.

Nutritional value: If you are watching your calorie and fat intake, a cortado may be the better option, as it typically contains less milk and foam than a cappuccino. However, keep in mind that both drinks contain calories and should be consumed in moderation.

Price point: Finally, consider the price point of each drink. Cortados are typically less expensive than cappuccinos, but this may vary depending on the coffee shop and location.

How to Make Cortado and Cappuccino at Home

If you’re looking to make a cortado or cappuccino at home, it’s easier than you might think.

Here’s what you’ll need:


  • Espresso machine
  • Milk frother
  • Measuring cup
  • Shot glass
  • Tamper
  • Espresso cups


  • Freshly roasted coffee beans
  • Whole milk


  1. Start by grinding your coffee beans and tamping them down into the portafilter.
  2. Pull two shots of espresso into a measuring cup.
  3. Heat up a small amount of milk in a milk frother until it’s steaming hot.
  4. Pour the steamed milk over the espresso shots, using a spoon to hold back the foam.
  5. Enjoy!


  1. Follow the same steps for making espresso as with the cortado.
  2. Froth your milk in a milk frother until you have a good amount of foam.
  3. Pour the milk over the espresso shots, holding back the foam with a spoon.
  4. Spoon the foam on top of the milk.
  5. Sprinkle with cocoa powder, cinnamon or nutmeg for an extra flavor boost, if desired.
  6. Enjoy!

Tips for a perfect cup:

  • Use freshly roasted and ground coffee beans for the best flavor.
  • Use cold milk and a chilled frothing pitcher for the best texture.
  • Pay attention to your milk-to-espresso ratio to achieve the perfect balance of flavors.
  • Experiment with different types of milk and milk substitutes to find your favorite variation.

Cortado vs Cappuccino: Which Should You Choose?

There is no hard and fast rule about who should drink a cortado and who should drink a cappuccino.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal taste preferences. However, some general guidelines may help you decide which drink to choose.

If you prefer a stronger coffee flavor with less milk and want to taste the espresso more prominently, a cortado might be a good choice for you.

This drink is also a good option if you’re looking for a mid-day pick-me-up, but don’t want to consume too much caffeine.

On the other hand, if you enjoy a smoother, creamier texture with a more balanced flavor, a cappuccino might be more to your liking.

This drink is also a good option if you prefer a lighter coffee in the morning or as a dessert drink after a meal.


Why is it called a cortado?

“Cortado” means “cut” in Spanish, referring to the way the espresso shot is “cut” with a small amount of milk.

The term comes from Spain, where the drink originated.

Why is a cortado so small?

Cortados are small to maintain the balance of flavor between the espresso and milk.

The small size ensures that the espresso is not diluted by too much milk, while still providing enough milk for a smooth and creamy texture.

Is Cortado a single or double shot?

A cortado can be made with either a single or double shot of espresso, depending on the preference of the drinker.

It is typically made with a double shot of espresso.

Why is cortado so popular?

Cortados are popular because they provide a balanced flavor between espresso and milk.

The small size and equal parts of milk and espresso make for a smooth and strong drink that is not too overpowering.

Is latte better than cappuccino cortado?

The answer to this question depends on personal preference.

A latte is generally considered a creamier, smoother drink than a cappuccino or cortado due to the higher ratio of milk to espresso.

However, some people prefer the stronger espresso flavor and thicker foam of a cappuccino or cortado.

What is the difference between cortado and macchiato and cappuccino?

A cortado is a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of espresso to steamed milk, with a small amount of foam on top.

A macchiato also has two shots of espresso with a dollop of foamed milk on top.

A cappuccino has a 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and foam, with the foam layer being thicker than that of a cortado.

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Jacob Harris

Jacob is a coffee enthusiast who turned his passion into a career. As the owner and editor of Karma Coffee Cafe, he shares his extensive knowledge and recommendations, captivating fellow coffee lovers.

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