Cortado vs Cappuccino: What’s the Difference?

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There are so many many different espresso drinks on a typical coffee shop menu that sometime you might feel unsure what to order. Do you know what the difference is between a cortado vs a cappuccino? If not, then we will compare these popular espresso drinks in this article.

While cappuccino and cortado have similar ingredients, the preparation method, taste and texture will make them very different. Read on to find out whether a cortado or a cappuccino would be the best espresso drink for your taste buds.

What is a Cortado?

Cortado coffee

A cortado is a double shot of espresso with added steamed milk in a one-to-one coffee-to milk ratio. This traditionally served espresso drink is named after the Spanish verb “cortar” which means to “cut.”

A Cortado is often served in a 4.5 OZ tumbler glass. This fashionable espresso drink has different names in various countries, such as Noisette or Cortadito. But these are all the same drinks.

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

SEE ALSO: What Is a Shaken Espresso?

What is a Cappuccino?

Cappuccino with barista art on top

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 and is a best seller in many American and European coffee shops.

An evergreen coffee drink 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.

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 foamed milk.

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 I 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.

READ MORE: 10 TikTok Starbucks Drinks You Need to Try in 2022

What’s the Difference: Cortado vs Cappuccino

Cortado with a cracker

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 espresso drinks apart.

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

The texture of these two espresso 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.

Besides the size, foam, and texture, the taste is another key difference between a cortado and a cappuccino. The Cortado has a well-balanced yet bold espresso flavor that is not too sweet and not too bitter. After all, it is a drink made of a double shot of espresso and an equal amount of steamed milk.

On the other hand, the cappuccino is much sweeter, the drink has a 2:3 milk ratio, and the frothed milk on top is a sweet indulgence by itself. But there is more to it. Although the cappuccino is naturally sweet it is often customized with delicious toppings:

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

Not surprisingly, a cappuccino will 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 espresso drinks with hot milk. How the milk is prepared, steamed, frothed, or both and how much milk is being used make all the difference between cortado and cappuccino. 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 espresso drink with fewer natural calories and a bold coffee flavor, go with a Cortado.

After reading this article, you will be able to distinguish between the two 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