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If thou art a devout follower of caffeine, thou mayest have encountered the enigmatic beverage known as cortado coffee. However, what precisely constitutes a cortado coffee? This delectable espresso-based concoction has been steadily accruing favor among the masses in recent years, particularly within the confines of niche coffeehouses spanning the globe. Nonetheless, despite the surge in popularity, many remain unfamiliar with the essence of the cortado, and its divergences from other coffee beverages, such as lattes or cappuccinos. This editorial endeavors to investigate all the intricacies of cortado coffee, encompassing its origins, flavor profile, brewing methodologies, and physiological advantages. Whether thou be a seasoned coffee aficionado or a curious newcomer to the specialty coffee landscape, this compendium will serve to introduce thee to the rich and creamy texture of a cortado coffee.

cortado coffee in a glass on a board with beans

Key Takeaway:

  • Cortado coffee is a delicious and satisfying coffee drink that combines espresso and steamed milk in a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio.
  • The origins of the cortado can be traced back to Spain, where it is still a popular coffee drink today.
  • Making a perfect cortado involves using high-quality espresso beans, steaming the milk to the right temperature and texture, and balancing the ratio of espresso to milk.
  • The cortado has become a symbol of specialty coffee culture and is served in many specialty coffee shops around the world.
  • Cortado coffee offers a range of potential health benefits, including moderate caffeine content and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • There are several cortado coffee drink variations, including the Gibraltar, cortadito, and flat white, each with their unique flavor profile and drinking experience.
  • The cortado can be compared to other espresso-based drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos, but offers a unique balance of espresso and milk that sets it apart.

The Origins of the Cortado

The genesis of the cortado coffee can be traced back to the coffeehouses and bars of Spain, where it first gained popularity. The word “cortado” in Spanish, alludes to how an espresso shot is “cut” with a minute quantity of steamed milk to balance out the robust and acrid flavor of the espresso.

A Brief History of Milk and Espresso Beverages

Espresso-based drinks have been in existence for over a century, with Angelo Moriondo inventing the first espresso machine in 1884. (1) However, the popularity of milk-based beverages like lattes and cappuccinos only took off in the 20th century and spread to different regions of Europe and the world. In Spain, the cortado coffee drink emerged as a well-liked variation of these milk-based drinks, providing a smaller and more concentrated shot of espresso with a dash of milk.

How the Cortado Got its Name

The specific roots of the term cortado remain unclear. Nevertheless, it is theorized that the term may have originated from the phrase “Café con leche cortado,” which translates to “coffee with milk, cut.” The term cortado was then adopted as the name of the drink itself and has since become a fixture in numerous Spanish-speaking nations and specialty coffee establishments worldwide. Some experts also suggest that the cortado might have been influenced by comparable beverages in other parts of Europe, such as the French “noisette” or the Italian “macchiato.” Despite its origin story, the cortado remains a much-loved coffee beverage among numerous aficionados for its bold and creamy taste. (2)

Calphalon BVCLECMP1 Temp iQ Espresso Machine with Steam Wand, Stainless
Calphalon BVCLECMP1 Temp iQ Espresso Machine with Steam Wand, Stainless
Dial interface for selecting steam, hot water, and pre-programmed single and double shots; Removable 2.0L water reservoir with hinged lid for easy filling
Breville Barista Pro Espresso Machine BES878BSS, Brushed Stainless Steel
Breville Barista Pro Espresso Machine BES878BSS, Brushed Stainless Steel
Item Package Dimension: 17.39L x 16.59W x 16.09H inches; Item Package Weight – 27.20 Pounds
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How to Make a Perfect Cortado

barista pouring milk to make a cortado

Making a delightful cortado coffee at home is a breeze with the right brewing techniques and ingredients. You don’t need to be a barista or possess fancy equipment to enjoy this scrumptious beverage in the comfort of your abode. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to make a perfect cortado.

The Best Coffee Beans for a Cortado

medium dark roasted coffee beans

Selecting the right coffee beans is crucial in creating an exceptional cortado. Here are some guidelines to assist you in choosing the best coffee beans:

  • Choose freshly roasted high-quality espresso beans. Fresh beans provide a more vibrant and complex flavor profile, while stale beans can result in a dull and bland taste.
  • Choose medium to dark roast beans that provide a robust flavor that compliments the milk in a cortado.
  • Avoid flavored or pre-ground coffee, as it can overpower the natural coffee flavors, resulting in an inferior taste.

Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Cortado

Once you have procured your coffee beans, it is time to begin crafting your perfect cortado. Below is our step-by-step guide:

  1. Grind the coffee beans to a fine or medium-fine consistency.
  2. Brew a double shot of espresso using an espresso machine or stovetop espresso maker.
  3. Warm a small quantity of milk (about 2 ounces) in a milk frother or saucepan until it’s steaming hot but not boiling.
  4. Pour the steamed milk into the espresso shot, aiming for a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of espresso to milk.
  5. Gently mix the espresso and milk using a spoon to produce a velvety and creamy texture.
  6. Serve the cortado immediately and indulge!

Tips and Tricks for Brewing a Perfect Cortado

Here are some additional tips and tricks to help you craft the perfect cortado:

  • Utilize a high-quality espresso machine or grinder to achieve a consistent and accurate extraction.
  • Experiment with various milk types and temperatures to find the ideal balance that suits your taste. Whole milk, skim milk, or alternative milk such as oat milk can all be utilized in a cortado.
  • Practice steaming the milk correctly to achieve a smooth and velvety texture. Hold the milk frother at a slight angle, with the tip just below the milk’s surface to create a swirling motion.
  • Serve your cortado in a demitasse cup or small glass to keep the heat, and it’ll highlight the beautiful layers of espresso and milk.

Flavor Profile and Tasting Notes of the Cortado

One of the reasons behind the popularity of the cortado coffee drink is its distinct flavor profile and tasting notes. Below are some of the crucial characteristics that define the taste of a cortado:

The Balance of Espresso and Milk

The cortado is well-known for its impeccable balance of espresso and milk. The espresso contributes to a bold and intense flavor with hints of chocolate, caramel, and nuttiness, while the milk adds a creamy and slightly sweet touch. The ratio of espresso to milk plays a critical role in achieving the perfect balance, and a good cortado should have a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio. The outcome is a smooth and flavorsome coffee drink with a velvety mouthfeel and a delectable aftertaste.

Creamy Texture and Mouthfeel

The gustatory experience of a cortado is heavily reliant on the interplay between its texture and mouthfeel. The incorporation of steamed milk confers a luscious, velvety texture that envelopes the tongue, which in turn augments the flavor profile of the espresso. Consequently, the end product is imbued with a creamy and rich mouthfeel that is immensely gratifying and reassuring. It is worth noting that the temperature of the milk is a crucial factor in the attainment of the desired texture and mouthfeel.

Variations in Cortado Taste and Strength

The traditional ratio of espresso to milk employed in the classic cortado may be subject to an extensive range of modifications and manipulations to achieve a diverse array of taste and strength profiles. The addition of either a single or double shot of espresso is a key determinant of the drink’s strength and intensity, which may be adjusted to cater to the drinker’s preferences. The type of milk utilized is also a contributing factor to the drink’s taste, with divergent kinds of milk introducing distinct flavor notes and textures to the drink. Furthermore, a selection of coffee shops offers the option of augmenting the cortado’s flavor by incorporating flavored syrups or spices, thereby allowing for the individualization and customization of the classic cortado taste. Ultimately, the cortado is an exceedingly malleable coffee beverage that can be tailored to accommodate the idiosyncratic tastes and inclinations of each consumer.

Hawaii Coffee Company

Cortado Coffee Variations

While the classic cortado is an immensely gratifying and delectable coffee drink, there exist several variations that provide distinctive flavor profiles and drinking experiences. Here are some of the most sought-after cortado coffee drink variations:

The Gibraltar

The Gibraltar is a variation of the cortado that originated in San Francisco, named after the glass utilized to serve it, which closely resembles a classic whiskey glass. The coffee drink comprises a double shot of espresso and a small amount of steamed milk. The outcome is a robust and flavorful coffee beverage that is ideal for espresso enthusiasts seeking a hint of milk to balance out the bold flavor.

The Cortadito

The cortadito is a cortado variation that is prevalent in Cuba and other Latin American countries. It comprises a shot of espresso which is cut with heated sweetened condensed milk. The cortadito is often served in a distinctive glass and is a popular drink for breakfast or as an afternoon energy boost.

The Flat White

a glass of flat white coffee

The flat white is a flavored coffee beverage that originated in Australia and New Zealand. Although it is not technically a cortado, it is similar in that it blends espresso and steamed milk in a small glass or cup. The flat white comprises a double shot of espresso and a small amount of microfoam, which is steamed milk with a velvety texture that is poured over the espresso. The outcome is a smooth and creamy coffee drink with a rich and bold flavor that is ideal for coffee aficionados. (3)

Overall, these coffee cortado variations provide distinctive and delicious flavor profiles that are worth exploring if you’re a coffee lover seeking novel and exhilarating experiences.

Peaberry Kona Coffee

Cortado vs. Other Espresso-Based Drinks

If you’re a coffee aficionado, you’re likely acquainted with an assortment of espresso-based beverages, including lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos. While all these drinks incorporate espresso and milk, their ratios and preparation techniques differ. Here’s how the cortado stacks up against some of the other prevalent espresso-based drinks:

Cortado vs. Latte

top view of a latte coffee with art showing a heart

A latte is a coffee beverage that comprises a shot of espresso and steamed milk. Typically, the milk is blended with the espresso to create a velvety and smooth texture, and the beverage is frequently topped with a layer of frothed milk. The main disparity between a cortado and a latte coffee drink is the ratio of milk to espresso. A latte harbors a higher milk-to-espresso ratio, while a cortado encompasses a lower ratio of approximately 1:1 or 1:2. The outcome is a beverage that is less creamy and saccharine than a latte, with a more potent espresso flavor.

Cortado vs. Cappuccino

cappuccino in a white mug

A cappuccino is a coffee beverage that comprises equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk. The frothed milk is generally added on top of the espresso and steamed milk to create a thick and creamy layer. Like a latte, a cappuccino has a higher milk-to-espresso ratio than a cortado, typically around 1:2 or 1:3. Conversely, the cortado encompasses a more well-balanced ratio of milk to espresso, resulting in a more robust and intense flavor.

Cortado vs. Macchiato

macchiato in a demitasse cup

A macchiato is a coffee beverage that comprises a shot of espresso and a dollop of frothed milk. The milk is typically added on top of the espresso and not blended in, creating a layered effect. The main difference between a cortado and a macchiato is the ratio of milk to espresso. While cortado has a milk to espresso ratio of 1:1 or 1:2, macchiato has a much lower ratio as it only has a small amount of milk added for flavor and texture. The outcome is a more potent and intense espresso flavor, with a hint of sweetness from the milk.

Overall, the cortado proffers a distinct equilibrium of espresso and milk that differentiates it from other espresso-based beverages. No matter if you like your coffee with a strong and intense flavor or a mellow and sweet taste, you can find a coffee beverage that suits your preference.


Cortado in Cafe Culture

The cortado has firmly established itself as an essential component of cafe culture worldwide, particularly in specialty coffee shops that prioritize high-quality and artisanal coffee. Here are some of the ways in which the cortado has left its mark on the world of cafe culture:

barista handing a cortado coffee

Cortado in Different Parts of the World

Although the cortado originated in Spain, it has subsequently disseminated to other parts of the world, resulting in its adoption of varied names and adaptations. In Portugal, for instance, the cortado is referred to as “pingado,” and is served with a splash of milk. (4) Meanwhile, in Italy, a comparable drink named “macchiato” is fashioned from a shot of espresso and a dollop of frothed milk. In the United States, the cortado is sometimes known as “Gibraltar”.

How to Order and Enjoy a Cortado

If you are unacquainted with the realm of cortado coffee, requesting and enjoying your first cup can be a gratifying and enjoyable experience. Here are some pointers for ordering and savoring a cortado:

  1. Select a high-quality coffee shop that specializes in cortado coffee and is renowned for its excellence.
  2. Ask the barista for their recommended ratio of espresso to milk and whether they utilize any specific techniques or equipment to brew the ideal cup.
  3. Observe the barista as they create your cortado, paying attention to the entire process, from bean grinding to milk steaming to espresso pouring.
  4. Take a moment to relish the aroma and flavor of your cortado before taking your initial sip. The cortado should possess a smooth and creamy texture, with a well-balanced espresso and milk flavor.
  5. Slowly appreciate your cortado, relishing each sip and identifying the subtleties and nuances of the flavor profile. The cortado is designed to be a comforting and gratifying coffee drink that is ideal for a midday pick-me-up or a leisurely afternoon respite.
Kitten and a Coffee Mug

Health Benefits of Cortado Coffee

Although coffee is frequently linked to negative health impacts, such as jitters and sleep disturbances, coffee cortado has the potential to provide a multitude of health benefits. Here are some of the ways that consuming cortado coffee may be advantageous for your health:

Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties

doctor showing a sign saying coffee has antioxidants

Coffee, as a whole, is teeming with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can confer an array of health benefits. A body of research has indicated that coffee consumption may mitigate the likelihood of certain maladies, such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and liver cancer. The specific compounds that account for these advantages are still under investigation. (5)

Possible Health Hazards and Precautions

Despite the numerous potential health benefits that cortado coffee can offer, it is crucial to be aware of any potential hazards or precautions. Here are some points to consider:

  • Cortado coffee contains caffeine, which can induce negative side effects such as anxiety, jitters, and sleep disturbances in some individuals.
  • People with specific health conditions, like high blood pressure or heart disease, should consult their doctor before consuming coffee cortado or other caffeinated drinks.
  • Some individuals may be sensitive to the milk in a cortado, which can result in digestive issues or allergies. Those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies may wish to opt for a cortado that employs non-dairy milk alternatives.
  • While drinking cortado coffee in moderation is generally deemed safe and may confer certain health benefits, overconsumption of caffeine can be hazardous. Make sure to incorporate cortado coffee as part of a balanced and wholesome diet and avoid relying on it as a sole energy source.


In conclusion, the cortado coffee offers a unique and satisfying coffee experience that combines the bold flavor of espresso with the creamy texture of steamed milk. The perfect cortado requires attention to detail and the use of high-quality ingredients, including premium espresso beans and perfectly steamed milk. Originating in Spain and gaining popularity in specialty coffee culture, the cortado has become a beloved drink around the world, with many variations and styles to choose from. In addition to its delicious taste, the cortado offers potential health benefits, including moderate caffeine content and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. If you’re a coffee lover looking for a new and exciting drink to try, the cortado is definitely worth exploring.


When it comes to coffee preferences, the cortado coffee is a unique and distinct option thanks to its special ratio of espresso to milk. Unlike a latte, which has a higher milk-to-espresso ratio, or a cappuccino, which has a higher foam-to-milk ratio, a cortado has a perfectly balanced 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of espresso to milk. This creates a flavor profile that's neither too intense nor too creamy, but rather, just right.

While whole milk is traditionally used to make a cortado coffee, it's not the only option available. Depending on your dietary preferences or restrictions, you can opt for alternatives such as almond, soy, or oat milk. These alternatives can be ideal for individuals who are lactose intolerant, vegan, or looking for a different flavor experience altogether.

Although it may seem challenging to replicate a true cortado without an espresso machine, there are ways to make a similar drink using strong brewed coffee and steamed milk. To make a DIY cortado at home, start by brewing a small amount of strong coffee. Next, heat some milk on the stove or in the microwave. Once the milk is heated to your desired temperature, pour it into a small glass or cup, and add the coffee in a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio, depending on your taste preferences.

As with any coffee drink, moderation is key when it comes to cortado coffee consumption. While it does contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, excessive caffeine intake can be harmful, particularly for those with certain health conditions. Therefore, it's important to enjoy cortado coffee as part of a balanced and healthy diet, and consult with your doctor if you have any concerns.

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