Cortado vs Cappuccino – What’s The Difference?

Straight espresso is great for a lot of things, but in some moments, it’s simply too intense.

Adding steamed milk is a great way to lessen the intensity, enhance the texture of a drink, and add sweetness to the cup.

There are a thousand ways to combine coffee and milk, but cortado and cappuccino may be two of the most important. 

One is a slow morning drink, and the other is intended as a quick pick-me-up if you’re on the go. Read on to see what makes each drink great and the core differences between a cortado vs cappuccino.

What is a Cappuccino?

cappuccino

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Cappuccinos are the original whipped coffee. It’s been described as the ultimate drinkable coffee and even a “hug in a mug.”

There’s always plenty of flavor and loads of foam. And, if prepared correctly, the bubbles are so tiny you can’t see them individually.

The origin of cappuccino is actually pretty compelling. It predates espresso in Italy, and the term was originally used to describe the strength of coffee beans mixed with milk based on its color.

In modern times, the drink is created by pouring steamed milk over espresso. Most people explain it using the “rule of thirds,” which frames a cappuccino as equal parts coffee, milk, and foam. This is a great way to conceptualize a cappuccino, although it’s not entirely accurate.

Cappuccino is served as a 5-6 ounce drink. The first 2 ounces are always espresso, and the remainder is steamed milk. It has the most foam of any standard espresso drink.

Compared with a latte, a traditional cappuccino has less milk and more foam. This means you’ll get more espresso flavor. Latte art is more complicated to perform with foamier milk, so a cappuccino is often served with a plain-foamy top.

Compared with a macchiato, a cappuccino has more milk, so the flavor is less likely to overpower your palate. You’ll also get more sweetness from the steamed milk.

What is a Cortado?

cortado

The Cortado drink originates from the Spanish word “to cut,” which is precisely what happens to the intensity of the coffee when you prepare it.

Cortado is a 4-ounce drink made using equal parts coffee and added steamed milk.

With a cortado, milk cuts through the bitterness and intensity of espresso. The end result is bright, light, and naturally sweet coffee taste. It’s exceptionally drinkable too.

Compared with a flat white, a cortado is slightly smaller and has less milk. Another difference is the texture of the milk, which is smoother and less silky with a cortado.

Another comparable drink is the Piccolo Latte, which has a similar milk texture but a smaller proportion of espresso. Cortado offers more coffee intensity in the drink.

It’s nice and light, not too hot, and with the tiniest amount of foam.

Differences between Cortado vs Cappuccino

Cortado  vs cappuccino

Cortado and cappuccino are built on a similar coffee foundation- a 2-ounce espresso doppio. Milk is then added atop the espresso. This is where these coffee drinks diverge. 

Let’s explore the differences between a cortado and cappuccino.

Foam

The main difference between cappuccino vs cortado is the overall texture and foaminess of the drinks. Here’s a quick background on these coffee drinks.

Foam is created during the “milk steaming” process when an espresso machine’s steam wand drags along the surface of the milk. Air is injected into the milk, forming tiny bubbles. 

Cappuccino

Once the desired amount of foam is created, a barista dips their wand deeper beneath the drink’s surface. Doing so mixes the bubbles into a marshmallow like consistency and warms the steamed milk.

It doesn’t take long. The entire process, including brewing the espresso, usually complete in 5-8 seconds. 

Cappuccino is one of the foamiest mainstream milk coffee recipes, and about 30% of the steaming process is focused on foam creation. Once the milk volume has increased by 50-80%, then it’s ready to go. That’s a lot of foam!

By contrast, cortados have virtually no foam. The barista should only hear a brief one or two slurping noises of air entering the milk pitcher before the wand is submerged for warming and mixing with the coffee.

Body

Because there are so many microscopic air bubbles suspended in cappuccino coffee, the drink has an almost pillowy like taste. The mouthfeel is very light because there is little actual coffee mass in each sip.

Cortados have a minimal amount of suspended gasses, so the feel is much heavier than a cappuccino. The texture of this coffee drink is smooth and easy to drink quickly, much like a gibraltar. 

Temperature

Cappuccinos are traditionally served in a small ceramic coffee mug, which is preheated with water before the espresso is pulled. Preheating helps the drink maintain a perfect sipping temperature. Cappuccino milk is steamed to 140 F.

For a cortado, the milk is only steamed to 130 F. 

A cortado is traditionally served in a small glass. Because of its lower temperature, the glass won’t burn your hand. But you’ll need to down it quickly before the coffee grows cold.

cortado drink on white plate

Milk

For both drinks, the warm steamed milk creates a sweet flavor profile. This taste quality is derived from the heat response of lactose to steaming.

Milk tastes the sweetest around body temperature. The hotter it gets, the less intense the sweet sensation. Too hot, and the steamed milk “breaks,” releasing tons of unpleasant flavors and odors and mixes with the coffee. 

Size & Variations

Cortado is always a 4-ounce drink. An espresso doppio plus milk.

Cappuccino is usually served at 5-6 ounces, but in many shops, the volume has grown. Sometimes up to 8 ounces. 

Cappuccino

Traditionally, both drinks are prepared with whole milk. But these days you can substitute with every manner of reduced-fat dairy or plant-based milk. These alternatives often come at the expense of the smoothness of the cup of coffee.

Beyond milk selection, some people enjoy sprinkling or shaving chocolate atop their cappuccino to give it more of a sweet taste. And while the foam composition of a latte is better suited for barista art, some people also try their hand at cappuccino art.

FAQ

Is a cortado a small cappuccino?

But, the Cortado is a smaller drink, and in comparison, a cappuccino is 1 or 2 oz larger. This size difference due to the thick layer of microfoam makes the cappuccino outgrow its smaller cousin. The microfoam and the size of the drinks are what set these two espresso drinks apart. Cappuccino is all about the foam.

Is cortado stronger than cappuccino?

Both cortado and cappuccino coffee drinks are prepared by brewing 2 ounces of espresso. A cappuccino uses a higher volume of milk which results in a lower intensity of coffee flavor. The main difference between the drinks is foaminess and mouth feel. A cappuccino tastes sweeter and less bold, and ultimately a cortado is stronger, but not as strong as a cup of traditional dark roast coffee.

What has more milk, a cappuccino or cortado?

A cappuccino has more milk than a cortado. It is a 5-6 ounce drink, with only 2 ounces of that volume being espresso. While a cortado has the same amount of espresso, it is only 4 ounces in total volume.

Is a cortado the same as a macchiato?

No, the main difference between the two is the milk preparation. Macchiato uses milk that has been more heavily foamed, while a cortado is almost exclusively regular steamed milk.

Is a cortado the same as a Flat White?

They’re generally served in 5-7 fl oz cups. Although the difference is very subtle, it’s all about the consistency of the milk that is used. They have the same amount of espresso, but the milk in a cortado is not textured. Essentially, a cortado is smooth while a flat white is more velvety and thicker.

Recap 

In spite of their similarities, cappuccino and cortado are very different drinks. 

Which one of these two coffee drinks should you get? 

Try a cappuccino if you have time to sit, sip, taste, and enjoy. It’s perfectly pillowy and light. A great way to start the day is with a cappuccino and a newspaper or a good book.

Try a cortado if you’re on the go. It’s a smaller, cooler coffee drink with the same caffeine dose as a cappuccino. You get that bold espresso flavor, and it’s a coffee drink that’s meant to be consumed quickly.

Want to learn more about cappuccinos & cortados? Head on over to one of these posts!

About bit of cream

Rishi and Jen are the creators behind Bit of Cream. They start each morning with a cup of coffee and are on the hunt to make that simple cup of caffeine better and brighter. Feel free to send them a message or follow along on Instagram!

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