What’s The Difference Between a Cortado Vs Flat White? (Explained)

Cortado vs Flat White

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Espresso-based coffee drinks at coffee shops aren’t limited to just latte and cappuccino. There’s a long list of other items that also share the espresso shot and milk, though the milk ratio can be different.

Cortado and Flat White are both on the list for coffee lovers looking for latte alternatives.

In this article, I will help you understand what each of these drinks is and hold a Cortado vs Flat White battle to help you identify your next favorite order at the coffee shop.


What Is A Cortado?

A Cortado is a hot coffee drink made with espresso and steamed milk, similar to cappuccino and latte, as I briefly mentioned above.

The Spanish decided to add milk to the espresso to cut its acidity, which resulted in its name “cortado”.

That Spanish word is the past participle form of the  Spanish verb “cortar” which means to cut or dilute. In this case, the milk reduces or “cortar” the acidity in coffee for a more balanced and sweeter taste.

cortado

Why Is Cortado Also Called Gibraltar?

Its second name originated in San Francisco around 2005 when different roasters, among which Blue Bottle Coffee was the first, started to serve Cortado in a Gibraltar glass tumbler of the brand Libbey Glass.

Cortado can essentially be known as a broad brewing method that involves cutting espresso with steamed milk following a specific ratio.

Set of Two Libbey Duratuff Cortado Glasses | Gibraltar Rocks Glass 4.5 OZ ~Paper Coasters Included~

But as the drink served in Gibraltar glasses became popular, its cup size of 4.5 oz (133 ml) redefined the proportions that make a Cortado.

Overall, it’s more commonly called Cortado on the East Coast and Gibraltar on the West Coast.

What Makes A Cortado

Each espresso-based coffee drink has a different ingredients ratio. So, certainly, what makes up a Cortado would be different from that of a latte, cappuccino, and flat white, which we will address in the next bit.

The general rule is a double shot of Ristretto espresso (2 oz/59 ml) and the rest is warm milk to fit the Gibraltar glass. So the espresso to milk ratio of a Cortado drink is roughly 1:1.

Espresso

The usage of Ristretto rather than Normale espresso makes the drink:

  • Thicker and fuller body due to the lower amount of water;
  • Sweeter and less caffeine packed due to the shorter brew time.
Espresso

Steamed Milk

Cortado milk is mostly just lightly steamed rather than frothed to create a warm thick micro foamed milk layer like a latte and cappuccino. 2% milk is our recommendation for steaming.

The drink also has a much smaller amount of milk compared to those two, so it’s a good fit for coffee drinkers looking for a stronger coffee taste in espresso-based beverages.


What Is A Flat White?

A flat white is also a milky espresso-based coffee drink.

The signature thin and silky layer of white foamed milk is the reason for its name “flat white”. This is also the main difference that keeps it apart from cappuccino and latte.

Although the drink had been popular outside of North America for a few decades, the drink only made its debut in the market in 2015 as a new addition to the Starbucks menu.

Flat White Cups with Saucers SET of 4

So what do flat whites have to offer compared to other drinks?

What Makes A Flat White

The correct way to serve a flat white is in a 165ml tulip cup, which is around 5.5 oz.

It shares the same espresso coffee base as the cortado, which is a double shot of espresso coffee, preferably Ristretto.

In terms of the milk content, flat white calls for a bit more milk. With 2 oz of espresso coffee, a 5 – 6 oz serving of flat white would need another 3 – 4 oz of milk, which makes the espresso to milk ratio in this drink around 1:2.

Some coffee shops may serve flat white in a typical coffee serving size of 8 oz (237 ml) in a ceramic cup as well.

Espresso

The base here is also the same amount of Ristretto for the same effects I described above.

Steamed Milk

The key to making a cup of flat white shine and distinguishing itself from other popular espresso drinks is in the milk.

To unload its full potential, full-fat should be steamed using a steam wand to create a layer of micro-foam that’s velvety smooth with tiny bubbles rather than big frothy ones.

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The creamy steamed milk is freely poured over the coffee to create a thin layer of microfoam on top that’s only around 5 mm/0.2 inches thick.

Though there is less milk in a flat white than a latte, which is why many call it a “small latte”, you can catch many flat whites with latte art on top for presentation and fun.


Can You Serve a Flat White or Cortado Iced?

Both are hot drinks that can easily be served cold for the hot weather by pouring them over a glass of ice cubes. Doing so helps maintain the coffee consistency better than the other way around.


Flat White Vs Cortado – How Are These Espresso Drinks Different?

So, is flat white the same as Cortado? They can be easily mistaken, but this section will point out the subtle differences between these two drinks.

Which Is Stronger?

Flat White vs Cortado

Both Cortado and flat white have a strong coffee taste. But the former is stronger due to having less milk.

You can enjoy the taste of two ounces or two shots of espresso more distinctly as the strong and bittersweet taste of Ristretto is less overwhelmed by the sweet and creamy layer of microfoam.

How Is The Milk Different?

This is the key difference to tell the 2 drinks apart. Other than the obvious difference in quantity, the preparation method for each popular drink isn’t alike either.

As aforementioned, the milk in a Cortado glass is only lightly steamed, resulting in a warm soft layer of warm milk laying on top of the equal part of coffee.

This straightforward method is applied to simply cut the acidity in espresso, which is the intended use of the added milk.

On the other hand, milk in flat white is consistently heated throughout the process to create a layer of foam that’s full of tiny bubbles instead of big frothy ones.

So the milk in flat white has more texture and a more velvety consistency compared to the smooth Cortado.

Another difference is the latte art.

You may only catch one coffee shop giving Cortado a design using the slightly steamed milk. But you have a bigger chance of seeing flat whites with one at coffee shops due to the textured microfoam.

And lastly, Cortado is cooler than flat white in terms of temperature because constantly heated milk is definitely hotter than warm milk.

But, they are both cool in terms of swagness in the hipster world as they’re both less “basic” than lattes and cappuccinos if that’s the “cool” you were thinking of.

Which Has More Caffeine?

The caffeine is in the coffee. Following my recommended recipes, both Cortado and flat white share equal parts of espresso, which means there is no difference in the caffeine levels between them.

But each coffee shop can have a different approach to the same drink. This coffee shop may use only 1 shot of Normale espresso, the other may use 2 shots of Normale, and the next may use only 1 shot of Ristretto coffee.

Flat White

So the differences here ultimately depend on the coffee recipes of each barista and, most likely, the serving sizes as well. For example, they tend to be served in much bigger cup sizes at Starbucks than the traditional takes. The smallest size is already 8 oz (237 ml).

So keep that in mind when buying coffee outside, be it Cortado, flat white, macchiato, or cappuccinos.


Cortado Vs Flat White: The Final Verdict

cortado in Gibraltar glass

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Grab a cup of Cortado if you like the espresso and milk combo but looking for a stronger coffee taste and easier preparation.

Make yourself a cup of flat white if you essentially want a smaller latte with less milk but still all that creaminess, sweetness, and fun of steaming, texturing, and making latte art.

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