The cortado coffee: what is it and how do you make one?

What is a cortado coffee?

A cortado coffee is similar to a flat white, you use the same amount as espresso with a smaller amount of stretched milk. The ratio of a cortado is 1:1 and is traditionally served in a 6oz glass tumbler.

The best way to think of a Cortado is as an espresso with a little something esstra (see what we did there?), the addition of steamed milk. This places it somewhere between a Flat White and a Macchiato in terms of intensity and size, but it still manages to stand out on its own as a rapidly-growing coffeehouse favourite. The Cortado came to be as a way to reduce the acidity and sweeten the bitterness of the espresso, with the customary ratio of espresso to milk at 1:1. Because the milk is steamed and not frothy, there is no rich, foamy head, rather just a slight film of foam on top that blends in with the lighter colour of the coffee-milk blend.

The Cortado comes to us from Spain, where it’s customarily served in a glass that fits into a metal wire handle and enjoyed as an after-meal treat, as well as a pleasant afternoon boost. The name literally means ‘short one’ in Spanish, but just how short your Cortado comes depends on the coffee shop serving it. Most places tend to serve Cortados in a small-to-medium sized cup but there are some who serve it up with more milk, likening it a bit more to a Flat White. 

Here’s why it’s different: a Flat White combines the intensity of espresso with the soft, silkiness of warm milk for a drink that’s like a latte but a bit stronger. Lattes also sport a thick, frothy top that provides an ideal canvas for the barista to impress you with their foam art skills. The only thing atop a flat white is a thin layer of micro foam, although to be fair, many a barista will cover that with foam art, too.  

If you’re the type to appreciate a bit more intensity, here’s how the Cortado differs from the Macchiato. The latter is, more or less, a shot of espresso ‘marked’ by a tiny amount of steamed milk that’s topped with a dash of milk foam intended to cut the bite of the espresso. While the milk added to a Macchiato stands in the middle like a tiny island, the Cortado is all one colour because the milk is blended in. 

In recent years the Cortado has gained quite a bit of popularity, probably owing to its “Goldilocks” factor in terms of size, strength and caffeine content. With more volume than an espresso, enough caffeine to give you a kick and enough steamed milk to add a little body, the Cortado is the coffee drink shorty that’ll make your day.

How to make a Cortado:

  1. Start with a shot of espresso. Customarily, the Cortado starts with a single espresso shot but if you’re really feeling it, go for a double. Pour into a small-ish sized cup for serving.
  2. Steam the milk using the steam wand on your espresso machine. Be sure to tap the milk to release any air bubbles and get it nice and smooth.
  3. Pour the milk into the espresso shot, ideally pre-measuring it so you can get that 1:1 ratio. Be mindful of adding less foam—it’s a Cortado we’re making, not a latte!
  4. Enjoy!

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