A cortado is a drink made with equal parts espresso and milk. A standard recipe contains one fluid ounce of milk and one shot of espresso. However, is not uncommon to see cortados with a two shots of espresso and two ounces of steamed milk.
The Origins of Cortado
Many espresso-based drinks come from the Italian coffee tradition, but cortado is a mainstream espresso drink that have Spanish origins.
Cortado originated in Spain, most likely in Madrid, where it is commonly served in cafés. In Spanish, the word “cortado” means “cut”, (from the word cortar), which is used to signify the dilution of the espresso.
From Spain, cortado spread worldwide via the Spanish speaking culture, and it is now found everywhere in the world.
Sometimes cortado is also named Gibraltar, a trend started in San Francisco where the local roasters served cortados in small Libbey “Gibraltar” glasses.
The Cortado Recipe
A cortado is a coffee drink that contains equal amounts of steamed milk and espresso. The most common recipes contain 2 ounces of coffee and 2 ounces of steamed milk.
The milk in a cortado is thinner and very lightly textured, similar to that of a latte rather than a cappuccino. A cortado doesn’t contain any frothed milk. Sometimes scalded milk can be used instead of the steamed milk.
How to Make a Cortado
In order to make a cortado, you need an espresso machine. Espresso is the foundation of the drink, so access to a specialized espresso machine is mandatory. Espresso alternatives might work for home brewed espresso, but the flavor will be different.
You also need milk, and we recommend cow’s milk since is the best in espresso drinks, but milk alternatives will also work well, especially that the milk doesn’t need to be textured. Here is how to make a cortado:
- Turn on the coffee machine so it warms up.
- Measure and grind your coffee grounds as per our espresso recipe here. You need one shot of espresso for a traditional cortado.
- Fill your portafilter with the coffee grounds and lock the portafilter into the espresso machine.
- Pull one shot of espresso, you will need a solo – normale, which is the fancy way of saying a single shot normal strength. Not ristretto, nor lungo.
- After pulling the shot, steam your milk, or if you don’t have a milk steamer, just heat the milk up to 181 °F (83 °C). Do not boil your milk as this changes the taste too much.
- Pour your steamed milk over the espresso shot making sure you have a nice blending. Make sure the ratio of espresso to milk is 1:1, and voila!
You can serve cortados in 2.5 ounce demitasses, or even double wall espresso glasses. I personally like porcelain demitasses more than glasses.
The classic cortado doesn’t have anything special about its looks, so there a glass cup is not necessarily help. On the other hand, a porcelain demitasse is the standard way of serving small espresso drinks. Look at our dedicated article on the best espresso demitasses, for a few great choices. Otherwise, just quickly check this cheap demitasse and saucers set, which is perfect, if you aren’t looking for something very fancy.
Although the traditional cortado recipe contains only espresso and milk, there is nothing stopping you adding some flavoring, if you hate coffee taste. Remember, this is a stronger coffee then most espresso and milk recipes. Just make sure you go light with the flavorings.
- 1 tamper
- 1 kitchen scale
- 1 espresso leveler/distribution tool optional
- 7 grams medium-dark roast coffee beans up to 9 grams depending on the filter basket
- 1.5 oz. filtered, or spring water
- 1 fluid ounce steamed milk, (see instructions) whole, or 2% are the best, but nonfat works too
- Turn on the espresso machine to heat it up
- Finely grind 7-9 grams of coffee beans to an espresso grind size.
- Place the coffee grounds in the filter-basket.
- Slightly knock the portafilter on the counter to pack and level them. If you have an espresso leveler, use it to perfectly level your coffee puck.
- Tamp the coffee grounds with a considerable amount of pressure. When you are done tamping, there should be about 3-4 mm from the basket's edge to the coffee puck.
- Lock the portafilter in the espresso machine.
- Place a cappuccino cup on the designated spot on the espresso machine tray and and switch the brew button ON.
- Pull your shot for about 20 to 25 seconds.
Steam the Milk
- Switch your espresso machine from espresso brewing to milk steaming and let the boiler warm up and reach the needed temperature.
- Pour the milk into a stainless steel pitcher. The milk should be cold as this gives you more time to froth without scalding the milk.
- When the machine is ready for steaming, submerge the steaming wand just below the milk surface and start the the steam.
- Tilt the pitcher at an angle, so that the milk swirls, moving around in the frothing jug.
- As the milk froths up, you want to raise the jug, to dip the steam wand lower into the milk, to make sure you do not introduce too much air. You want the milk steamed only.
- Continue to steam until the side of the pitcher becomes hot – around 155°F.
- Turn off the steam while still holding the tip of the wand under the milk surface.
Pour the Cortado
- There should be almost no milk foam in the pitcher. Pour the steamed milk over the espresso.
- Serve hot in a small glass, or a demitasse.
Modern cortado may use textured milk instead of simply steamed milk, which allows the barista to create latte art. The modern cortado is a stronger version of the piccolo latte.
Other Similar Espresso Drinks
Cortado is many times compared to cappuccino, or flat white, but they are different drinks because they use different textured milk, or different coffee to milk ratios.
Cortado vs Cappuccino
Cortado uses steamed milk only, whereas cappuccino uses both steamed milk and frothed milk.
At the end of the day, the taste of the traditional cappuccino and cortado are very similar. The frothed milk from cappuccino does not bring too much to the taste and mouthfeel. To be noted that the steamed milk that goes in a cappuccino is microfoamed, whereas the milk for cortado is simply steamed, or scalded.
This difference will give the drinks a different texture, and they will still taste different just because of the mouthfeel.
Cortado vs Flat White
On the other hand, flat white and wet cappuccino have a different milk to coffee ratio, so they will taste milkier, espresso is more diluted than in a cortado or traditional cap. However, from a visual perspective, wet cappuccinos and flat whites look more similar to a cortado.
Cortado tastes stronger than a flat white, because of the lower amount of milk used. It is also a smaller drink.
Flat white also uses textured milk, whereas cortado uses steamed milk. The microfoamed milk will give the drink a different texture although the flavor difference is subtle.
Cortado vs Latte
While this drink is sometime compared to a latte, it is not even close to it, because latte is a much more diluted drink. A cortado is a 1 to 1 espresso to milk ratio, whereas a latte is a 1 to 3 up to more diluted versions of 1 to 5 espresso to milk ratios.
Cortado vs Gibraltar
What is the difference between a Cortado and a Gibraltar?
The main difference between Cortado and Gibraltar is the size of the drink. A cortado is a two ounce drink with one shot of espresso and one ounce of steamed milk, whereas a Gibraltar is made with two shots of espresso and two ounces of milk.
Taste-wise the two drinks are identical. The Gibraltar is served in small Libbey “Gibraltar” glasses, which give the drink a different look.
Cortado Variants: Cortadito, Leche Y Leche, Café bombón
Cortado is quintessentially a Spanish culture product, and it migrated a lot around the world especially in Spanish speaking countries. During this migration, cortado has seen some changes, and deviations from the original recipe, with a few more popular than others.
Cortadito is a Cuban variation where the steamed milk is replaced by heated sweetened condensed milk. Cortadito is also served in Spain coffee shops, though is known as cafe bombón.
The more popular version of cafe bombón in Spain is called café con leche y leche, a drink made with steamed milk, condensed milk and coffee.
Café con leche y leche is served in small glasses, and they are poured carefully to preserve the three ingredients separately, as three distinct layers in the cup. This creates a beautiful drink that is sweetened by the condensed milk.