Hey there, coffee enthusiasts! Are you ready to dive into the world of espresso drinks and discover the key differences between cortado, latte, and cappuccino? In this ultimate guide, we're breaking down the milk, espresso, and foam used, the brewing methods, and the taste profiles of these three drinks. Get ready to become an expert in espresso drinks and discover your new favorite coffee experience!

Cortado, Latte, and Cappuccino: The Basics

Espresso-Based Drinks

Cortado, latte, and cappuccino are all popular espresso-based drinks that differ in their ratios of espresso, steamed milk, and foam. Each drink offers a unique taste and texture, perfect for coffee lovers looking for different experiences in their daily cup of coffee.

Key Ingredients: Espresso, Milk, and Foam

  • Espresso: The foundation of these three drinks, espresso is a concentrated coffee brewed by forcing hot water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. Each drink typically contains equal parts espresso, making the difference primarily in their milk and foam composition.

  • Milk: Steamed milk is a crucial component in all three beverages, and the various quantities of milk used determine the taste and texture of each drink. Lattes use a larger portion of milk compared to cappuccinos and cortados, resulting in a creamier taste.

  • Foam: Foamed milk is created by using a steam wand to introduce air into the milk, creating a rich and frothy texture. Depending on the drink, the amount of foam varies, playing a vital role in the overall mouthfeel of the beverage.


The cortado is a Spanish coffee drink made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk, usually served in 4-6 ounce glasses. The milk is used to cut the acidity and strength of the espresso while maintaining its robust flavor. Cortados feature a thin layer of velvety foam, providing a balanced and smooth texture.


Lattes are primarily characterized by their creamy consistency, achieved by incorporating a large quantity of steamed milk. The drink contains a smaller amount of espresso compared to milk, offering a milder coffee flavor. Although lattes may have a small layer of foam, it is not the defining characteristic of the drink.


Originating in Italy, cappuccinos are made with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foam. This drink is unique due to its distinct layering of components: the strong espresso base, followed by a smooth and creamy steamed milk layer, and finally, a rich frothy foam on top. Cappuccinos are typically served in 6-ounce cups and boast a great balance of strong coffee taste and smooth texture.


Origin and Popularity

The cortado, which originated in Spain and Portugal, is a popular espresso-based drink enjoyed in many coffee shops around the world. This Spanish term, which means "cut" in English, refers to the process of cutting the intensity of espresso with a small amount of steamed milk. The cortado has gained a following not only in its native countries but also in other regions like the United States and Europe.

Flavor Profile and Preparation

A cortado showcases a balanced mix of flavors, combining the strong taste of espresso with the sweetness and creaminess of steamed milk. The standard ratio in a cortado is 1:1, meaning equal parts of espresso and milk are combined. This combination allows for a smooth and less acidic beverage compared to a straight espresso.

The preparation of a cortado involves pulling a shot of espresso, followed by steaming milk to create a silky texture with little to no foam. The steamed milk is then poured over the espresso, creating a harmonious blend of flavors without overpowering the coffee essence. This drink is typically served in a 4-ounce glass or cup, where espresso lovers can appreciate the intense yet rounded taste.

Cortado vs. Cortadito

While the cortado and cortadito are similar, there are some distinct differences between these two Spanish coffee beverages. A cortadito, often found in Cuban coffee shops, is distinguished by the use of sweetened condensed milk instead of regular steamed milk. This creates a sweeter and slightly thicker drink in comparison to the cortado.

To prepare a cortadito, the same basic method is followed as for a cortado, with espresso being combined with an equal amount of sweetened condensed milk. The result is a rich, velvety drink that appeals to those who enjoy the marriage of coffee and sweetness.

In summary, the cortado is an espresso-based beverage that traces its roots to Spain and Portugal. This drink has gained popularity for its flavorful mix of strong espresso and mild steamed milk, while maintaining a favorable 1:1 ratio. For those seeking a sweeter alternative, the cortadito features sweetened condensed milk in place of regular milk, offering a delightful twist on the classic cortado.


Origin and Popularity

The latte is an espresso-based drink originating from Italy, where it is known as "caffè latte," which means milk coffee. The drink gained popularity in coffee shops around the world for its smooth, balanced flavor and enticing aesthetics, such as latte art, created by carefully pouring steamed milk into the espresso.

Flavor Profile and Preparation

Lattes have a mild and creamy flavor profile due to the higher ratio of milk to espresso. The drink generally consists of one part espresso to three parts steamed milk, with a thin layer of milk foam on the top. The steamed milk helps balance the bitterness of the espresso, creating a more approachable beverage for those who may not enjoy strong, bitter coffee flavors. The drink is often enjoyed in 12-ounce cups, with larger serving sizes becoming increasingly popular in many coffee shops.

The preparation of a latte involves pulling a shot of espresso (usually a double) and then adding the steamed milk. Baristas steam the milk to create a creamy, velvety texture while incorporating a small amount of air to create the layer of milk foam. This process maintains the balance between the espresso's bold, robust flavors and the milk's natural sweetness.

Macchiato: Latte Macchiato and Espresso Macchiato

Lattes are closely related to two other espresso-based drinks: the latte macchiato and the espresso macchiato.

The latte macchiato is a milkier version of a traditional latte. It is prepared by first steaming the milk and then pouring the espresso on top, resulting in a more distinct layering effect. The espresso's bold flavors are softened by the steamed milk, giving it a creamy and sweet taste profile. Latte macchiatos are typically served in larger cups, with the ratio of milk to espresso varying depending on the coffee shop or personal preference.

On the other hand, the espresso macchiato is a less milky version of a latte. In this beverage, the espresso takes center stage, with a small amount of milk foam or steamed milk added to the top. The addition of milk tempers the espresso's intensity, creating just a hint of sweetness and creaminess. Espresso macchiatos are served in smaller cups, often as a quick and potent caffeinated treat.

In summary, lattes are a popular Italian coffee beverage characterized by their mild and creamy flavor resulting from a higher milk-to-espresso ratio. They are enjoyed in various forms, including latte macchiatos and espresso macchiatos, which alter the milk-to-espresso balance to create distinct flavor profiles and serving sizes. With their wide appeal and versatility, lattes have become a staple in coffee shops across the globe.


Origin and Popularity

The cappuccino is a popular Italian coffee drink that has become a staple in coffee shops worldwide. Its origin can be traced back to Italy, where it was traditionally consumed for breakfast or as an afternoon pick-me-up. Today, it is enjoyed by millions of coffee enthusiasts around the world, thanks to its well-balanced flavor and rich texture.

Flavor Profile

The cappuccino is an espresso-based drink, and it consists of three parts: espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. The espresso gives it a strong, bold flavor with a hint of bitterness, balanced by the sweetness and creaminess of the steamed milk. Meanwhile, the milk foam provides a light and airy texture that adds a touch of richness to the drink.

The standard ratio for a cappuccino is 1:1:1, meaning equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. This ratio ensures a balanced flavor profile, allowing the taste of the coffee to shine through while also incorporating the smoothness and creaminess of the milk.


To prepare a cappuccino, start by brewing a strong espresso. This can be done using an espresso machine, Moka pot, or even a stove-top espresso maker. The espresso is then poured into a cup, followed by the steamed milk. To steam the milk, use a milk steamer or frother attachment on an espresso machine. The goal is to heat the milk to around 150°F (65°C) while creating a velvety, micro-foam texture. It is crucial to achieve the right milk texture to ensure a truly authentic cappuccino experience.

Once the milk is steamed, carefully pour it on top of the espresso in the cup, creating a layer of steamed milk. After this, a layer of milk foam is added to the top of the cappuccino. Skilled baristas often create latte art or other designs with the milk foam to give the beverage a visually appealing presentation.

In summary, the cappuccino is an Italian coffee drink that has earned widespread popularity for its balanced combination of bold espresso, creamy steamed milk, and light, airy milk foam. The 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam creates a distinctive flavor profile that appeals to both coffee enthusiasts and casual drinkers alike. With its origins in Italy and its status as a coffee shop favorite, the cappuccino remains an essential espresso-based beverage to know and enjoy. If you're an entrepreneur or cafe owner inspired by these classic drinks, you might consider investing in the right equipment. To serve your customers the finest espresso concoctions, consider browsing our Commercial espresso machine collection. With a commercial quality espresso machine, you can recreate these beloved beverages with precision and flair, ensuring that each cup is as authentic and delightful as the last.

Comparison of Cortado, Latte, and Cappuccino

Differences in Ratios and Textures

The three popular espresso-based beverages each have varied combinations of espresso and milk which distinguish them in terms of ratios and textures. A Cortado consists of equal parts espresso and steamed milk, ensuring a balanced flavor. A Latte has a 1:3 ratio of coffee to milk, making it a milkier option. Finally, a Cappuccino features equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and frothy milk foam, delivering a thicker and foamier texture compared to the other two.

Flavors and Strengths

The composition of the three beverages also impacts their flavor profiles and strengths. A Cortado is stronger than a latte due to its 1:1 ratio. Yet, the balanced combination of milk in a cortado ensures that the flavor does not become overwhelmingly robust. The latte, with its greater milk content, tastes milder and creamier, making it a favorite for those who prefer a less intense coffee flavor. On the other hand, despite having equal parts of espresso and steamed milk, a cappuccino has a stronger and more distinct flavor due to the presence of milk foam, which amplifies its perceived strength.

Calories and Nutritional Content

Each of these coffee drinks has different caloric and nutritional values that are influenced by their respective ratios of espresso and milk. Generally, the milk content is the primary factor in determining calories and nutritional balances. A cortado, with its equal ratio of espresso and milk, has fewer calories compared to a latte due to its smaller size and lower milk content. On the other hand, a cappuccino, which contains equal amounts of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, tends to have a caloric value that lies between the cortado and latte. However, the nutritional content also depends on the type of milk used, such as skim, whole, or plant-based options, which can significantly impact calorie counts and other nutritional aspects.

Alternative Espresso Drinks

Flat White

A Flat White is an espresso-based drink that originated in Australia and New Zealand. It consists of a double espresso shot combined with steamed milk, but with a smaller amount of microfoam compared to a latte or cappuccino. This results in a velvety, creamy texture that brings out the rich flavors of the espresso, while still offering a smooth and balanced taste.


Mocha, also known as a café mocha, is a popular espresso-based drink that includes chocolate, steamed milk, and espresso. It's perfect for those who enjoy the bold flavors of an espresso with a hint of sweetness from the chocolate. The combination of bitter espresso and rich chocolate creates a delightful contrast, making it a favorite among coffee lovers who also have a sweet tooth.


An Americano is a simple yet satisfying espresso-based drink that consists of a shot of espresso diluted with hot water, providing a milder taste compared to pure espresso. The origin of the name "Americano" is believed to be from American soldiers during World War II, who added water to the strong European espresso to make it more palatable. This drink is perfect for those who prefer a less intense coffee flavor but still want to enjoy the richness of an espresso.

Other Unique Drinks

In addition to the above-mentioned espresso drinks, there are several other unique creations that cater to various tastes and preferences. Some of these include:

  • Affogato: A dessert-like coffee drink made by pouring a shot of espresso over a scoop of ice cream or gelato, resulting in a delicious combination of flavors and textures.
  • Espresso Macchiato: An espresso shot with a small dollop of steamed milk and foam added, offering a more intense coffee flavor compared to a cappuccino or latte.
  • Latte Macchiato: Similar to an espresso macchiato, but with the order being reversed – pouring the espresso over steamed milk and foam, creating a layered and visually appealing drink.

These alternative espresso drinks provide a wide variety of taste sensations and experiences for the coffee enthusiast, showcasing how creative and versatile espresso-based beverages can be.

Customizing Espresso Drinks at Coffee Shops

When visiting coffee shops, such as Starbucks, customers often have various options and preferences for their espresso-based drinks. Understanding the differences between a cortado, latte, and cappuccino can help customers find the perfect beverage to suit their taste.

A cortado is an espresso-based drink that uses a 1:1 ratio of one to two espresso shots and an equal amount of steamed milk. This results in a balanced taste without too much milk diluting the bold flavor of the espresso. On the other hand, a latte contains one-third espresso and varying amounts of steamed milk and milk froth, making it a milkier option. Cappuccinos consist of espresso combined with a small amount of steamed milk, topped by a thick layer of milk foam. Steaming milk creates microfoam, which adds a velvety texture to these beverages.

Coffee shops aim to personalize drinks according to individual preferences by offering various customization options:

  • Strength of coffee: Customers who prefer a stronger coffee taste can request a double shot of espresso or ask for less milk in their cortados or lattes.
  • Milk type: Switching between whole, skim, or plant-based milk can change the texture and taste of the drinks while accommodating dietary needs.
  • Flavored syrup: Add an extra touch of flavor by requesting flavored syrups like vanilla, caramel, or hazelnut to be added to lattes or cortados.
  • Whipped cream: Some coffee shops give the option to top lattes or cappuccinos with whipped cream for a creamy and indulgent finish.
  • Toppings: For an eye-catching and flavorful presentation, coffee shops may offer toppings such as a sprinkle of cinnamon, drizzles of chocolate or caramel sauce, or a dusting of cocoa powder.

Despite the wide array of coffee shops and customization options, it's essential to keep in mind that not all baristas will use the exact same ratios or techniques, so variations in taste and appearance may occur. By understanding the basic differences between a cortado, latte, and cappuccino, and considering personal preferences, customers can create the perfect espresso-based beverage to satisfy their cravings.

Cortado vs Latte vs Cappuccino

When it comes to coffee, there are many different drinks to choose from, and understanding the key differences between Cortado, Latte, and Cappuccino can help you make the best choice for your taste preferences.

A Cortado is an espresso-based drink with a small amount of steamed milk. The ratio of coffee to milk in a Cortado is 1:1, creating a balanced taste between the two components. Cortado has little to no foam and usually contains a higher caffeine content compared to Cappuccino, with around 136mg of caffeine per serving.

A Latte, on the other hand, is also an espresso-based drink, but with a larger amount of steamed milk and foam. The ratio of coffee to milk in a Latte is 1:3, making the drink creamier and less intense. The foam amount in a latte is not as much as a cappuccino, but it still adds a creamy texture on top of the drink.

Cappuccino is an espresso-based drink as well but distinguishes itself with a thick layer of foamed milk on top. The milk texture is an essential aspect of Cappuccino, providing a velvety and creamy mouthfeel. Cappuccinos typically have a lower caffeine content than Cortado, with around 68mg of caffeine per serving.

When it comes to health considerations, the milk used in these drinks plays a significant role. Cappuccinos and lattes use a larger amount of milk, causing them to be higher in calories. However, substituting dairy milk with almond milk or oat milk can reduce the number of calories significantly.


In conclusion, the primary differences between Cortado, Latte, and Cappuccino are the ratios of espresso to milk, the milk texture, and the amount of foam present. Deciding between the three drinks comes down to personal preference and taste.

  • Cortado: Balanced coffee and milk taste with little to no foam, higher caffeine content.
  • Latte: Creamier with a higher milk content, some foam on top, and a milder coffee flavor.
  • Cappuccino: Rich and velvety with a thick layer of foam, providing a tasty and creamy experience.

Experimenting with the different types of milk and adjusting ratios might help you find the perfect coffee drink that suits your taste buds. Enjoy exploring the various options and savoring the unique taste profiles of Cortado, Latte, and Cappuccino!

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Tony Barlow

Tony Barlow

Majesty Coffee Technical Sales Expert - Meet the Team

Tony Barlow, with over a decade of experience in the coffee industry, is the go-to technical sales expert at Majesty Coffee. He's passionate about helping businesses find the right espresso equipment for their needs.

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