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Cortado vs. Macchiato vs. Cappuccino vs. Latte

Photography by: DJ Delara

Espresso drinks are the backbone of any third-wave coffee shop. The various ways of mixing milk with espresso allows the barista to add creativity, flair, and a unique skill into crafting a drink. A well-made drink can accentuate the espresso flavor, using milk as a balance to espresso’s sour or bitter chocolate taste. Many espresso drinks, however, are named after old Italian nicknames and customs. What exactly makes a Cappuccino a Cappuccino? Are those large Caramel Macchiato’s sold at popular coffee shops really Macchiatos? The answer: it’s all about the milk ratio to espresso.


The Macchiato came into existence as a way to sneak in an extra espresso in the afternoon. As cappuccinos traditionally are strictly for the morning (more on that below) a macchiato isn’t as strong as a plain espresso, but still packs a punch. Despite the large, sugary drinks at many coffee shop chains that are advertised as macchiatos, a traditional macchiato is usually a double shot of espresso with a dollop of foam on top. Some baristas will put a few

teaspoons of milk foam on top of the espresso. At Coffee Lab, we strictly stay true to the classic way of doing things. We add a tiny amount of milk foam on a small layer of steamed milk, making a 2:1 ratio of coffee to milk. When served, our macchiatos result into about a 3oz to 4oz drink. Traditional macchiatos should not be confused with America’s big retail “fast food” coffee shops where they sell “macchiatos” in 16-20oz cups. Those are a totally different drink.


Originating in the Basque region in Spain, the word “cortado” comes from the Spanish word meaning “cut.” As a cortado is half espresso, half milk, it follows that the moniker cortado stems from a drink “cut” in half, between coffee and milk. Cortados – like many Spanish espresso drinks – have little to no foam, and is prepared best with creamy, smooth milk.

We like to add latte art to our cortados. Similar to our traditional macchiato, our cortados turn out into a 4oz drink crowned with mini latte art.


The cappuccino is often regarded as the most flavorful and well-balanced espresso drink. The essence of a good cappuccino is equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Originating from the color of dress of Capuchin friars, the milk gives the coffee a smooth, light brown finish.

In Italy, cappuccinos are regulated to breakfast, as the amount of milk impedes digestion later in the day. A well-made cappuccino combines sweet, richly textured properly steamed milk with bright espresso flavor. Cappuccino’s are typically served in an 8 oz cup and it continues to be a tradition that we hold at Coffee Lab.


The latte is arguably the most popular espresso drink, in part due to the wide variety of possible flavors and variations. Coming from the Italian “caffè e latte”, the latte is just that, coffee and milk.

Traditionally, lattes are ⅓ espresso, ⅔ steamed milk, and topped with a thin layer of foam. Lattes are highly customizable, within common additions including vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, and mocha syrup, just to name a few. Lattes have the most milk out of all espresso drinks, and are a great option for those seeking a balance to the strong espresso flavor. Lattes typically range from 10 to 16 oz. in size and of course, our little finale of latte art.


About the Author

Leo Sainati

Student at Northwestern University

Specialty Coffee Barista at Coffee Lab Evanston

Coffee Lab Blogger

Writing Intern at Ignitus Digital Evanston


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