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Easy To Make Cortado Coffee Recipe! Learn How It Compares To Other Espresso Drinks

pouring milk in coffee

It’s possible you have noticed a coffee drink in your favorite cafe, with a Spanish-sounding name. Among many English and Italian ones, it stands out. Perhaps you may have considered ordering it, or just curious about its origin and taste.

Its name is “cortado” and it’s indeed Spanish. 

But what is it and how does it differ from other, more familiar coffee drinks?

History Behind The Cortado

The origin of the cortado is the same as the language that gave us its name: Spain. Cortado comes from the verb cortar, meaning to cut. And in the coffee world, it has come to be used in the sense of diluting a coffee or espresso with milk. 

The idea is to “cut” the strong flavor of black coffee with a variable amount of milk, to make it easier on the palate. No one is certain of when it was born. It may have been around the same time as when the macchiato was introduced in Italy or the noisette in France. Somewhere around the end of the 19th century then.

What is known is that the cortado is very popular in Spain, Portugal and many Latin American countries. It’s sometimes known as the “cortadito” as in Cuba, from which it was introduced in the USA. 

How To Make A Cortado

The cortado isn’t much different from a macchiato or a latte, but it differs from both in the ratio of coffee to milk and the texture of the milk used.  In a macchiato, there’s a very small amount of milk, just enough to “stain” the coffee. Whereas in a cortadito the coffee and milk are equal in quantity. 

In a latte the proportions of coffee and milk are similar, but the milk in a latte is foamed. Where in a cortado it is just steamed and has no foam whatsoever.

The cortado is a much simpler drink then. It requires just the right quantity of milk to reduce the harshness of the very dark roasts used in Latin America and Spain’s cafes. It is a drink meant to help to drink the usual strong espresso shot of coffee.  

black coffee on desk

The Italian macchiato; the latte, or a cappuccino, are instead wholly different coffee drinks. They have a different texture and the addition of milk foam, giving the drinker a diverse and more complex mouthfeel and taste profile.

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A cortado coffee can be made in very few, simple, steps. You will need an espresso machine, as the cortado is based on espresso. A single or double shot of espresso. 

It’s possible to use normal black coffee too, as some do, but the final result won’t be as smooth as a cortado should instead be. 

  • Proceed to make the shots as you would normally do with your machine. 
  • Grinding, measuring, and tamping your espresso grounds. 
  • Extract then 1 or 2 shots of espresso. 
  • After the espresso extraction, steam your milk or milk alternative. 
  • Then slowly pour it on your espresso and serve. 
  • Milk and espresso should be of the same quantity.

There’s not much else to say about how to make a cortado. It doesn’t require any frothing and doesn’t require you to learn how to make any latte art. Some cafes are serving a cortado with a little foam on top to be able to craft a figure on top of it). 

A traditional 5-7 oz cup, often made of glass, is the common way to serve a cortado. Simpler variations of the basic preparation are made by using concentrated milk instead of normal milk like in the Cuban cortadito. Or cream on top instead of milk (making a “leche y leche”) and so on. 

Popular in California is the Gibraltar, named after the cup it is served in, a 4.5 oz Libbey “Gibraltar” glass. It is identical though to the cortado, the recipe, and coffee to milk ratio being exactly the same.

How Does A Cortado Compare

cappuccino machiato latte cortado

The differences with other coffee drinks get smaller the more you start exploring cortado variations. We already saw that a latte is made with foamed milk, containing then both hot milk and foam. And generally has a much larger ratio of milk compared to coffee. 

Latte

A latte can have 5-6 times as much milk than the coffee, resulting in a mellower drink, with way less caffeine content than the cortado. Think of the latte as a way to drink a little coffee with a lot of milk, whereas the cortado is drinking coffee with enough milk to make it sweet.

Cappuccino

Similarly, a cappuccino differs from a cortado in both the ratio of coffee to milk. A cappuccino contains just ⅓ of coffee, with the other ⅔ is made of steamed milk and milk foam. 

There is also a difference in the serving sizes. The cappuccino is a larger drink, at least one third more than the cortado, and the taste is skewed in favor of milk. 

Some well-made cappuccino uses a stronger coffee to balance the amount of milk in it, nearly matching the taste of a cortado. Yet the drinking experience differs with a cappuccino anyway because it has the milk foam on top. Something that is completely absent in a cortado.

Flat White

Some confound a flat white with a cortado. Perhaps this is due to some cafes adding milk foam on top of the latter so the appearance is quite alike. 

Yet the flat white contains much more milk and its foam is less firm and frothy than those that can be found on top of a cappuccino or latte. It is an easy to drink coffee beverage, which has little in common with the darker and heavier coffee that is generally used to make a cortado.

Cortado In Conclusion

The cortado is a delicious coffee drink for espresso lovers. It is closer in taste and conception to a macchiato than to a latte or flat white. Its idea is to make coffee more tolerable to drink, but it still has to taste primarily of coffee, and usually of a strong one. 

The milk is an addition to make it easier to enjoy your coffee. A cappuccino or latte or flat white were born with a different idea in mind. To enjoy milk and coffee together, and give a different texture to the coffee. 

Try them if you want a lighter, smoother, and still rich drink that has a large component of the milk flavors in it. 

Try instead a cortado if you want to drink a coffee, with an added component of sweetness given by the milk. It is a drink for espresso or coffee lovers that want a lighter drinking experience. 

All without renouncing the taste of coffee or overwhelming it with the milk. Also, it’s so easy to make that it’s really a drink you should attempt to make at home even before trying it at a cafe. Get the coffee beans and your espresso machine ready and enjoy your cortado!