What is a Cortado Coffee? How is it different from a Latte or Flat White?

There is no end to the different types of drinks out there when it comes to coffee. Indeed, regardless of your preferences regarding the type of coffee you drink, you should have no problems finding it these days.

Cortado is coffee that many people haven’t heard of, and unlike the many types of coffee that are Italian in origin, this beverage began in Spain. 

The word “cortado” is Spanish for “cut” or dilute. The coffee was named this because the recipe calls for the right amount of steamed milk to cut the bitterness usually associated with coffee that is very strong.

The ratio used in a cortado recipe is set at just the right amounts to ensure that the coffee is not too bitter, which is one of the things that makes this type of coffee so yummy. It has a strong taste without being too strong, and the recipe is a fairly easy one.

What Is a Cortado?

A coffee cortado is simply a coffee made out of one part espresso and one part milk. The milk encompasses 50% of the drink so that the bitterness of the espresso is made more subtle and therefore drinkable.

And it isn’t made with just any type of milk; instead, steamed milk is used to make a cortado. As most people know, espresso can be very acidic on the tongue. The steamed milk in a Cortado does a great job of making the coffee a lot less bitter and less acidic. It is easy to drink even for people who normally don’t like super-strong coffees.

Also called Spanish Gibraltar coffee, it is popular all over the world. While other Italian coffee drinks have frothy or foamy milk on top, a cortado has very little, if any, froth on the top.

Where Did the Cortado Originate?

The cortado drink originated in Spain, and even today in many Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries, the words “coffee” and “espresso” are used synonymously. In fact, even though cortado began in Spain, there are numerous similar drinks available in this country today. These include:

  • Café cortado: espresso with a dash of milk
  • Café solo corto: a small amount of black coffee
  • Cortadito (Cuba): espresso with heated sweetened condensed milk
  • Italian macchiato, cappuccino, or flat white: milk, foam, or both of these added to coffee
  • Piccolo latte (Australia): single ristretto shot filled with steamed milk; similar to the caffe latte

Oddly enough, adding the word Gibraltar to the cortado name originated not in Spain but in San Francisco and refers to the size of the glass used in that part of the world. Indeed, cortado has been added to and updated in many different parts of the world, so if you love the coffee’s basic taste, you can easily find a location that doctors it up a bit to please your palate.

How to Make a Cortado

Although it is very similar to a latte or macchiato, the proportions of these espresso drinks differ somewhat. It differs not only in the amount of espresso and milk that you use but also in the type of milk you use.

For instance, in a macchiato, a tiny amount of milk is used to “stain” the coffee, so there is very little milk in this type of drink. Although the proportions of milk and espresso are very similar in a latte, the milk in a latte is foamed. Even though the milk in a cortado is steamed, it is not “frothy” or foamed at all.

With a cortado, equal amounts of espresso and milk are usually used, although you can use slightly more milk if you like. Cortados are usually placed in small cups that hold five to seven ounces of coffee. In California, the Gibraltar glass is usually used instead, which is an exact four and a half ounces.

How Many Shots of Espresso Are in a Cortado?

While the 1:1 ratio of espresso and steamed milk is usually used in a cortado, you have to have the right ingredients from the very start. Most experts recommend that you use Robusta beans instead of Arabica beans.

Because of the way you’ll be mixing the espresso with the milk, the bold, robust flavor of Robusta beans simply makes for a better overall flavor. You can even use a Robusta blend if you like, and a good French roast will bring you an almost chocolate-like flavor in the end.

As far as the number of shots of espresso in a cortado, most people recommend one shot of espresso or two shots of espresso. You’ll use four tablespoons of dark roast coffee and one ounce of whole milk for the recipe.

Four tablespoons of coffee will result in one ounce, or one shot of espresso. But if you like your beverage even stronger, feel free to add one more shot to the recipe.

What Is the Difference Between a Latte and a Cortado?

If you’re a little confused at this point about all of these types of coffee and all the variations of each, you’re not alone. Indeed, it can be not very clear to keep track of all of these coffees, but for now, let’s look at the differences between a latte and a cortado. While it’s true that they are very similar in many ways, they are different in other ways. A side-by-side comparison might better describe the differences between the two:

  • Overall flavor: bold and creamy for the cortado; milder and creamier for the latte
  • Recipe/Ingredients: 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of espresso and milk for cortado; 1:3 ratio for a latte
  • Service size: Cortados are served in small cups; lattes are served in large cups
  • Type of milk used: steamed milk with no foam in the cortado; steamed, foamed, and textured in a latte
  • Where it is found: Spain, Latin America, and a few coffee shops in the U.S. for the cortado; lattes can be found nearly anywhere in the U.S.

If you like less sweetness and more oomph in your coffee, choose the cortado. Otherwise, your best bet is to drink a latte.

Is a Cortado the Same as a Flat White?

The differences between a cortado and a flat white coffee are very subtle, but there are still differences between these two types of coffee. Both are made with roughly equal amounts of espresso and milk, but the main difference between the two types of coffee is the milk itself, specifically the milk’s consistency.

In a cortado, the milk is not textured. Therefore, it is a bit smoother than the milk in a latte. Because of this, a latte is a little thicker and more velvety. Again, the differences are very subtle, but those differences mean a lot to people who are picky about the milk in their coffee drinks.

What Kind of Grind Do You Need to Brew a Cortado? Fine or Coarse?

The bolder you want your coffee taste to be, the finer you’ll want the grind. This is because fine coffee grounds pack more punch with each sip. That being said, some people prefer a milder ground, although that is rare with cortado.

Let’s face it; cortado drinkers usually want a super-bold and flavorful overall taste, and that’s exactly what a fine grind provides to you. There are roughly five types of grinds, ranging from extra fine to coarse, and your choice often depends on one more thing: the type of coffee maker you use.

When you use an espresso machine as you do when making cortado, fine grounds are usually recommended, which is yet another reason to grind your coffee beans fine when making cortado.

What Type of Roast Produces the Best Cortado? Dark or Light?

Another consideration when making coffee is whether to use coffee that is light, medium, or dark roast in nature. As a general rule, any type of coffee made with espresso should be dark roast, bold, and finely ground.

When people take out their espresso machines to make cortado or other types of coffee, they normally do not want a coarsely ground, light roast type of coffee; they are generally looking for the very opposite. For this reason, choosing a coffee with a darker roast will provide you with just the flavor you’re looking for in your cortado.

Dark roast coffee is roasted longer than light roast coffee is, producing a very bold taste, albeit a sometimes bitter taste. Because cortado is made with steamed milk, this bitterness can be cut somewhat so that it isn’t as noticeable. Nevertheless, you should always go with a dark roasted coffee when making cortado because of the boldness of flavor it offers.

Final Thoughts

Although a lot of people don’t know what cortado is, most of them end up loving the taste once they try it the first time. Made with one part espresso and one part steamed milk to dilute the flavor and make it a little less bitter and acidic, it makes a great after-dinner drink or coffee to serve when you’re enjoying time with family and friends.

It is also fairly easy to make, especially since you can personalize it and make it your own. For these and many other reasons, a cortado is a great addition to the other types of coffee that you like to drink.

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