What is a Cortado? Dive Into The World Of Coffee Classics


The cortado coffee is a fifty-fifty mixture of espresso and steamed milk. 

It also happens to be my favorite coffee shop espresso drink. I love its perfect balance of sweet, creamy milk and rich coffee flavor.

In this article, I’ll tell you all about the cortado, from its origins to how it compares with other café specialty drinks like the latte and flat white. Perhaps it’ll become your favorite, too!

What Is A Cortado Coffee?

A cortado is an unsweetened espresso coffee drink from the Basque region of Spain comprised of roughly half espresso and half lightly steamed milk. The milk isn’t frothed but rather just warmed and subtly textured. 

Cortado-Coffee

The name cortado comes from the Spanish verb “cortar,” which means “ to cut,” because the espresso is cut with milk. The addition of milk cuts intensity and acidity from the espresso, producing a balanced drink.

The cortado is most often a 4-ounce drink made with a 2-ounce double shot of espresso paired with 2 ounces of milk.

Its strong espresso flavor means that it is best made with coffee beans that deliver a delicious espresso shot. Dairy milk is traditional, but vegan versions with oat milk and almond milk are now common.

What Is Gibraltar?

The Gibraltar originated in San Francisco with Blue Bottle Coffee Roasters, and it is simply the name for a cortado served in a Gibraltar glass – a lovely ridged transparent cup. 

Blue Bottle originally served it as an off-menu drink, describing it as a short, strong latte, before realizing they were making a cortado (1).

It’s really a cortado, but we didn’t know that at the time.

Now, many new coffee shops serve Gibraltar. Other than the serving vessel, Gibraltars are generally identical to cortados. Where both drinks are on the menu, the Gibraltar has a slightly more velvety texture and cooler temperature.

What Is A Cortadito?

The cortadito is a Cuban espresso beverage also popular in the U.S. Like the cortado, it consists of half-and-half steamed milk and espresso served in a small glass. But unlike the cortado, it is heavily sweetened (2). When making a cortadito, either sugar is added to the espresso or the milk is replaced with sweetened condensed milk. This latter variation is also sometimes called a cortado condensada.

How Does The Cortado Compare With Other Espresso-Based Drinks?

What does a cortado taste like? If you’ve never tried a cortado, the easiest way to picture it is to compare its flavor and texture with different coffee drinks you know. Let’s take a look at some classics and their subtle differences.

Cortado Vs Espresso

Espresso forms the basis of all these drinks, including the cortado. A cortado is an espresso that has been diluted with an equal amount of milk, so it has a milder coffee flavor, creamier texture, and more sweetness than a straight shot.

What’s the difference between a cortado and a macchiato?

Comparing macchiato vs cortado, the latter is much milkier. A macchiato is an espresso, either one or two shots, topped with a small dollop of foamed milk, usually served in a little cup called a demitasse. It’s a smaller drink with a stronger taste of espresso.

Is a cortado the same as a flat white?

The flat white and cortado are not the same, though cortado vs flat white is probably the closest comparison. While the cortado has a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk, the flat white has a 1:2 ratio. So the cortado is smaller than a flat white, less creamy, and with a bolder coffee flavor.

What is the difference between a latte and a cortado?

When it comes to cortado vs latte, the latté is a much larger drink. It has the same amount of espresso but a significantly larger proportion of microfoam milk, capped with a thin layer of foamy milk. 

A latte has a very mild coffee flavor compared to the cortado, and lattes are often served flavored or sweetened with syrups. These days, lattes need not even include coffee, as in chai or matcha lattes.

cortado vs cappuccino?

The cappuccino has a higher milk-to-coffee ratio than the cortado, but the bigger difference is the texture of the milk. While the cortado and flat white use primarily velvety micro-foam milk, the cappuccino uses steamed milk topped with a thick pillow of milk froth or foam, giving it a much airier texture.

Final Thoughts

The Spanish cortado is a half-and-half mixture of espresso and lightly steamed milk. It’s a lovely way to enjoy the bold taste of bitter espresso tempered perfectly by sweet and creamy dairy. 

Now that you know what a cortado is, I hope you decide to try one the next time you visit the specialty coffee shop. It’s a drink roughly between a flat white and a macchiato—small in size but big in flavor!

FAQs

The Starbucks U.S. menu doesn’t have a cortado, but you can order one by asking for a double shot espresso with 2 ounces of steamed milk. Request that the barista layer the steamed milk on top of the espresso and serve it in a 4-ounce cup. Starbucks U.K. has a cortado on the menu, but it is not traditional. It consists of two ristretto shots and 4 ounces of steamed whole milk served in a 6-ounce glass (3).

The ratio of coffee and milk in a cortado can make a lovely iced drink to sip. Pour two shots of espresso over ice cubes in a 6-ounce glass, then top with 2 ounces of cold frothed milk. However, an “iced cortado” is not something typically seen on coffee bar menus because pouring steamed warm milk and hot espresso over ice yields an unpleasant drink temperature.

Making a proper cortado requires that you have an espresso machine at home with a steam wand. Use the espresso machine to brew a double shot of espresso and lightly steam 2 ounces of whole milk. Pour the milk into the espresso, decorating with latte art if you have the skills.

Check out our cortado recipe for a step-by-step guide to making a cortado at home.

  1. Blue Bottle Coffee. (n.d.). The Gibraltar: The Story Behind Our Favorite Off-Menu Drink. Retrieved from https://blog.bluebottlecoffee.com/posts/gibraltar
  2. McDonald, S. (2017, July 19). Cuban Coffee History is Just as Long and Rich as the Drink. Retrieved from https://www.keyscoffee.co/cuban-coffee-history/
  3. Starbucks UK. (2024). Cortado. Retrieved from





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