Cortado Coffee: A Guide to the Spanish Espresso-Based Drink

cortado coffee

Cortado coffee, also known as a Gibraltar or a Piccolo, is a popular coffee beverage that originated in Spain and is now enjoyed around the world. In this article, we will explore what a cortado coffee is, how it’s made, and why it’s become a beloved coffee drink for many.

What is a Cortado Coffee?

A cortado coffee is a beverage that’s made by combining a shot of espresso with a small amount of steamed milk. Unlike a latte or cappuccino, which are typically made with more milk and foam, a cortado has a higher ratio of espresso to milk, resulting in a bolder, stronger flavor.

The word “cortado” actually means “cut” in Spanish, referring to the way that the milk “cuts” the espresso, creating a balanced and harmonious flavor profile.

Cortado Origin

Cortado is a coffee drink that originated in Spain, specifically in the Basque Country and Catalonia regions. The word “cortado” means “cut” in Spanish, which refers to the way the drink is made – a shot of espresso is “cut” with a small amount of steamed milk to balance the flavor and reduce the acidity of the espresso. Cortado is a popular coffee drink in Spain and other countries in Europe and Latin America, and it has gained popularity in recent years in specialty coffee shops around the world.

How is a Cortado Coffee Made?

To make a cortado coffee, a barista will start by pulling a shot of espresso, which is a concentrated coffee beverage made by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee beans. The espresso is then poured into a small glass or cup.

Next, a small amount of steamed milk is added to the espresso, creating a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of milk to espresso. The milk is steamed to a lower temperature than for a latte or cappuccino, resulting in a less foamy and smoother texture.

The result is a rich and flavorful coffee beverage that’s perfect for those who enjoy the bold taste of espresso but want a little bit of milk to balance out the intensity.

What does Cortado Coffee Taste Like?

The taste of a cortado coffee is rich, bold, and smooth. The espresso shot provides a strong, concentrated flavor that is balanced out by the small amount of steamed milk that is added. The milk helps to mellow out the bitterness of the espresso, while still allowing the complex flavors of the coffee to shine through. The texture of a well-made cortado should be velvety and creamy, with a thick layer of foam on top that is often garnished with latte art. Overall, the taste of a cortado coffee is a perfect balance between the intense flavor of espresso and the smooth, creamy texture of steamed milk.

Variations of Cortado

While a traditional cortado is made with a shot of espresso and a small amount of steamed milk, there are several variations of the drink that can offer unique flavors and textures. Here are some common variations of cortado:

  • Gibraltar: Similar to a cortado, but made with a double shot of espresso and a little more steamed milk in a Gibraltar glass.
  • Cortadito: A Cuban-style cortado that adds a small amount of sweetened condensed milk to the espresso and steamed milk.
  • Piccolo: An Australian variation that uses a ristretto shot of espresso and less steamed milk than a traditional cortado.
  • Flat White: A popular coffee drink from Australia and New Zealand that is similar to a cortado, but with a double shot of espresso and a little more steamed milk than a cortado.
  • Mocha Cortado: A cortado that adds a small amount of chocolate syrup or cocoa powder to the espresso and steamed milk.

These variations add different elements to the classic cortado, such as sweetness, stronger espresso flavor, or chocolate notes, to create unique and delicious drinks.

How Do You Make a Cortado Coffee?

To make a cortado coffee, you will need the following ingredients and equipment:

Ingredients:

  • 1 shot of espresso
  • 1-2 ounces of steamed milk

Equipment:

  • Espresso machine
  • Espresso grinder
  • Steaming pitcher
  • Espresso cup

Instructions:

  1. Start by grinding your espresso beans and tamping the grounds into your espresso machine’s portafilter.
  2. Extract one shot of espresso and pour it into your espresso cup.
  3. Steam your milk until it reaches a temperature of around 150-160°F (65-70°C) and has a velvety texture.
  4. Pour the steamed milk over the espresso shot, using a spoon to hold back the froth.
  5. The ratio of espresso to milk in a cortado is usually around 1:1 or 1:2, so adjust the amount of milk accordingly.
  6. Serve and enjoy your cortado coffee while it’s still hot.

Note: The precise ratio of espresso to milk and the milk temperature can vary based on personal preference, so feel free to adjust the recipe to suit your taste. 

Can You Make a Cortado Without a Coffee Machine?

It’s not possible to make a true cortado without an espresso machine because the drink is based on a shot of espresso, which is made using high pressure and high-temperature water. However, you can create a similar drink that has a similar taste and texture using a Moka pot or stovetop espresso maker.

Here’s how you can make a cortado-like drink without an espresso machine:

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 tablespoons of finely ground coffee
  • 1/4 cup of hot water
  • 1/4 cup of milk

Equipment:

  • Moka pot or stovetop espresso maker
  • Milk frother or whisk
  • Small pitcher or saucepan for steaming milk
  • Espresso cup

Instructions:

  1. Add finely ground coffee to the Moka pot or stovetop espresso maker and fill the bottom chamber with hot water.
  2. Place the pot on a stove and heat it until the coffee starts to bubble and rise up into the top chamber.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat once it has finished brewing.
  4. While the coffee is brewing, heat the milk in a small pitcher or saucepan until it reaches a temperature of around 150-160°F (65-70°C).
  5. Froth the milk using a milk frother or whisk until it has a velvety texture.
  6. Pour the brewed coffee into an espresso cup, filling it about halfway.
  7. Pour the steamed milk over the coffee, using a spoon to hold back the froth.
  8. The ratio of espresso to milk in a cortado is usually around 1:1 or 1:2, so adjust the amount of milk accordingly.
  9. Serve and enjoy your cortado-like drink while it’s still hot.

Note: The flavor and texture of the drink will not be exactly the same as a true cortado made with an espresso machine, but it will be similar and still delicious. 

Tips to Make a Perfect Cortado Coffee

Here are some tips to make a perfect cortado coffee:

  1. Use fresh, high-quality espresso beans and make sure your equipment is clean and well-maintained.
  2. Pull a single shot of espresso (around 1 oz) and pour it into a preheated cortado glass.
    Steam a small amount of milk (around 1-2 oz) to around 130-140°F, making sure to create a velvety microfoam.
  3. Slowly pour the steamed milk into the espresso, holding back the foam with a spoon, until the glass is around 3/4 full.
  4. Use a spoon to carefully spoon the foam on top of the drink, creating a small layer of foam on top.
  5. Enjoy immediately, while the drink is still hot.

It’s important to pay attention to the details when making a cortado, as the balance between espresso and milk is key to the drink’s flavor and texture. By using fresh, quality ingredients and careful techniques, you can create a delicious cortado that is rich, smooth, and perfectly balanced.

Is a Cortado the Same as a Flat White?

While both a cortado and a flat white are espresso-based drinks, they are not the same.

A cortado is a Spanish-origin espresso-based drink that is made with one shot of espresso and a small amount of steamed milk. The milk is meant to “cut” the acidity of the espresso, hence the name “cortado,” which means “cut” in Spanish. The ratio of espresso to milk in a cortado is typically 1:1 or 1:2.

A flat white, on the other hand, is an Australian-origin espresso-based drink that is made with one or two shots of espresso and a small amount of steamed milk. The milk in a flat white is meant to create a velvety texture and add sweetness to the espresso. The ratio of espresso to milk in a flat white is typically 1:2 or 1:3.

So, while both drinks have some similarities, they are not the same, and the main difference lies in the amount of milk used and the texture it creates in the drink.

Why is a Cortado Coffee Popular?

Cortado coffee has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many coffee shops and cafes adding it to their menus. There are several reasons why this coffee beverage has become a beloved choice for many coffee lovers.

First, the cortado strikes a perfect balance between the intensity of espresso and the creaminess of milk, resulting in a smooth and harmonious flavor profile that’s both bold and balanced.

Additionally, the smaller size of a cortado makes it a great option for those who want a little bit of milk in their coffee without it overwhelming the flavor of the espresso. It’s also a great choice for those who are looking for a pick-me-up in the middle of the day but don’t want to consume a lot of milk or calories.

Lastly, the cortado’s origins in Spain give it a sense of cultural cachet that many coffee enthusiasts find appealing. Its simplicity and elegance make it a great choice for those who appreciate the art and science of coffee making.

In conclusion, a cortado coffee is a delicious and popular coffee beverage that’s loved for its balance of bold espresso and creamy milk. Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or a casual coffee drinker, a cortado is definitely worth trying if you haven’t already. So the next time you’re at a coffee shop, give it a shot and see why it’s become such a beloved coffee drink around the world.

General questions

Why is it called cortado?

The cortado comes from Spain, most likely Madrid, where it is commonly served. The word cortado is the past participle of the Spanish verb cortar (to cut), in the sense of “dilute”, and can refer variously to either coffee or espresso drinks throughout Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries.

Resource: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cortado

What is the difference between a latte and a cortado?

Cortado is a 1:1 ratio of espresso and steamed milk. The serving size is smaller and much less sweet. Latte is ⅓ espresso, ⅔ steamed milk, and topped with a thick layer of milk foam. It has a distinct, frothy texture and tastes sweeter.

Resource: https://enjoyjava.com/cortado-vs-latte/

Cortado vs Macchiato

A cortado is not too dissimilar to a macchiato. They both contain the same amount of espresso, except the macchiato has a little less milk and is slightly smaller in volume. This results in a slightly more bitter taste.

That’s our guide to what is a cortado. Want to explore more irresistible coffee types and find your new favourite? Discover what is a café au lait, next.

Resource: https://www.nescafe.com/gb/coffee-types/what-is-a-cortado-coffee/

Is A cortado stronger than an espresso?

These coffee drinks taste similar. Cortado is stronger since there are two shots of espresso and less milk.
Resource: https://thedarkestroast.com/what-is-cortado/