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 a cortado and a 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 key differences between a cortado vs cappuccino.
What is a Cappuccino?
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Cappuccinos are the original whipped coffee and one of the most popular espresso-based drinks. 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 an equal amount of 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?
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. The amount of milk used in a cortado is very important since it has to be equal parts espresso to milk. That’s what makes it a cortado!
With a cortado, the hot milk cuts through the bitterness and intensity of the espresso shot. The end result is bright, light, and naturally sweet coffee taste. It’s exceptionally drinkable too.
If you order this at your local coffee shop, it will typically arrive in a small glass oftentimes called a Gibraltar glass. They’ll often add the tiniest layer of foam to create art on the top of the glass.
Compared with a flat white, a cortado coffee 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 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.
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.
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.
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 creamy texture of this coffee drink is smooth and easy to drink quickly.
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.
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 coffee shops, the volume has grown. Sometimes up to 8 ounces.
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.
Yes. A cappuccino tastes sweeter and less bold, but ultimately a cortado is a stronger flavor than a cappuccino.
No, the Cortado is a smaller drink but the amount of milk in a latte is more than a cortado. A cortado has a 1:1 ratio while a late is 1/3 espresso, 2/3 milk and a layer of microfoam on top.
Starbucks doesn’t have a cortado drink listed on their menu. To order one, ask for a double shot of espresso and 2oz of milk on top of the espresso.
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.
A cortado is typically two shots of espresso.
Despite both being espresso based drinks, cappuccino and cortado aren’t very similar drinks. The main difference being these two drinks are the foam with the cortado having less foam than the cappuccino which has a very generous foam layer.
Which one of these two coffee drinks should you get the next time?
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.
A cortado is a better choice if you’re on the go. It’s a smaller, cooler coffee drink with the same caffeine content 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!