Difference Between Cortado and Café con Leche

Looking at the differences when you’re comparing a Café con Leche with a Cortado, you’ll find out quickly that they have more in common than you might have expected.

Not only do both of these delicious espresso beverages come from Spain, they also both combine espresso and milk.

Now…

You might wonder: Are they actually the same?

They are not! More on that later…

Let’s first have a look at what each of these coffee drinks is! Without further ado – let’s look at what makes a Cortado a Cortado and a Café con Leche a Café con Leche!

What is a Café con Leche?

A Café con Leche consists of equal parts of espresso (or Moka coffee) and whole milk. The traditional preparation uses a double shot of espresso combined with scalded milk.

Scalded milk is not prepared the same as steamed or foamed milk. While a steam wand is used to scald the milk, it doesn’t foam. The milk is heated close to the boiling point. That creates creamy, rich, and frothy milk that is sweet to taste.

The milk is added to the espresso with the same amount of coffee and scalded milk. The sweetness of the milk provides a delicious contrast to the natural bitterness of the espresso. 

If you prefer to use non-dairy milk, then be forewarned when it comes to the Café con Leche. The taste of the Café con Leche will be impacted when you use Coconut, Oat, or Soy milk (just to name a few) instead of whole milk. You will have to do a bit of experimentation to find one that tastes sweet and creamy when you scald the milk. 

What is a Cortado Coffee?

The Cortado Coffee is equal parts espresso and milk. Usually, a single shot of espresso is topped with one fluid ounce of thinly steamed milk, though ratios vary. However, no matter the exact ratio between milk and coffee, there will always be the same coffee to milk ratio.

Most are also served in a 4.5 fluid ounce cup. The name comes from the Spanish verb “cortar,” meaning “to cut.” This is because milk reduces or cuts the acidity and intensity of the espresso. It has no or very little 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 to resemble a Cortado is a flat white. Yet, the Cortado does taste stronger as it contains less milk compared to a Flat White. So, if you want to order a Cortado at your favorite coffee shop, then do not let them talk you into a cappuccino or piccolo latte (even though it’s similar to the Cortado) or macchiato. There are quite some differences as well as similarities between a Cappuccino and Cortado! The Piccolo Latte and Cortado are close relatives but still not the same. Similar, when you compare a Cortado Coffee and a Coffee Macchiato – closely related but not the same!

What are the differences between a Café con Leche and a Cortado?

Looking at the ingredients and at the size and ratio between milk and coffee, you actually could come to the conclusion that both espresso drinks are the same. Maybe the difference just being that the Cortado is served in a glass while that’s not necessarily true for the Café con Leche.

Yet, that’s not the only difference. If you read through our introductions on what a Cortado and a Café con Leche are, then it’s pretty apparent that there’s not much difference between the two. They are both consisting of matching amounts of espresso and milk. This ratio, by default, makes them a lot stronger tasting than a cappuccino or latte.

The main difference when comparing Café con Leche vs Cortado lies in the preparation of the milk. The Cortado uses steamed milk with a little bit of foam on top. This does allow the Barista to add some Latte Art when preparing the Cortado. You can work on it yourself when you make a Cortado at home. It won’t work when making an iced Cortado though as you won’t have foam to work with!

In comparison to that, the Café con Leche is prepared with scalded milk. It is also prepared with a steam want and is heated up close to the milk’s boiling point. This makes the milk creamier and sweeter.

In coffee shops, you also will, in many cases, get your Café con Leche with more milk than coffee. That makes the beverage even smoother and sweeter.

If you, instead of a Spanish Café con Leche get a Cuban Café con Leche, you usually end up with more milk. The Cuban version is sweeter and tastes less bitter.

Which is better? Or are they the same?

By now, it should be pretty clear that these two espresso and milk beverages are not the same. Both have their roots in Spain and use espresso and milk. Even the ratios between milk and coffee in both drinks are the same.

Yet, they do taste differently. And that is thanks to the preparation of the milk. The Café con Leche tastes a little sweeter as the scalded milk has a sweetness to it that you don’t get with the steamed milk.

The Cortado has a bit stronger coffee taste and is a tad more bitter. Having said that, both the Cortado as well as the Café con Leche are delicious.

Neither might make it to the top of your breakfast-coffee list. But, if you need a finishing touch to a good lunch or just a pick-me-up in the afternoon, then neither of these two Spanish coffees will let you down!

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