What’s the difference between a Macchiato and a Cortado?

Macchiatos or Cortados, a quick guide…

Sometimes you just need to keep things short and simple. A short milky coffee is hard to beat and the gold standard among coffee aficionados remains the ever-popular macchiato and cortado.

These coffees both have their roots in the sunlit piazzas of Italy and Spain respectively and are essentially both strong shots of coffee wearing foamy hats. But what is the key difference between the two? And how do you make them perfectly? Let’s start in Italy.

The Macchiato

Or to give it its full name – then espresso macchiato – is a shot of espresso topped off by a couple of teaspoons of steamed milk. It has been drunk in Italy since the invention of the espresso machine and steaming wand last century.

The term ‘macchiato’ actually means marked or stained. The idea is the addition of the milk on top will stain the espresso below slightly, taking it from a dark inky black to a deep chestnut brown. The edge of the foamy topping will stain too – creating a ring of darker coloured foam at the edge of the cup. Beautiful!

There are not really any hard and fast rules when it comes to the foam. You can add more steamed milk with the foam for what is known as a “wet” macchiato or add only stiff foamed milk for what is known as a “dry” one.

For a true macchiato you will want to shoot for a ratio of milk to coffee of 1:1 or less, so this is still a very short drink, usually served in an espresso glass.

In Italy the macchiato is an ever-popular drink, consumed throughout the day. In the Bel paese, the cappuccino is really only considered a breakfast drink. This is because the large volume of milk within fills you up. The general consensus among Italians is that drinking one on a full stomach, say after lunch or dinner, will leave you bloated and queasy. Not so with the Macchiato.

In the UK and US a macchiato generally always means a short coffee, the Italians also have the latte macchiato – a large glass of hot milk, in this case, stained by a small quantity of espresso. This is also considered a breakfast tipple only.

How to make the perfect macchiato

Start by frothing the milk so that it gets fluffy and stiff – to be authentic you want to use steam for this.

Full fat milk will work best and make the stiffest milk. Skimmed milk is harder to froth and plant milks can be very challenging. It is getting better for vegans and the lactose intolerant however, and there are plenty of non-dairy alternatives that have been enriched with fats and proteins in order to make them easier to froth.

If you are a vegan/non dairy this milk from Sproud really works well.

Best to froth it in a jug holding the jug at a 45-degree angle and moving the tip of the steaming wand up and down (ahem) in the jug in order to get a nice even froth.

Now you need to make the making a perfect espresso. Freshly grind your favourite beans nice and fine, fill your portafilter basket and tamp the grounds flat so that the water flows through them evenly giving you a well-extracted shot.

Pull out a 30ml of black gold into an espresso glass add two teaspoons of freshly frothed milk, adding just thick foam or a bit of the liquid too depending on how wet or dry you like it.

Do NOT put cocoa, cinnamon or anything else on top of it, just enjoy the stained goodness of the milk.

The Cortado

Cortado is Spanish for cut – as in coffee that has been cut (or diluted) with hot milk. They are popular in Spanish speaking countries, both in Europe and in Central/South America and have been on the menu in trendy coffee outfits everywhere since the turn of the Millenium.

There are less hard and fast rules when it comes to the Cortado but the chief differences between the cortado and the macchiato are:

  1. A cortado is slightly longer – north of 100ml. Because of this they usually come served in a slightly larger glass.
  2. The milk used to make a cortado is steamed, as in a macchiato, but is not as thick, frothy or textured.

How to make the perfect Macchiato

The base of the macchiato is still espresso – but you are going to use a double shot of espresso as the starting point for your drink. You will need to top this with equal parts of steamed milk.

The plan here is to use milk that is warm and lightly frothed. This means you will need to steam a slightly larger quantity than you need to use to stop it all turning to foam. You will want to do this in a jug. Best is steel – you can get nice ones with temperature indicators on them if you don’t already have one.

Once the milk is hot and slightly frothy “groom” the milk. Lightly bash the base of the jug on the counter and give it a little swirl. This will ensure you can pour in a nice lot of wet milky foam into your cup.

Add around 60ml of milk to the glass and enjoy it. Being slightly longer it pairs well with cake or biscuits if your feeling peckish…

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