What is a cortado?
This is one of the most frequent questions a barista is faced with. A cortado is an espresso-based drink topped with an equal amount of steamed milk. Although it is a favourite amongst coffee geeks, it is not as popular as the latte or the cappuccino.
I am here to change that, because the cortado is one of the most perfectly balanced types of coffee drinks in the world. So let’s find out what it is and how it compares to other coffees.
Cortado, or "cut" in Spanish, has its origins in Spain’s Basque country, an autonomous community in Spain. Its name refers to the milk cutting through the espresso shot.
Commonly, a cortado has a 1:1 espresso to milk ratio, meaning a double shot of espresso topped with an equal amount of steamed milk. It is a deliciously creamy espresso-based drink that balances the acidity of the espresso shot with the sweetness of the milk.
The reason why this drink is so popular amongst coffee geeks and baristas is because of its balanced flavor, creamy texture and thin layer of microfoam on the top. It is traditionally served in a 5-7oz glass or a Gibraltar. More on the Gibraltar below!
How does cortado compare to other drinks?
You’ve probably found yourself in front of many coffee menus wondering what could be the difference amongst all those drinks and rightly so. Don’t worry about a thing. You are not meant to know their differences, and I am here to help with that.
Once you understand how the cortado compares to a few other popular espresso-based drinks, then you will know if it’s the right drink for you. The differences might seem small but they make all the difference when it comes to flavor, mouth feel and texture.
What’s the difference between a latte and a cortado?
The latte, as we know it and love it today, became popular in Seattle during the 1980s thanks to Starbucks. Its main difference from the cortado is the espresso to milk ratio, as the latte has nearly three times as much the amount of milk a cortado has. This results in a weak coffee beverage since the taste of milk is more dominant.
The texture remains the same, as the latte also contains smooth steamed milk with a thin layer of foam on top. However, a latte is definitely more popular amongst those who favour a drink with lots of milk. This is because it does not have the coffee intensity of the cortado.
Cortado vs. Flat White
One could say that a flat white is Australia’s answer to the cortado. We should mention New Zealand claims to have invented it as well, although unfortunately we still don't know where the truth lies.
It is very similar to a cortado because it compliments the espresso by containing less steamed milk than the latte. However, it has more milk than a cortado, so if there was a scale it would be right between the cortado and the latte.
Its features include espresso, a silky milk texture and a layer of microfoam on top. It is more commonly served in an 8-oz cup, making it slightly larger than a cortado due to the milk quantity.
What’s the difference between a cortado and a macchiato?
So far we talked about Spain and Australia but it wouldn’t be an espresso drink article without mentioning the Italians. The macchiato originated in Italy during the 1980s, when Italian baristas were trying to create an espresso drink with just a drop of milk.
Instead of a drop, they ended up adding only the milk foam on top. They named it the macchiato, the “stained one”, as it looks like a shot of espresso stained with milk foam.
The macchiato contains much less milk than the cortado and therefore it is a stronger and more intense coffee drink. They also differ in texture, as the macchiato is not smooth and creamy like the cortado.
Why is a cortado served in a glass?
Unfortunately not much is known about the tradition of serving the cortado in a glass, but it is safe to say that it compliments the size of the drink. It is about 5-7oz and it is not only the perfect fit for the cortado, it also makes the drink visually pleasing.
Many coffee shops in the U.S. serve it in a Gibraltar glass, which fits only 4.5 oz, so it is a bit more restrictive than others. Sometimes you might even encounter it as a Gibraltar on the coffee shop menu.
So there you have it! Now you know all about the cortado and its story. Personally, it's one of my favourite milk-based espresso drinks, as the milk doesn't overshadow the flavour of my espresso. Be sure to give it a try and let me know what you thought!