Cortado vs. Cappuccino: which is better?

cortado vs cappuccino

It can be overwhelming to walk into your local coffee shop and stare at the long menu of unfamiliar beverages. With many coffee beverage names sounding like a foreign language (because usually, they are) it’s not always evident what these drinks actually are. If the menu doesn’t include descriptions, it’s even worse!

If this sounds like something you’ve encountered before, I’m here to help. Let’s focus on two drinks: the cortado and the cappuccino. Both made with espresso and milk, these drinks are as similar as they are different. We’ll go over exactly what they are, how to make them, and whether or not one is better than the other. Spoiler alert: it depends!

What is a cortado?

Cortados hail from Spain, which also happens to be where they get their name. Cortados take two simple ingredients: one part espresso and one part steamed milk. This ratio is important because it is exclusive to the cortado beverage. Use a different ratio and you’ll have a completely different drink. 

Cortado is Spanish for “cut,” which, in this case, is a reference to how the steamed milk is used to cut the espresso. It’s a great drink for those who find espresso to be a bit too strong.

Steamed milk is also crucial to the cortado. For a proper cortado, you want a light layer of foam on top that feels as though it dissolves as you sip. Thicker, foamier steamed milk toppings would turn this drink into more of a latte or cappuccino.

As if there aren’t enough coffee drinks to keep track of, the cortado can be a bit sneaky. That’s because it’s a beverage of many names, depending on where you are. 

If you’re in Australia, you’ll want to order a piccolo. In Cuba, the names are similar enough, but it goes by cortadito. In France, look for a noisette on the menu to get your cortado fix. If you’re in the United States, cortado and Gibraltar are both equally popular names. 

How to make a cortado

Brewing a cortado sounds simple enough, but there are some tips and tricks to keep in mind for the best drinking experience.

If you’re using an espresso machine:

  1. Brew a double shot of espresso (approximately 2 ounces)
  2. Steam two ounces of milk (dairy and non-dairy both work well) using a steam wand
  3. Pour the milk over the espresso
  4. Enjoy!

If you’re using a single-serve pod brewer:

  1. Brew your favorite espresso pod
  2. Steam an equal amount of milk (make sure it’s a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk)
  3. Pour the milk over the espresso
  4. Enjoy!

If you don’t have a steam wand, warm the milk on the stove or in the microwave until it is between 130-150 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, using a handheld frother, aerate the milk until it develops into a light foam.

What is a cappuccino?

So, what is a cappuccino, you ask? It is said to be named after Capuchin Friars due to the similarity in color between their light brown robes and the coffee beverage. Cappuccinos hail from Italy, where they became popular with the rise of espresso machines.

Just like a cortado, a cappuccino is also made from espresso and milk, but that’s about as far as the similarities go. There are two key differences between how a cortado and a cappuccino are prepared.

The first is the ratio of espresso to milk. Cappuccinos aren’t as strong tasting as cortados, as they call for one part espresso, one part milk, and one part foam. For those keeping score at home, that’s ⅓ espresso, ⅓ steamed milk, and ⅓ foam.

The second difference is with the foam itself. Unlike cortados, cappuccinos are known for their thick layers of foam that hold their shape, sometimes even leaving a bit of a foam mustache on the drinker after taking a sip!

How to make a cappuccino

Cappuccinos are relatively simple to make, but require a bit more attention to detail than a cortado.

If you’re using an espresso machine:

  1. Brew your desired amount of espresso (usually a single or double shot)
  2. Steam double the amount of milk as espresso; as you do so, keep the steaming wand just below the surface of the milk until it becomes foamy and has doubled in size
  3. Lower the steaming wand a bit more into the milk until it reaches approximately 150 degrees Fahrenheit
  4. Pour the milk over the espresso
  5. Enjoy!

If you’re using a single-serve pod brewer:

  1. Brew your favorite espresso pod
  2. Steam twice the amount of milk as espresso (i.e., two ounces of milk for every ounce of espresso)
  3. Froth the steamed milk
  4. Pour the milk over the espresso
  5. Enjoy!

If you don’t have a steam wand, you can still froth milk until foamy using a few other common household tools, including a handheld frother, French press, or even a simple whisk. None of them will get you the same result as a steaming wand, but they can get you close!

How do cortados and cappuccinos stack up?

Now that we have a better understanding of the difference between these two beverages, let’s explore how else they compare. 


If we’re comparing apples to apples, that is, two beverages that are the same size, a cappuccino is going to have more calories. This is because it has more milk. Milk isn’t unhealthy, especially in such small amounts, but it does contain calories and fat, so if you’re closely counting calories, a cortado is going to be the way to go.


Again, all things considered equal, a serving of each beverage would have the same amount of espresso, and, therefore, the same amount of caffeine. Cortados are especially known for coming in four-ounce servings, while cappuccinos can sometimes be larger, so keep this in mind when you’re tempted to order the largest size they have.


This is all about personal preference. While the steamed milk nicely cuts the bitterness of the espresso in a cortado, it still lets the flavor of the espresso shine through. With a cappuccino, you’re going to have more milk than espresso, so that coffee flavor won’t be as forward. It’s completely dependent on what you prefer!

Which will you choose?

You can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the next time you’re at a coffee shop, you won’t be completely lost as to what a cortado or cappuccino is. The only question is: which one is more your style? There’s only one way to find out, so hop out of your comfort zone and give one or both of these beverages a try… just probably not in the same sitting!