Cortado vs Café au Lait – What are the Differences?

Oh the choices! Café au Lait on the one hand and Cortado on the other.

Both mix milk and coffee at a ratio of 1:1. Yet, the coffee brewing method is very different between the two drinks. How’s that you ask? You’ll have to continue reading to find out!

Café au Lait – What is it?

Café au Lait sounds and is French and your first impression might be that it has to be something really special.

Well, it’s not…

It’s simply strong brewed coffee with milk at a 1:1 ratio of coffee to milk. The traditional (French) version of the Café au Lait uses steamed milk.

Another kind of Café au Lait originated in the New Orleans area. This version differs quite a lot from the original as it uses scalded milk instead of steamed milk and adds chicory to the coffee. Chicory adds a unique flavor to the beverage so it tastes very different from the original. Scalded milk is simply milk that’s heated close to the boiling point. The milk tastes a little sweeter which adds to the different taste.

You might also think as the Café au Lait is a mix of brewed coffee and milk, that it is the same as a white coffee. Yet, that’s not the case as white coffee uses cold milk instead of steamed hot milk!

The Café au Lait is usually served in a mug but can at times also come in a tall glass. The warm milk blends with the strong coffee to provide a unique beverage that stands out among all the available coffee drinks.

Cortado Coffee – What is it?

The Cortado Coffee is equal parts espresso and milk. The ratio of Espresso to milk is the same as the coffee to milk ratio in the Café au Lait.

A Cortado is brewed by combining a single espresso shot or a double shot of espresso with and equal amount of steamed milk. It often 

It has its origins in Spain and the name translated means ‘to cut’ and comes from the Spanish verb ‘cortar’. The meaning is that the milk ‘cuts’ the intensity of the coffee flavor and helps to balance the acidity.

Most Cortados are served in a 4.5 fluid ounce glass cup.  There is none or just a little layer of milk foam, which is common in Spanish drinks, as it helps the milk cut through the espresso more smoothly.

There is not a lot that is known about the origins of the Cortado besides knowing that it originated in Spain’s Basque Country. From there, it continued to spread and gain popularity across the world. In Spain, a café cortado is an espresso with just a small amount of milk added in.

The closest you get in mainstream coffee shops that is similar to a Cortado is a flat white. The Cortado does have a stronger coffee flavor as it contains less milk compared to a Flat White. Another very similar coffee drink that matches the Cortado is the piccolo latte.

The same goes when you try a Cortado Coffee vs a Coffee Macchiato. They are close but also quite different! Lastly, you might also want to check out the different coffee flavors you get between a Cappuccino and Cortado!

What are the differences between a Café au Lait and a Cortado?

While both Cortado and Café au Lait have a coffee to milk ratio of 1:1, they are completely different coffee drinks.

Let’s start with the coffee itself. The Cortado is brewed with Espresso while the Café au Lait uses regular coffee. That will, without a doubt, result in a stronger coffee taste in the Cortado.

As the Cortado uses Espresso shots as the basis, you usually only get it as a roughly 4 oz drink. The Café au Lait can be had in pretty much any size and it won’t be overwhelming. Just think about a large (16oz) Cortado. You’d have eight shots of espresso which would have your blood pressure through the roof! So, let’s just stick with a smooth 4 oz version to enjoy.

Both coffee drinks use steamed milk. The Cortado is often topped off with a layer of foam which even allows for some Latte Art!

The Cortado requires a lot of detail and a good barista to pull the perfect espresso shots. The Café au Lait in comparison is basically a milky coffee. You can make a cup of strong coffee at home and prepare some steamed milk (hot milk) and combine both with a ratio of coffee to milk of 1:1. That’s it…

If you want the New Orleans (American) version of the Café au Lait then you have use scalded milk. In that case simply heat the milk until just before it boils. Add the milk to the coffee and add some Chicory and voila – your American Café au Lait is ready.

Overall, both coffee drinks are delicious. The Cortado is more of a treat whereas the Café au Lait could become your go-to coffee beverage for anytime during the day.

A Cortado usually consists of 2 espresso shots which results in about 150 mg of caffeine. If you make a Café au Lait with one cup of coffee then you end up with around 100 mg of caffeine. The Cortado obviously has a lot more caffeine.

Rounding out a Cortado with 2 oz of creamy milk results in about 35 calories plus around 5 calories for the two espresso shots. If you prepare Café au Lait and use 8 oz of coffee and 8 oz of textured milk, you’ll end up with around 140 calories for the milk and in the ballpark of 16 calories for the black coffee. Overall, a typical cup of Café au Lait will have nearly 4 times the calories of a cup of Cortado!

Which will your new favorite be? The Café au Lait or the Cortado? Try them both at one of the specialty coffee shops in your area even though you might have for example a hard time to find a Cortado at Starbucks or any other of the larger chains. Maybe you’ll like both and start switching your favorite every day!

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