Cortado vs. Cappuccino

Cortado vs. Cappuccino: What’s the Difference

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When it comes to coffee, the choices seem endless. Among the vast array of options, two popular choices that often leave people wondering are Cortado and Cappuccino. These unique characteristics of espresso-based beverages make them stand out in the coffee world.

Whether you’re a coffee aficionado or just starting to explore the world of espresso drinks, understanding the differences between Cortado and Cappuccino can elevate your coffee experience to new heights. In this article, we’ll delve into cortado vs. cappuccino, helping you understand which one might tickle your taste buds just right.

The Essence of Espresso

Before we delve into the differences between cortados and cappuccinos, let’s understand the heart of these beverages: espresso. Espresso is the foundation of both drinks, prepared by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee beans. Its concentrated nature forms the base of many coffee creations.

Cortado: A Perfect Harmony of Coffee and Milk

What is Cortado?

Cortado, often referred to as “shortened espresso,” is a coffee delight that strikes the perfect balance between the strong essence of espresso and the creaminess of steamed milk.

The key to a fantastic Cortado lies in its preparation. A shot of rich, bold espresso is paired with an equal amount of steamed milk, resulting in a velvety, flavorful beverage that’s less intense than a full espresso but still retains its robust character.

The Cortado’s name, derived from the Spanish word “cortar,” meaning “to cut,” alludes to how the milk cuts the espresso’s bitterness, creating a harmonious cup that’s not too overwhelming.

Cappuccino: A Frothy Espresso Elegance

What is Cappuccino?

The Cappuccino might be your ideal choice if you’re in the mood for an espresso drink with an artistic presentation and a delightful balance of textures. This Italian classic is known for its distinct layers—equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam.

The espresso forms the strong base, while the steamed milk adds richness, and the milk foam crowns the drink with its creamy, airy texture. Preparing a Cappuccino requires skillful milk frothing to achieve the perfect foam consistency, resulting in a sip that’s as luxurious to taste as it is to behold.

Cortado vs. Cappuccino: Flavor Showdown

When it comes to flavor, Cortado and Cappuccino have their unique profiles that cater to different preferences. Cortado’s flavor is a dance between the bold notes of espresso and the subtle sweetness of steamed milk. The milk tempers the espresso’s intensity, resulting in a smooth sip that’s perfect for those who enjoy a mellow coffee experience.

On the other hand, Cappuccino’s flavor journey is a symphony of contrasts. The espresso’s strong punch harmonizes with the rich, creamy milk, and the delicate milk foam adds a lightness that balances out the richness. The combination of flavors in a Cappuccino is akin to enjoying multiple dimensions in a single cup, making it an enticing choice for those who crave complexity.

Crafting the Perfect Cup: Preparation Comparison

The preparation process for Cortado and Cappuccino plays a significant role in shaping their final outcomes. For a Cortado, the espresso shot is carefully poured into a glass, and the steamed milk is then added to create the ideal flavor balance. The absence of foam in a Cortado keeps the focus on the espresso-milk equilibrium.

Creating a Cappuccino is an art that involves skillful milk frothing. The steamed milk and milk foam are layered atop the espresso shot, and the resulting visual appeal is hard to resist. Achieving the right foam consistency requires practice and precision, but the payoff is a visually stunning and flavorfully gratifying cup of coffee.

Head-to-Head Comparison

Let’s put cortados and cappuccinos side by side for a detailed comparison:

Coffee-to-Milk Ratio

  • Cortado: Balanced ratio, bold coffee flavor with a touch of milk.
  • Cappuccino: Equal parts of coffee, steamed milk, and milk foam, offering a rich milky experience.

Milk Froth Texture

  • Cortado: Minimal froth, emphasizing the coffee-milk blend.
  • Cappuccino: Thick, velvety foam that blankets the espresso and milk.

Flavor Profile

  • Cortado: A refined coffee taste with mild sweetness from the milk.
  • Cappuccino: Creamy and decadent due to the generous milk and froth portions.


  • Cortado: Simple and elegant, showcasing the contrast between coffee and milk.
  • Cappuccino: Artistic and visually pleasing, often adorned with intricate milk froth designs.

When to Choose Cortado?

Cortado is the go-to choice when you desire a bold and smooth coffee experience. Its balanced flavor profile and minimal milk content allow the espresso’s true essence to shine.

A Cortado offers the perfect compromise if you find a full espresso too strong but still want to savor its richness. It’s a choice that caters to those who appreciate the purity of espresso while enjoying a touch of milk’s silkiness.

When to Indulge in a Cappuccino?

A cappuccino is an indulgence suited for moments when you crave an elevated coffee experience. Its layers of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam create a delightful interplay of textures and flavors.

The frothy crown adds a touch of elegance to the drink, making it a favorite for coffee connoisseurs and those seeking a coffee treat that’s visually pleasing and satisfying to the palate.

Final Thoughts

In the delightful realm of coffee, the choice between cortado and cappuccino boils down to personal preferences. Whether you lean towards a cortado’s bold, straightforward allure or find comfort in the layered luxury of a cappuccino, both drinks offer a gratifying coffee experience.

So, the next time you step into a cafe or stand by your espresso machine, take a moment to consider the symphony of flavors you’re about to savor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a cortado stronger than a cappuccino?

Yes, due to its 1:1 espresso-to-milk ratio, a cortado generally has a stronger coffee flavor compared to a cappuccino.

Can I customize the milk-to-espresso ratio?

Absolutely, many cafes and baristas are happy to accommodate custom ratios based on your preference.

What’s the origin of the cortado?

The cortado traces its origins to Spain, where the word “cortar” means to cut, signifying the reduction of espresso’s acidity with milk.

Is cappuccino purely an Italian creation?

Yes, the cappuccino’s roots are deeply Italian, with its name believed to be inspired by the Capuchin friars’ brown robes.

Which drink has a higher caffeine content?

In general, a Cortado has a slightly higher caffeine concentration compared to a Cappuccino due to its equal parts of espresso and milk.

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