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Cortado vs Cappuccino: What’s the difference?

A barista pouring a cortado coffee

Cortados and Cappuccinos are each coffee drinks made by combining espresso with milk. However, that doesn’t mean they are the same drink.

If you’ve read any of our other coffee comparisons or our guide to types of coffee drinks, you’ll know that there are many ways to combine the same ingredients to produce very different coffees.

So, what do the cortado and the cappuccino have in common? And what sets them apart?

Grab a coffee, and let’s find out…

What is a Cortado?

A cortado is made by combining a double shot of espresso with steamed milk.

Crucially, to be a true cortado, the amount of steamed milk must be equal to the amount of espresso. In other words, the drink is half espresso and half steamed milk.

Unlike some other types of coffee that contain espresso and milk – such as the cappuccino and the latte – the cortado does not have lots of milk foam or froth. Instead, a cortado will be served either with no foam at all or – at most – a very fine layer of microfoam on its surface.

Another defining characteristic of the cortado is its size. Because the milk must match the amount of espresso, you can’t top it up with more milk or water; therefore, a cortado is a small drink usually served in a 4-ounce cup.

What is a Cappuccino?

The cappuccino is one of the world’s most popular coffees, and – like the cortado – its proportions are strictly defined.

To qualify as a cappuccino, a coffee must consist of one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third milk foam.

Usually, a cappuccino will contain a single shot of espresso, which makes up one-third of the drink. The total volume of the drink is, therefore, at least 5 to 6 ounces.

Because the cappuccino features a thick layer of foam, the drink is often served with ‘foam art,’ where the barista pours the milk in a way that creates beautiful patterns on the coffee’s surface.

Differences between a Cortado and a Cappuccino

The differences between a cortado and a cappuccino are:

  • The number of espresso shots. A cappuccino usually contains one shot of espresso, whereas a cortado usually contains two shots of espresso. 
  • The proportions of espresso to milk. A cortado is half espresso and half milk, whereas a cappuccino is one-third espresso and two-thirds milk.
  • The type of milk. A cortado contains only steamed milk. A cappuccino contains both steamed milk and foamed milk.
  • The foam on top. A cortado features little or no foam on its surface. A key component of a cappuccino is a thick layer of foam.
  • The size of the cup. A cortado is served in a 4-ounce cup, while a cappuccino is at least 5 or 6 ounces and sometimes larger.
  • Availability and popularity. The cappuccino is one of the most popular and widely available coffees in the world. The cortado isn’t exactly obscure, but it is less popular than the cappuccino, and you may therefore be more likely to find coffee shops that don’t know how to make it or make it well.

Of course, the most important thing about a coffee is how it tastes. So, how do the above differences affect the taste and texture of these coffee drinks?

As you might expect, given how different they are, cortados and cappuccinos have quite distinctive tastes.

Due to its greater volume of milk, the cappuccino is sweeter than the cortado, whereas the cortado is a stronger and more bitter coffee.

In terms of texture, because it consists only of espresso and steamed milk, the cortado is a very smooth drink with a consistent texture throughout. On the other hand, the cappuccino is a more varied drink with a thick layer of foamed milk to sip through before you reach the espresso and steamed milk beneath.

“Cappuccino vs Cortado Whats The Difference?” by The Perfect Cup on YouTube.

FAQs – Cortado vs Cappuccino

Is a Cortado stronger than a Cappuccino?

As a Cortado normally contains two shots of espresso, rather than one as in a Cappuccino – it is considered a stronger coffee than the Cappuccino.

Does a Cortado have a single or double shot of coffee?

A Cortado normally contains two shots of coffee (a double shot).

Why is a Cortado served with sparkling water?

Serving water allows the customer to clean out their palate before enjoying their coffee. Like with other coffee drinks (and wine!), it’s done to “start fresh” and allows you to really enjoy the taste of coffee.

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