Espresso with steamed milk - that’s pretty much how most people would describe a Macchiato or Cortado, and they wouldn’t be far wrong.
They’re both short, they’re both rich, and they’re both classic European recipes - but the little differences between the two make a big difference when it comes to sipping your morning espresso. Turns out, size does matter.
Single espresso served with 1-2 tsp of warm (foamed) milk
- The Macchiato is a staple of Italian culture. A simple measure of espresso served with a spot of steamed milk, it’s got the highest ratio of espresso to milk of any drink made with these two ingredients - so can be thought of as a sort of halfway house between a simple black espresso and and more milky cappuccino.
- The word macchiato roughly translates to ‘marked’, coming from the fact that the espresso is essentially just dashed with a small amount of milk (we’re talking 1-2 teaspoons here). The milk is not meant to overwhelm the espresso in any way, but is rather there just to add a tiny bit of flavour, or - for those who struggle with a straight black coffee - take the edge off the dark, rich, and quite often acidic, beans.
- Normally, milk after meals (or really any time in the afternoon) is frowned upon in Italy, but the Macchiato gives people the chance to sneak in a tiny bit of dairy.
Single espresso served with equal parts steamed milk
- We’re now hopping across a couple of borders on our way to Spain, the home of the Cortado. Whilst Spanish coffee culture might not get the same recognition as its European cousin, it’s national coffee, the Cortado, has in fact hit the high streets of London as an extremely popular way of enjoying a quick espresso.
- Coming from the Spanish verb to ‘cut’ (cortar), the Cortado is a simple espresso cut, or diluted, with an equal amount of warm milk. In fact, the term café cortado is used in Spain to refer to a range of coffees mixed with milk, but in it’s exported form - and to differentiate itself from the macchiato on the menus of London’s coffee shops - this espresso version is the one that you’d expect to receive.
- The difference isn’t just in the ratio of milk to coffee (50:50), but also the type of milk that is used. Unlike Italian coffees that use foamy, frothy milk (what we’d called ‘texturised’) the Cortado uses steamed milk instead, giving a much smoother taste and appearance.
- If you fancy something sweeter, then maybe a cortadito would be something more up your street. Originating in Cuba, it’s actually made with sweetened condensed milk, as fresh milk was historically always much harder to come by.