Difference between Cortado and Gibraltar

Whether you saw them on the menu of your local coffee shop or gained a curiosity after hearing about them gaining popularity, you probably are not entirely sure what the difference is between a Gibraltar and a Cortado. They do have the same ingredients, making them much more similar than other types of coffee. However, there are still some differences that are important when deciding whether or not they are the same drink.

Comparing Cortado and Gibraltar Coffees

What is a Gibraltar?

Basically, a Gibraltar is a double shot of espresso mixed with just under 2 fluid ounces of steamed milk. Its name comes from the glass it is served in: a Libbey Gibraltar rock glass. This special glass holds 4.5 fluid ounces, while, in comparison, a standard coffee mug holds 4.75 fluid ounces.

It was created by the owner of Blue Bottle Coffee Company in 2005. The company had accidentally purchased 4.5 fluid ounce Libby Gibraltar glasses, which were too small to hold the regular coffee options.

Because of this, they were instead used for experimenting with different espresso to milk ratios, and eventually, the Gibraltar was born. After gaining popularity in coffee shops throughout San Francisco, it kept gaining popularity even until today.

Preparing a Gibraltar

What is a Cortado?

The Cortado is equal parts espresso and milk, usually a single shot of espresso topped with 1 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 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 or macchiato. There are quite some differences between a Cappuccino and Cortado! The Piccolo Latte and Cortado are close relatives but still not the same. Similar, when you compare a Cortado and a Macchiato – closely related but not the same!

Cortado at Coffee Shop served in a glass cup

What are the Differences?

One big difference between these two drinks is the glass that they are served in. While they are both served in a 4.5 fluid ounce glass, there are key differences. The Cortado is typically served in a smooth carijillo shot glass, while the Gibraltar is usually served in a rock glass with a tapered and octagonal bottom. In addition, the Cortado glass tumbler is sometimes slightly longer.

Another difference is in the amount of milk and coffee in each. In the Cortado, the milk to coffee ratio is 1:1, warm milk to espresso. In a Gibraltar, there is a double shot of espresso and only 1 to 2 fluid ounces of steamed milk. If you have a Gibraltar made with two shots of espresso and 2 ounces of steamed milk then yes, you do have a Cortado! However, more often than not, you’ll have your Gibraltar made with less milk and therefore it’s stronger.

Lastly, the Cortado is older than the Gibraltar and they also originated in different countries.

Even more differences may arise when you order either one. In some coffee shops, the ratios between coffee and milk may differ depending on who makes it.

If establishments offer both drinks, they may also say that, besides the difference in ratio between espresso and milk, there is a difference in texture and temperature. Commonly, they differentiate the Gibraltar by having a more rich and velvety texture and also a cooler, more lukewarm temperature.

What are the Similarities?

As the most obvious similarity, both the Cortado and the Gibraltar are espresso drinks. Also, neither of them has milk foam.

Although they look different, as mentioned before, both these drinks are served in 4.5 fluid ounce glass cups. You might wonder why, since usually coffee is served in mugs. The reason for this is that those regular coffee mugs stop the coffee from cooling down too fast, while the glass cup cools it down faster.

With the Cortado and the Gibraltar, it is fine that they cool down fast, because the drinks are smaller, so it does not really matter. Relating to this, another similarity is that they are both meant to be a quick drink or pick-me-up, rather than the large morning cup you might be used to.

As for how they are made, they both have the same two ingredients: espresso and milk. Because of the lack of milk foam, both drinks have a silky texture and a creamy feel. Traditionally, they have neither any added sugar nor flavored syrup. Yet, that does not mean you couldn’t add syrup to your Cortado or Gibraltar. Similarly, you can have an iced Cortado if you want a refresher in the summer!

Preparing a shot of Espresso to make a Gibraltar

The Verdict

In a general sense, these drinks are really almost the same. They have the same ingredients, are served in the same size glass, and taste similar. And yet, they have different ratios of milk to espresso, their glasses are different, and originated in totally different places.

In the end, it relies mostly on personal preference. If you like your coffee to taste stronger, meaning more espresso and less milk, the Gibraltar is probably a better choice. If you would rather have a more balanced taste, meaning equal amounts of espresso and milk, then the Cortado is a better choice.

Neither of these coffee drinks is a smooth and milky beverage like for example a Latte. When you look at a Latte with its large amount of milk then you immediately can see and taste that neither a Cortado nor a Gibraltar is a milk drink.

Comparing Gibraltar and Cortado
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