Cortado: What Is It and How Do You Make One?

For upcoming baristas, aspiring coffee shop owners, and coffee lovers, making a proper cortado is a must. And we’re going to shortcut your way to the perfect cortado coffee with our guide.

You’re going to learn all the details and secrets about his classic Spanish coffee beverage. From answering what is a cortado to the ideal cortado recipe and the best methods, here’s all you need to know. Let’s go!

What is a Cortado?

what is a cortado

In short, it’s the fusion of espresso with warm milk. The beauty of this drink is that the milk reduces the bitterness and acidity of the coffee while adding a touch of sweetness and improvement in the overall texture. And since it’s done in a ratio of 1:1, it preserves the flavors of espresso.

The steamed milk cuts through the coffee, making it sweeter and less intense. All without giving it a milky and thick texture of other milk-based coffee recipes such as a cappuccino, latte, or flat white.

Spanish Cortado Origins

The cortado originates in Spain’s Basque region (País Vasco), and from there, it’s migrated to Portugal and South America. It’s especially popular because it complements the stark flavor of espresso with a bit of sweetness.

Coffee is big amongst Hispanics since they consume the most coffee in the USA. Now you know why it pays off to master the art of the cortado if you plan to open a coffee shop because people have different tastes for espresso. Some starker, some sweeter, and softer.

Now, onto the name. It receives the name “cortado” or “cortadito” because those are Spanish words for “cut”. However, the names will change depending on the region – country specifics include:

  • Puerto Rico: “Cortadito”
  • Cuba: “Cortadito”
  • Venezuela: “Marrón”
  • Australia: “Piccolo”
  • France: “Noisette”
  • Certain states of America: “Gibraltar” or “Gibraltar Coffee”*
  • Rest of the world: “Cortado” 

* The name originated in San Francisco, CA thanks to pioneer roasters such as Blue Bottle Coffee and Ritual Coffee Roasters that served the cortado in the iconic Gibraltar glass by Libbey Glass Company. This is important to know because some roasters and coffee shops in the states will call it a Gibraltar instead of a cortado.

The serving size also differs from region to region. In Spain and South America, it’s usually a shot of espresso and a shot of steamed milk, and that’s it. On the other hand, in the US, it’s typically served in a 7-8oz cup.

Enough theory – let’s see how to brew your first cortado!

How to Make a Cortado

You’ll need coffee beans, a grinder, an espresso machine, and milk along with a way to steam it. Our graphic guide below will show you the cortado recipe and how to prepare it:

how to make a cortado

In summary the process is as follows:

  1. Grind your dose of coffee beans and then place the ground cafe in the portafilter
  2. Brew an espresso shot (or two) and pour it in your favorite mug/cup
  3. Now steam your milk in a ratio of 1:1 (plant-based is also an option)
  4. Finally, pour the steamed milk on top of your espresso and you’ll have your coffee ready to drink!
  5. Too hot? Just add ice to the coffee, and you have iced cortado. Fancier? Pour it all in a cocktail shaker, shake it, and you’ll get a cortado with thicker milk foam.

The cortado is just one of the many coffee drinks – so it’s time to compare it against other popular choices. Come with us to check our exclusive versus!

Different Milky Choices

Cortado is just a flavor of the several milk-based coffee drinks out there. There are sweeter, thicker, and more foamy versions – come with us to discover them to find your ideal choice.

Cortado vs Latte

Latte is much thicker and milkier than cortado. Its ratio of espresso and milk of 1:3 says it all. For every shot of espresso, you need to add 3 shots of slightly-frothed steamed milk.

Therefore, the coffee’s flavor is smoother and less intense – putting the sweetness and texture of milk as the main features of this drink.

How you serve it is another difference. Baristas and coffee shops will serve it in cups from 6oz to 20oz – leaving the tiny cortado cups far behind.

Thanks to its texture and composition, baristas and coffee shops add flavored syrups to create new recipes. Below, find some of the most popular variants:

  • Vanilla Hazelnut Latte: A drink of hazelnut syrup, vanilla syrup, espresso, and steamed milk, water, ice, and whipped cream
  • Mudslide Latte: A mix of espresso flavored syrup, Irish cream syrup, chocolate sauce, 2 espresso shots, milk, and whipped cream
  • Pumpkin Spice Latte: The combination of pumpkin spice syrup, an espresso shot and steamed milk, and whipped cream
  • French Vanilla Latte: Just 1 shot of espresso, steamed milk, and sweet french vanilla syrup

As you can see, they can turn the original latte into desserts. And Starbucks is an example of this – but we all know what many coffee lovers and junkies think of it.

It’s also ideal for elegant presentations thanks to latte art. You can see coffee shops and baristas come up with precious designs, similar to what they do when they serve a flat white or another coffee drink with a micro-foam layer.

And even though a cortado stays classic most of the time, it has a sweet variant known as “Café Bombón”, which is especially popular in Murcia, Spain. To prepare it, you need to brew an espresso shot and add 3 teaspoons of condensed milk.

The Cubans also have their own version that’s named “Cordito” – a mix of espresso and condensed milk. However, the ratios can differ depending on the location.

Other than that, the cortado and the latte are two different worlds.

Macchiato vs Cortado

The cortado and the macchiato are not the same, even though many people mistakenly believe it. For starters, one coffee drink originated in Spain and the other in Italy.

The macchiato is 90% coffee and 10% milk, making it much starker and intense than a cortado. 

Furthermore, it uses foamy milk instead of steamed milk. To prepare it, you need one espresso shot and 1-2 teaspoons of foamy milk. Due to the different ratios of espresso to milk in each drink, they serve different functions and cater to different types of coffee drinkers.

The milk in the macchiato is there to add a little bit of flavor while preserving as much as possible of the flavors and nuances of the coffee espresso. At the same time, the milk in the macchiato is there to reduce the acidic and bitter flavors of the coffee beans.

However, both choices are ideal for people who prefer a more classic coffee drink, but just like the cortado has the “Café Bombón”, the macchiato has its sweet variant, the caramel macchiato.

To prepare the caramel macchiato drink, you have to pour caramel syrup into the bottom of the cup, add 2 shots of espresso, and 2 teaspoons of foamy milk. This is unorthodox and not widely popular among classic coffee drinkers.

In the coffee art department, the macchiato is a better drink than the cortado. Sure, a flat white, latte, or cappuccino would be better, but it has the edge over the cortado here thanks to the foamy milk.

Cortado vs Cappuccino

A cappuccino has a different composition that makes it foamier and milkier. The espresso to milk ratio varies depending on the recipe and barista, but it’s usually 70% milk and 30% coffee. Here’s the usual distribution:

  • Espresso: 25ml
  • Milk: 85ml

The serving size is usually 5-6oz (150-180ml) – where the foam occupies the additional volume of the drink, making up for the additional 40ml (approximately). Just from this point, the cortado and the cappuccino are two completely different worlds.

You’ll taste more the milk in a cappuccino than the espresso, making it a sweeter, thicker, and creamier drink.

However, you can also ask for a strong cappuccino, which is similar to the cortado, thanks to the espresso and milk ratio. The difference here is that the milk is slightly cooler so that you can drink it as soon as you receive it. On the other hand, you need to wait for the cortado to cool down.

Hence, they serve different purposes, just like we showed in our cortado vs macchiato example. The differences go beyond the ratio of espresso and milk.

Like a latte or a flat white, the cappuccino perfectly suits coffee art thanks to its dense micro-foam layer on the top. On the other hand, a cortado lacks the foamy milk necessary to do it.

Summary

Congratulations, now you’re an expert on cortado! You know all about its origins and its different names across the world. And of course, you know how to prepare an exquisite cup to delight yourself and your guests.

But that’s not all – now you have new horizons in front of you with other delicious milk-based coffee drinks to go beyond this Spanish classic.

If you have any questions, let us know. We will get back to you while sipping on a cortado!

ahmed

Ahmed Mir

Founder and Editor

Ahmed Mir is the founder of Sip Coffee House. If he isn’t working, you can probably find him experimenting with different brewing methods, hanging out outdoors, or traveling.