Cortado vs Cappuccino: Breaking Down the Differences!

Cortado and cappuccino coffee
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When it comes to milk-based espresso drinks, cortado and cappuccino take the spotlight. But what sets them apart in the coffee arena?

Let’s decipher the secret code of cortado and cappuccino. 

The cortado is like a harmonious espresso duet with two shots and an equal milk partner, all perfectly balanced. It’s a caffeine alliance with a creamy twist, leaving you sipping in satisfaction.

Meanwhile, the cappuccino is a full-blown espresso extravaganza, a triple threat of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk. It’s like a mini milk mountain atop your espresso peak, giving you the ultimate frothy experience.

It’s time to uncover more about the caffeinated mysteries of the cortado vs. cappuccino showdown!

What is Cortado?

The cortado, a coffee sensation sweeping through Spanish and Portuguese-speaking lands, has found its caffeinated fame. This espresso delight boasts double the espresso punch, perfectly poured over ice and mingled with just the right amount of steamed milk. The result? A smooth, balanced beverage that needs no sugar to strut its stuff.

Served in a petite cup, the cortado is a popular choice for espresso enthusiasts who crave the bold flavor without the added sweetness. Its robustness is tamed by a 1:1 espresso-to-milk ratio, giving birth to the drink’s name – cortado, meaning “to cut” in Spanish.

To add a touch of zest, it’s accompanied by a slice of lemon or orange, while a sprinkle of cocoa powder dances on top like a chocolaty confetti. So, sip on this small but mighty concoction, embracing the symphony of flavors that’ll make your taste buds do a happy dance.

Noted: Don’t get confused by its caffeinated cousin_ the piccolo latte. While both beverages boast delightful milkiness, the piccolo latte takes the sweetness and smoothness up a notch. Because it’s not just coffee—it’s a cortado crush. On the other hand, the cortado boldly embraces its coffee roots, delivering a robust flavor and a caffeine kick that’s hard to match, thanks to its double espresso shot. 

a shot of cortado

Related Read: Cortado Vs Latte: Which One Should You Go For?

What are Cortado variations?

When it comes to cortado, tradition reigns supreme, and that means no sugar or fancy flavors in sight. So, if you want to be a cortado connoisseur, steer clear of those flavored beans and syrups.

You can also still spice things up by playing with the type of coffee bean you choose. Whether you go light, medium, or dark roasted, the cortado canvas is yours to paint.

P.S. This cherished elixir has a Cuban variation, where it takes on a new form known as the Cortadito.

What is Cappuccino?

Cappuccino, an Italian gem that screams “caffeine love affair.” With its low acidity, it’s the smooth operator I crave. Espresso and milk, that’s the heart of a cappuccino, but it’s the divvying up of those elements that set it apart.

Noted: A well-crafted cappuccino is characterized by its richness, with a pleasing absence of acidity, and a subtle sweetness imparted by the milk. The separation of the milk allows the espresso to assert a stronger flavor profile.

Imagine a cappuccino as a three-way symphony: 1/3 espresso at the base, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 heavenly foamed milk on top. The true artisans take it to another level with ethereal foam—airy and light as a feather. Served in a smaller six-ounce mug (though size options exist), this drink keeps it hot and foamy.

cappuccino coffee

Related Read: Macchiato vs. Cappuccino (Key Differences And Recipe)

What are Cappuccino variations?

Cappuccinos are the ultimate canvas for coffee creativity, so why not spice things up with some flavored beans or syrups? Cinnamon Cappuccino, Ginger Bread, or Hazelnut beans, anyone? It’s like a coffee carnival for your taste buds.

And if you thought cappuccinos were just for hot sipping, think again.

Iced cappuccinos, cappuccinos with cream, dry cappuccinos—the possibilities are endless. A cappuccino is like a blank slate waiting for you to unleash your flavor fantasies. So go ahead, get fancy with it.

Delving into Contrasts: Cortado vs Cappuccino

Hold your espresso cups, because I can read your thoughts: “Aren’t cortado and cappuccinos just two peas in a pod?” 

Well, buckle up, my friend, because it’s time for a Cortado vs Cappuccino comparison of these two titans.

The Proportion of Milk to Espresso

The cortado struts in at 4 ounces, confidently flaunting its equal parts of milk and coffee. Meanwhile, the cappuccino boldly takes up 6 ounces of space, boasting a ratio that tips the scales with twice as much milk as coffee.

It’s a battle of ratios, where the cortado goes toe-to-toe while the cappuccino flexes its milk muscle with a triumphant pour.

The Consistency & Milk Foam

As per the consistency of cortado is concerned it’s much like a smooth operator, blending the frothed milk seamlessly into the espresso for a luxurious, velvety texture and lasting flavor. In contrast, the cappuccino is a triple-layered delight, with a light and airy foam that’s like eating a fluffy cloud. 

In the world of milk foam, the cortado takes a subtle approach, like a whispered secret between coffee and milk. Its thin, barely-there foam blends harmoniously with the coffee, leaving no trace of distinction.

Meanwhile, the cappuccino struts in with confidence, flaunting a lavish layer of creamy, bubbly foam that demands attention. It’s a velvety rebellion against subtlety, claiming a substantial portion of the drink as its own.

But be warned, adding extras will change the game and make it a heavier affair.

cortado in making

The Temperature & Drink Size

When it comes to serving styles and temperature, cappuccinos mean business with their preheated ceramic mugs, keeping the temperature just right for that perfect sip. The milk? Steamed to a cozy 140°F.

Cortados rebels come in cool small glasses, no burning your hand here. But beware, the lower temperature means you’ve got to down it like a pro before the coffee chills out.

In summary: Cappuccino is hot, served in ceramic magic, while cortado keeps it cool in trendy glassware. Temperature plays the game, my friend. Sip smart, sip swift.

When it comes to cup sizes, cappuccinos, and cortado have their own gig. In Europe and fancy coffee houses, cappuccinos rock a 5 or 6-ounce cup.

But hold on! 

Commercial coffee chains like Starbucks offer sizes that could last you a whole workday—8, 12, 16, and 20 ounces of cappuccino goodness.

Now, let’s talk cortado. It’s the shorty of the espresso world, usually served as a 4-ounce drink in the US. But across Europe, they keep it even tinier, giving you just a 2-ounce shot. It’s a bittersweet affair, wishing for an 8-ounce cortado adventure, even if it means embracing the jitters.

So, to sum it up: cortado, short and sweet at 2 or 4 ounces. Cappuccinos, are versatile giants ranging from 5 to 20 ounces, depending on where you sip.

The History & Popularity Of Both The Beverages

The cortado originated in Spain’s Basque region, deriving its name from the Spanish verb “cortar.” It has gained popularity in Spain, Portugal, and Cuba, with variations worldwide. In Cuba, an alternative version replaces milk with sweetened condensed milk.

The cappuccino, dating back to 17th century Italy, is named after the Capuchin monks. This coffee-milk combination is renowned for its foam art and is enjoyed as an Italian-style breakfast. It arrived in America in 1980, captivating coffee lovers ever since.

The cappuccino proudly takes the crown as one of the world’s most beloved and easily accessible coffees.

On the other hand, the cortado, while not entirely hidden in the shadows, carries a lesser-known status compared to its cappuccino counterpart. Be warned, adventurous coffee seekers, for you may stumble upon coffee shops that lack the finesse to craft a perfect cortado.

It’s a journey where popularity reigns supreme, but those who dare to seek the lesser-known gems may find themselves in a quest for a well-made cortado.

cappuccino in making

Nutritional Variances

Espresso has negligible calories; all the calories come from the milk added to it. Cortado, with 1-2 ounces of milk, contains a mere 30 calories.

While a standard 6-ounce cappuccino has about 60 calories. Larger sizes and additional toppings increase calorie counts.

So, if you’re watching your calorie intake, a Cortado is the safer choice.

Distinctive Flavors with Similar Undertones

When it comes to the milk factor, the cortado is the espresso whisperer, finding the perfect balance with equal parts coffee and milk. It tames the bitterness and acidity of coffee without turning it into a sugary delight.

Meanwhile, the cappuccino embraces its sweet side, courtesy of the lactose in milk. The result is a rich flavor where the espresso takes a backseat to the milk party.

In a nutshell, it’s all about the milk quantity. Cappuccino leans towards sweetness, while cortado stays true to the coffee’s true nature. It’s a tale of taste and milk mastery.

The Takeaway

When it comes to the comparison of cortado vs cappuccino, despite both drinks sharing a base of espresso and milk, they possess notable distinctions. These variations can be as simple as adjusting the milk quantity or altering the steaming process. 

It is crucial to appreciate the unique qualities of each beverage, as they both showcase the beloved coffee flavor in their own remarkable ways.

If you find it challenging to discern the disparities between cortado and cappuccino, it may be best to experience the dissimilarity firsthand by sampling these drinks at various coffee shops in San Francisco, often referred to as the West’s coffee capital.

By trying both beverages, you will truly understand that despite utilizing the same ingredients, cortado and cappuccino possess distinct characteristics that set them apart.

cortado coffee


What is the difference between a cortado and a flat white?

The preparation method for milk is identical in both cortado and flat white. However, their distinguishing factor lies in the milk-to-coffee ratio. The cortado boasts a balanced 1:1 ratio, while the flat white takes it a step further with a 1:2 milk-to-coffee ratio.

Is cortado better than cappuccino?

In the battle of flavors, the cortado reigns as the stronger and more espresso-forward choice, while the cappuccino embraces creaminess and sweetness. The milk in a cortado tames the espresso’s bitterness, appealing to those who prefer a milder coffee experience without sacrificing the espresso flavor. If bold coffee is your game, opt for the cortado. If you crave a touch of sweetness and creaminess, the cappuccino is your go-to.

Which has more caffeine? cortado vs cappuccino.

When it comes to caffeine content, the Cortado takes the lead with a double espresso, containing 136mg of caffeine. In comparison, the cappuccino lags behind with 68mg of caffeine. However, if you’re seeking a stronger kick, you can pump up your cappuccino’s caffeine levels by adding an extra espresso shot.

Why is Cortado suddenly so popular?

Coffee enthusiasts and baristas alike adore this beverage for its harmonious flavor, velvety texture, and delicate layer of microfoam. It’s this perfect balance that makes it a favorite among the coffee geek community.

Is a cortado 1 or 2 shots?

In the United States, the cortado struts its stuff as a 4-ounce marvel, commanding the power of two espresso shots. But across the pond in Europe, where it graces the tables as a daintier 2-ounce delight, it elegantly carries just a single shot. It’s a tale of geographical portions, where the cortado adjusts its espresso artillery to suit the preferences of different continents.

What is Starbucks’ equivalent to a cortado?

While you won’t find a cortado listed on Starbucks’ menu, fear not, for there’s a secret way to savor its delights. Simply request a double shot of espresso accompanied by a splendid 2 ounces of milk layered atop the golden elixir. It’s a covert code for unlocking the cortado experience within the realm of Starbucks.

Is A cortado stronger than an espresso?

The disparity lies in the espresso quantity. A 4-ounce cortado boasts a double shot, while its cappuccino counterpart of the same size settles for just one.

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