Whether you like black coffee or something flavored with syrup and sugar, there are many different delicious drinks you can order from your local coffee shop. Baristas can help you find something you like, but it helps if you know about the drinks before ordering.
If you’re a fan of straightforward coffee with some dairy added, you might enjoy a cortado. It delivers a great espresso flavor that you can sip and enjoy to get your day started right. Read on to find out what makes this coffee drink unique and how you can make one yourself.
What Is a Cortado Coffee?
A cortado coffee is an espresso drink originally made in Spain, Portugal, and Cuba. The Spanish word “cortar” means “to cut,” which refers to how the dairy cuts the acidity of the espresso. There’s a 1:1 ratio of milk to espresso in this drink.
There are many coffee beverages on the menu that combine milk and espresso, so, understandably, you might not know how a cortado is different. Instead of the barista foaming the milk and making a design, they mix the warm milk into the espresso to highlight its rich flavor. There’s a light milk foam, but it integrates nicely into the espresso.
The cortado comes in a four-ounce metal or glass cup, so you don’t have to worry about specifying a drink size when you order one. For people who love the richness of espresso, don’t worry about the hot milk overpowering a cortado—you’ll taste the espresso more than anything else. Some coffee shops will pull two ristretto shots to enhance the sweetness.
How to Make a Cortado Drink?
Since there are only two ingredients in a cortado, it’s a relatively simple drink to make at home. Read on to find out exactly what you need and how you can make a cortado that delivers a delicious hit of espresso.
- Espresso Machine Optional (Moka pot, Aeropress or other brewers)
- Milk frother If you don't have an espresso machine with steam wand
- Four-ounce metal or glass cup Gibraltar glass
- 2 ounces espresso
- 2 ounces lightly foamed milk
- Grind, measure, and tamp enough espresso beans to make two ounces—or two shots—of espresso. For a double shot, we use 18 grams of coffee beans and pull 36 grams of espresso.
- Extract two shots of espresso and pour them into the four-ounce small glass.
- Steam milk with the steam wand, aiming for a thin layer of foam. Whole milk gives the best flavor, but you can use alternative milk such as almond, oat, coconut, or other types of nut milk as well.
- Pour equal parts milk over the espresso very slowly. This approach gives the milk time to mix with the espresso without you needing to stir. It's trickier to pull latte art with less milk in a smaller glass compared to other espresso-based drinks.
How to Drink a Cortado
Be sure to make your cortado so you have plenty of time to enjoy it. It doesn’t take long to make, but you want to sit with your drink and sip it to fully enjoy the flavor. The caffeine content of a cortado is high, so this isn’t something you’ll brew and take to work in a travel mug.
Many cortado drinkers pause to take sips of water in between each taste. The water cleanses your taste buds so each sip of cortado delivers a delicious hit of espresso—and caffeine.
Cortado vs Other Espresso Drinks
As previously mentioned, there are several coffee drinks on the menu that are only espresso mixed with milk. There are key differences between those coffee recipes though. Read on to find out how the cortado compares to some of the most popular drinks your barista is brewing.
Cortado vs Latte
A cortado has equal measures of espresso and milk, making a coffee drink that’s just four ounces total. It’s a plain drink with no foam for designs, no need for special flavors, and no variety of cup sizes.
A cafe latte is one of the most popular Italian coffee beverages. It also has two or more espresso shots. The difference is in the milk—a barista tops a latte with anywhere from six to eight ounces of steamed milk. However, Cortado is very similar to piccolo latte, which is a smaller version of latte served in a 4 ounces cup.
A latte is about twice the size of a cortado and has a different taste and texture. The milk dilutes the espresso’s richness more, and the steamed milk has microfoam that makes it feel different in your mouth. Artistic baristas are likely to use latte foam to make innovative designs.
Cortado vs Cappuccino
To make a cortado, you pour half espresso and half milk and sip the drink until it’s gone. The flavor of the rich espresso comes through because the only purpose of the milk is to cut the acidity.
In a cappuccino, you’re going to get more foam—about one-third of the drink is foam. Milk and espresso make up the rest of the cappuccino in equal measures, but the foam is the takeaway here. It makes the drink very light when you’re sipping it.
Cappuccinos are much sweeter than cortados because of the frothy milk. Many cappuccino fans also add sugar or flavored syrup to this amazing coffee beverage because the foam makes it taste like such a treat.
Cortado vs Flat White
If you look at the basics, a cortado and a flat white seem to be the same drink. Each uses two shots of espresso and two ounces of milk, though some flat whites use a bit more milk. What sets them apart is the texture of the milk.
A cortado uses lightly textured milk mixed into the espresso. A flat white, on the other hand, calls for foamed milk. The foam mixes with the espresso to give a thick, rich taste, especially when compared to a cortado.
The taste of a cortado is stronger and smoother than that of a flat white. The flat white delivers the same hit of caffeine, but the mouthfeel is velvety and thick.
If you don’t have a way to make espresso at home but want to try a cortado, you might feel tempted to swing by Starbucks. Unfortunately, Starbucks doesn’t offer a cortado in the United States, though it’s on the menu in other countries. For example, you’ll get a 6oz cup of coffee made of double ristretto shots and milk in UK Starbucks.
You can get around this by ordering a double shot of espresso topped with two ounces of steamed milk. It will come in a short cup, making it the closest thing to a real cortado that you can get from a drive-thru.
Though it’s a custom drink, most baristas ring it up as an espresso macchiato. An espresso macchiato has just a dollop of frothed milk on top of the drink, so the beans’ flavor is incredibly strong.
A cortado is a relatively simple coffee drink with a powerful espresso flavor and kick of caffeine to match. It’s the favorite espresso coffee of many coffee lovers all over the world. Whether you prepare a cortado at home, order one from your local coffee shop, or ask for it in a roundabout way at Starbucks, you’ll love this beverage. Remember to sip it slowly and revel in the richness of the espresso to get the most out of it.