No wonder that Espresso is spelled “ess-PRESS-oh” — Oh, how I love a good espresso-based coffee drink.

In this article, I will briefly look at a Cortado. Did you hear about this sometimes mysterious and off-menu coffee drink item?

What is a Cortado, you ask?

It is a hot coffee beverage made with espresso and warm milk. It can be easily mistaken for a flat white, small latte, or a Macchiato, however.

Cortado actually falls between a Cappuccino and a Macchiato. Deciphering different types of coffee drinks can be tough. So, what kind of drink is a Cortado?

It comes from the Basque region in Spain, and literally means 'cut' in Spanish — coffee is cut with steamed milk.

Apparently, they wanted to 'cut' the acidity of espresso and decided to use milk. The small serving size and ratio make it different from the previously mentioned espresso drinks.

Nowadays, even chains such as Starbucks offer Cortado. In their case, this espresso-based drink is presented as Piccino, consisting of two ristretto shots topped with milk.

Other names you can find Cortado under are Gibraltar coffee (named after the Gibraltar glass), Noisette (France), Pingo (Portugal) or in Italy, a Macchiatone (something between a Macchiato and a Cappuccino)

In my opinion, Cortado should have its place on every “espresso menu”, or at least every coffee geek should know how to instruct a barista to make one.

What makes a cortado?

In general, as said before, Cortado is a small drink, consisting of espresso and steamed milk. To be precise, a shot of espresso (or two) is cut with an equal part or slightly more of hot milk.

There is little or no froth, and if there is, it would not be accompanied by coffee art. A go-to ratio is a 1:1 milk to espresso ratio. It is best served and enjoyed in a small glass. In fact, there is even a special glass for it, called a Gibraltar glass. Its size is 4.5 oz/13 cl.

If you are looking for a suggestion, the Libbey brand, available on Amazon, makes decent ones. Basically, it should have a narrow base and a wider top.

Why? It is easier to hold, avoid burning yourself, and enjoy the taste of coffee properly. You can google the French Duralex Picardie, that was THE tumbler pioneer in this area, to better picture how it should look like.

As I mentioned its appearance, and a little froth or milk foam, it can be confused with flat white, latte, or macchiato. Later in this blog post, I will look at their differences.

Basically, if you want to try a Cortado and it is not on the menu, or want to prepare it at home, you will need espresso coffee and steamed milk (a pitcher is the best to steam milk in), as well as an appropriate glass for the best experience.

Let’s look at the process of making Cortado coffee, the classical Spanish way, closely:

How to make a cortado coffee?

The usual Coffee Cortado recipe is two ounces (shots) of espresso (ristretto ideally), two ounces of warm milk. 2% milk is the best for steaming. The 1:1 ratio of espresso to steamed milk is crucial for Cortado.

  1. 1
    Prepare espresso - you can use a variety of beans (Robusta is preferred since it has more caffeine than Arabica) and a variety of roast levels. Just make sure your beans are finely ground.
  2. 2
    Steam the milk in a stainless steel pitcher but DO NOT foam it.
  3. 3
    Extract two shots of espresso. Pour warm espresso into the Gibraltar/Cortado glass. No worries, these glasses are tested and heat-resilient.
  4. 4
    Slowly add your steamed milk (hot to touch) into the espresso.
  5. 5
    Serve immediately. Drink it slowly to properly enjoy the taste.
  6. 6
    PS: If you want to sweeten it, you can add honey, vanilla syrup, or you can try the Cuban version - Cortado Cubano, or Cuban Espresso. It is a darker roast espresso, sweetened with natural brown sugar. You can also prepare a Spanish “Café Bombon” with condensed milk.

The other, non-traditional way is using two 1-oz. ristretto shots. It has more flavor due to higher extraction, which also makes it feel sweeter and less bitter, when you drink it.

Cortado comes in a four and a half ounce Gibraltar glass tumbler with no foam or only a minimal amount. It is a bit frothy but does not have art on top, unlike a latte.

What is the amount of caffeine in a cortado cup?

Usually, Cortado contains a double shot of espresso. Or two shots of espresso. Whatever way you prefer. This means 120-185mg of caffeine content. If you feel the effect of caffeine even after one shot of espresso, sip your Cortado slowly.

If you want a higher amount of caffeine, you can go for Cold brew or Nitro coffee.

How about those in coffee chains? Starbucks claims that their ristretto version contains 150mg of caffeine, Costa Coffee 185mg. Not bad, considering that energy drinks can have 250mg of caffeine in them!

Experts say it's perfectly fine for a healthy person to drink up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. So with small, slow sips, worry not. I especially love it when it is served with a complimentary glass of water, which helps, plus cleans the palate.

Now you know what is a Cortado, and how strong it is. Do not be afraid to ask your barista for it 🙂

Is a cortado the same as a flat white?

While the milk is steamed the same way, the Spanish Cortado is smaller and foamier than the Australian flat white(106-180ml); and Cortado contains less milk. Flat white is closer to a Cappucino.

It comes served in a ceramic cup with a saucer, topped with microfoam. From these 3 drinks, Cappuccino is the milkiest, with a foam on the top, that keeps it warm for a longer time. 

Different glass is used, as well. As I wrote before, drink Cortado from a 130 ml/4.5 oz glass.

What is the difference between a latte and a cortado?

On the espresso to milk scale in coffee drinks, there is Cortado at the bottom, followed by flat white, cappuccino, then latte - a coffee drink that is predominantly milk. The ratio of Cortado is 1:1. The ratio of a latte is 1:3, even 1:4.

Usually, the latte is also topped off with some eye-catching foam art. It is bigger, too. Caffe latte should be served in a 170-220ml glass.

If you visit Spain, you can also find a café con leche on the menu, aka a Spanish latte.

TIP: If you want to order like a Spaniard: Solo means black, cortado means with a bit of milk and con leche means white.

How to differentiate between a cortado vs a macchiato?

Cortado is foamier. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Macchiato is an espresso just marked with a little milk foam. Espresso macchiato can be served in both glass or a ceramic demitasse cup.

US coffee geeks started to drink Cortados only in 2005, and soon coffee shops and chains like Starbucks, or Costa Coffee hopped on the hype train. It is easy to see why:

  • It is quite international
  • It is simple (in a good way)
  • It is a slow-sipping, easy-to-enjoy kind of drink
  • It is the pure essence of Espresso and textured milk
  • Milk makes it less acidic
  • Yet, it has a rich taste
  • It can be found in quiant coffee shops, as well as coffee chains
  • If you know how to make Espresso at home, or own a machine, maybe even a steamer, you can easily make this as well
  • If you want a bigger caffeine kick, you can use Robusta. If smaller, go for Arabica, or a mix
  • If you like sweets, caramel, almond, and chocolate ones pair well with a Cortado. I, personally, love biscotti with any espresso-based drink
  • There is space for experimenting — from Honey Cortado to Cuban Cortado. You can also add coconut, or almond milk to your coffee drink (however, for steaming, I will always prefer 2% milk)

Do you like milk in your coffee? And what kind? Have you ever tried a Cortado?