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What is Cortado? Introducing an Espresso Drink from Spain

Dave Carter

June 3, 2020

Thanks to the popularization of international coffee drinks in different countries worldwide, especially the US. Spanish coffee creation is seeing an increase in popularity. The cortado is no exception; it's a small hot coffee beverage with the basic ingredients ( espresso and warm milk) of other espresso-based drinks such as the latte, cappuccino, macchiato, and mocha.

The cortado originated from Spain and is relatively new in the world of coffee there are different perspectives on this drink from all over the world. Some people perceive this beverage is made in a specific ratio of steamed milk to traditional coffee. However, it can be perceived as a variation of a small flat white or latte.

Despite these different variations, this Spanish drink remains a menu staple for several coffee establishments across the globe, read on to find out more about what is a cortado.

What is a cortado: The Essentials​

Coffee  - Cortado can be made from a variety of coffee beans, and the quality of this beverage largely depends on the coffee beans used and the skills of a barista. The beans play a defining part in the taste and flavor of the beverage. That's why you have to select the appropriate beans to create the perfect version of this popular coffee drink.

Ratio - The cortado contains only a little froth, and it has a 1 to 1 ratio of smooth steamed milk to espresso, and it's usually served in a small glass or cup.

Strength - The steamed milk in the beverage contains no caffeine; the only component of the cortado that contains caffeine is the espresso portion. This drink usually has an espresso shot or double espresso shots making the caffeine in espresso of this beverage more than usual.

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What makes a cortado?​

To make a cortado you need to combine an even amount of espresso and steamed milk, it usually uses one shot of espresso and an equal amount of milk, it's similar to a café macchiato the only difference they have is the ratio of the ingredients.

Its simple structure and popularity across the globe have made this drink a favorite among various coffee fanatics worldwide. It should not be decorated with foam art like lattes because the cortado isn't about presentation but more about harmony between the natural flavors.

The version of this beverage varies from different coffee shops, some may use more milk than espresso, and some may top the beverage with foam art, but the traditional version of the beverage does not have foam.

Is a cortado the same as a flat white?​

No, the flat white comes from Australia and consists of micro-foamed milk and a double shot of espresso. This beverage contains textured milk unlike the smoother milk used in a cortado, the steamed and textured milk of the flat white is thicker and hotter.

Meanwhile, the cortado comes from Spain, and it means "cut" in Spanish, the milk in the beverage isn't texturized. It's usually lightly steamed and does not exhibit any forms of froth or foam that you would typically see in a latte or cappuccino. What is a cappuccino? Latte? Why are they often compared to the coffee drink, cortado? They are all in the same family of espresso-based beverages.

What is the difference between cortado and macchiato?​

The Italian Caffe macchiato is a traditional coffee drink with espresso and small amounts of foam or steamed milk, which usually uses a less than 1:1 ratio of these ingredients. Though nowadays, the modern creation of macchiato uses even 1:1 proportions, it hugely differs from a cortado in the portions of hot milk and milk foam, in which the cortado has little to no foam.

The cortado is similar to a macchiato and cappuccino because all these beverages contain the same espresso, which is about one to two espresso shots. The macchiato contains less milk, which makes up for its smaller volume, and it lacks the caffeine punch.

Cortado coffee: Where did it come from​

The cortado originated from Spain, and this beverage was invented to dilute the strong bitter taste that resonates with a conventional espresso. Its name comes from the Spanish word “cortar,” which means "to cut" or "chopped up." because the creators of this beverage wanted the milk to cut through the espresso.

It was first created in the Basque country of Spain and saw a surge in popularity throughout northern Portugal, Cuba, and nowadays it's a popular drink of choice all over the world. Because milk is seamlessly cut through the espresso, the result of cortado has even ratio of coffee to milk throughout the cup.

The beverage has seen plenty of variations ever since. For instance, if you are from the West Coast, they have made a similar beverage called Gibraltar, that name only calls it if the beverage is served in a traditional Gibraltar glass.

Cortado can now be made at home with the use of your favorite coffee drip machines or the conventional french press, so you should start reading about how to use a Cuisinart and learn in making coffee with a french press.

The cortado recipe​

Because the cortado is an espresso-based drink, it can be found in coffee shops rather than being made at home, but if you have an espresso machine at home, here's how to make this beverage.

The ingredients:

  • One shot of espresso (or two, it depends on your preference).
  • An equal amount of steamed milk.


Before anything else, you have to learn how to make an espresso shot since half of this beverage is made of espresso.

  1. Brew one or two shots of espresso.
  2. Steam milk.
  3. Add whatever flavoring you want.
  4. Add both the ingredients in equal parts, leave a thin layer of foam on top.

Cortados are served in small cups that can be either made of glass or metal rather than the conventional ceramic cups and mugs that most espresso-based drinks are served on. The flavoring mentioned ranges from regular honey syrup to cinnamon powder, get your favorite flavoring and start experimenting with your cortado.

How many shots of espresso are in a cortado?​

The conventional cortado contains two espresso shots or one double espresso shots. The ratio of the cortado is important because if you want to make the perfect cup of this beverage, you have to have a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk. When making 4 ounces of this beverage, brew a 2-ounce double espresso shot mixed with an equal amount of smooth steamed warm milk.

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Conclusion: How to Enjoy your cortado drink​

To fully enjoy your cortado, you have to drink it slowly because a cortado is supposed to be sipped slowly. They come in small serving glasses or cups, usually served in a 5 ounce or 7-ounce mug. Since caffeine content is relatively strong, it should be sipped slowly, in some places in the world, this beverage is even served with a complimentary glass of water to help you cleanse your palate after each sip of the drink.


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