Cortado vs Cappuccino: What’s the Difference?

Cup of cappuccino

What is the difference between a cortado vs a cappuccino? If you are not sure, you’ve come to the right place. We have prepared this short guide to these popular espresso drinks for you.

While both drinks have similar ingredients, the preparation method, taste and texture will make them unique. Read on to find out whether a cappuccino or a cortado would be the best choice for your taste buds.

What is a Cortado?

A cortado is a double-shot of espresso with added steamed milk in a one-to-one coffee to milk ratio. It is often served in a tumbler Gibraltar glass. Hence it also goes by the name Gibraltar. Of course, this fashionable coffee drink has many names in various countries worldwide, such as Noisette or Cortadito. They are all the same drink.

Cortado coffee

The milk is steamed gently, and there is no foam layer on the top other than a very thin line. The milk texture is light; there is no foam and no froth.

What is excellent about the Cortado is the balance of coffee and milk. None of them is overbearing or feels too much. You get to enjoy the strong aroma of a double espresso while the milk adds a touch of sweetness and reduces the bitterness of the double shot.

What is a Cappuccino?

The silky magic of a great cappuccino has quite a reputation. It is likely to be the most popular espresso-based drink in the world. An evergreen coffee choice and a true classic that even people who never had a cup of coffee in their life will recognize. It’s ideally prepared with an espresso machine, but what if you don’t have one at home? Then a moka pot or a French press could work just fine.

Cappuccino with barista art on top

So, what goes into a cappuccino that makes it so popular? A cappuccino is a 5 or 6 oz drink with a single shot of espresso. It’s made of 1/3 each: espresso, steamed milk, and frothy foam. The goal is to serve three distinct layers stirred together in Italian style. You need to steam the milk long enough to get the microfoam texture required for the thick layer on the top.

The milk’s fat content determines the consistency of the foam. We recommend using whole milk for the best results and extra velvety foam. Low-fat dairy can still give you an ok foam if whole milk is not available. Skim milk is too watery, and light for a traditional cappuccino, and the foam quickly dissolves.

As we found out, the foam is a central part of the cappuccino. Luckily, the thick foam is the perfect playground for making latte art. Or adding some delicious toppings. Chocolate and whipped cream are a few of the possibilities to customize this drink as you wish.

What’s the Difference: Cortado vs Cappuccino

Both beverages contain espresso and steamed milk, and they have common base ingredients. 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 coffee drinks apart.

Cappuccino is all about the foam. This is the same foamed milk that you can find on a macchiato. Meanwhile, the traditional Cortado does not have any foam unless your barista wants to serve you a Cortado with some unique patterns and art. For this, they will need to add some foam, and even a tiny layer will do.

Cortado with a cracker

The texture of these two drinks is quite different due to their differing milk content. The Cortado is smooth and like regular steamed milk, with a rich, dense, milky texture.

In contrast, the cappuccino will be much lighter in texture than a cortado. The milk foam is airy and light with lots of tiny air bubbles, which is natural. If you drink the foam, it has almost no weight or texture. To some of you, the cappuccino might even feel too airy. As always, a lot depends on the skill of your local barista too. But the cappuccino feels lighter in the mouth unless you get one with cream and toppings, of course.

Besides the size, foam, and texture, the taste is another key difference between a cortado and a cappuccino. The Cortado has this well-balanced taste that is not too sweet and not too acidic or bitter. After all, it is a drink made of 1/2 espresso and 1/2 milk.

On the other hand, the cappuccino is much sweeter, a cup has 2/3 of dairy content, and the frothed milk on top is a sweet indulgence by itself. But there is more to it. Although the cappuccino is naturally sweeter, it is often supplemented further with:

  • Sugar
  • Syrup
  • Chocolate sprinkles
  • Cocoa powder
  • Cinnamon powder
  • Whipped cream

These are some of the options available at most coffee shops and at home.

Not surprisingly, a cappuccino will always pack much more calories than a Cortado, even without any toppings. So, if you are watching your carb intake, this is something to keep in mind, and then we recommend you a Cortado over a cappuccino.

Final Thoughts

Cappuccino and Cortado are two trendy drinks based on espresso and hot milk. How the milk is prepared, steamed, frothed, or both and how much milk is being used make all the difference. A thick foam of milk is the one thing to look out for to identify which one is which.

Both beverages have their merits and taste lovely in their ways. Still, the cappuccino offers a more complex coffee experience. This foamy drink gives the expert barista more room for coffee art and more options for customizing and personalizing with extra add ons.

If you prefer a smaller drink, fewer natural calories (even without supplements), and less sweetness, go with a Cortado.

After reading this guide on the Cortado vs Cappuccino debate, you will be able to distinguish between the drinks. You will know which one would suit your taste and lifestyle. And if still not sure? Then you can try both side-by-side and decide which one works best for you!


Featured Image Credit: Engin Akyurt, Pixabay