What Is a Cortado Coffee? 

You’re new to the world of coffee but expanding your horizons all the time, which is why you’re interested in cortado coffee. You have only a passing knowledge of this brew but would love to learn more. What exactly is cortado coffee?

Cortado coffee is a Spanish caffeinated beverage that combines milk and espresso in equal measure. The milk should be steamed but never frothy or textured. The word cortado itself is a Spanish word that means to cut or dilute. 

In this guide to cortado coffee, we’ll answer all your most burning questions, such as how you make cortado coffee, what’s in it, how you drink it, and how it’s different from espresso or flat whites. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll feel like a cortado aficionado! 

What Is Cortado Coffee? 

Let’s take it from the top and explain cortado coffee in full. 

As we touched on in the intro, a cortado is an espresso-based caffeinated beverage. It has two main ingredients, espresso and milk. Those ingredients are added in equal measure. 

The reason that milk is included in cortado coffee is to reduce the acidity of the espresso. Although espresso has less acidity compared to light-roast and medium-roast coffee, as a caffeinated beverage, espresso still contains some acidity.

That’s where the cortado name comes from. This drink is named after a Spanish word cortar, which means to cut. The name roughly refers to diluting the acidity of the espresso with milk. 

A cortado doesn’t feature just any kind of milk, of course, but steamed milk that keeps the heat of the drink consistent. The milk has no texture and certainly isn’t frothy or bubbly like what you see in many Italian caffeinated beverages. 

Other Names for Cortado Coffee/Similar Coffee Drinks

Unsurprisingly, the cortado has spread all over the world. Depending on where you are, the beverage has different names. Some refer to the same cortado while others are spins on the original Spanish caffeinated beverage. 


In San Francisco, California, Blue Bottle Coffee Company first prepared the cortado in glassware made by Libbey Glass Company and called it a Gibraltar. Other nearby coffee companies soon followed suit. 

The Gibraltar contains a lot more espresso due to the large glass size used to serve the drink; the glass can house anywhere from two to four-and-a-half fluid ounces. That’d all be espresso finished with steamed milk.

Interestingly, the Gibraltar is served with steamed, foamy milk even though the traditional cortado is not.

Related Reading: Gibraltar vs. Cortado Espresso-Based Coffee: What are the Differences?

Piccolo Latte

In Australia, the piccolo latte, sometimes just called the piccolo, is another take on the cortado. 

It features ristretto instead of espresso mixed with steamed milk and poured into a macchiato glass. The ristretto is always a single shot. 


In Portugal is a cortado-inspired drink known as the galao. Its proportions are 1:3 and consist of espresso and foamed milk, just obviously not in equal measure.  


The cortadito is a Cuban coffee beverage that has one fluid ounce of espresso (a single shot). 

Rather than cutting the drink with steamed milk like in a cortado, the cortadito features sweetened condensed milk that’s heated and poured into the espresso.

The serving glass of a cortadito is specific to its presentation. The glass features a handle made of metal wire as well as a base ringed with metal. 

Café Cortado

Spain, which is the home of the cortado, has two variations on the cortado, one of which is the café cortado. This beverage omits the steamed milk and adds cold milk, but only a splash. That would make the espresso more acidic. 

Café Solo Corto 

Another variation of the cortado that hails from Spain is the café solo corto. This beverage includes one shot of espresso taken black. That’s right, there’s no milk here! 

What Does Cortado Coffee Taste Like?

Your taste buds are watering just reading about the cortado and all the tasty variations on it. What exactly does the OG cortado taste like though? You’ve got to know!

Well, due to the equal 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk, you’ll find that the flavors perfectly complement one another. 

The flavor of espresso is anything but weak, but it’s admittedly softened compared to drinking a café solo corto, which is a black cortado.

The milk is warm, so it blends in fantastically well with the espresso. It adds a silkiness and smoothness to the cortado that’s not quite as strong when just drinking the beverage black.  

A cortado isn’t like a café au lait since the milk isn’t frothy, so even if you’ve had that Italian beverage, it’s still worth trying a cortado. We’re certain you won’t be disappointed! 

Cortado Recipe

Do you want to make delectable cortado coffee at home? It couldn’t be any easier, especially if you already own an espresso machine. 

Here’s what else you’ll need:

  • Milk (two percent or whole milk for authenticity)
  • Whole espresso beans (the fresher, the better)
  • Coffee grinder

With that, you’re ready to get started. Here are the steps to follow.

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of the steps listed above.

Step 1 – Buy Espresso Beans and Insert Them into the Espresso Machine

If you don’t already have ‘em, then pick up some espresso beans.

Espresso beans are simply pre-roasted coffee beans designed for brewing espresso. You can always buy regular coffee beans and grind them, but this requires an extra step and time you might not have.

If you’re using espresso beans you already have at home, they should ideally be sealed or have only recently been opened)

You need four ounces of ground espresso beans, so insert them into your espresso maker now. That will allow you to pull a double shot of espresso. 

Step 2 – Get a Small Glass 

You can use whatever glass is calling your name and serve your cortado coffee in there. The glass or mug should be at least four ounces. 

If you’re feeling fancy, you can always use a Gibraltar glass! This is recommended if you wish to make a bigger cortado that’s 4.5 ounces rather than four ounces. 

Step 3 – Brew Your Espresso

Turn on your espresso machine and make a double shot of espresso. It should take only 20 to 30 seconds for your drink to be ready.

Step 4 – Steam the Milk

Espresso is only half the equation when making a cortado. The other half is milk, so prepare it accordingly. The espresso-to-milk ratio is 1:1 for Cortado.

Take the two-percent or whole milk you had set aside and steam it. Dairy milk is typically used, but if you prefer alternatives such as almond mil or oat milk, those will work as well.

You have several options for this, and two involve the microwave.

Your first microwave-centric option is to pour 1/4th cup of the milk you need into an empty, clean mason jar. Do not put the lid on.

Put the jar in the microwave and run the micro for 20 to 30 seconds. 

With a kitchen thermometer, read the milk temperature. If it’s 150 degrees Fahrenheit, then you’re good. If it’s under, keep microwaving the milk in 10-second bursts until you hit 150 degrees. 

Put the lid and ring on and then shake up the mason jar. You’ll have more milk than what you started with.

The other microwave option is to pour the full amount of milk into a microwave-safe container, heat it for 20 to 30 seconds (up to 45 seconds for a whole cup of milk), and gauge the temperature with a thermometer. 

You’re looking for a temperature of 150 degrees just as before. 

Your third option for steaming milk is to use the stovetop. Pour the amount of milk you need into a saucepan and stir.

Turn the heat on the stovetop to low-medium and never go higher. Keep stirring and wait until the temperature reaches 150 degrees. You don’t want it hotter than that, as it will scald. 

Other options include a milk frother.

Related Reading: How to steam milk without a steamer?

Step 5 – Pour the Steamed Milk into the Espresso and Serve

Add the hot steamed milk into your espresso mug and drink! 

How Do You Drink Cortado Coffee?

Cortado coffee is beloved all around the world not only because it’s easy to make but because it has such a simple, pure flavor profile.

Sure, we’ve seen some cortado recipes that suggest adding in sweeteners, but we recommend keeping the drink as uncomplicated as possible.

Adding too many extra flavors interrupts the perfect marriage between the espresso and the steamed milk.

If you’ve been enjoying cortado coffee for a while and you want to change it up, then switch out the type of milk you use. Coconut or almond milk will make the cortado taste especially unique. 

Another factor in getting a good quality of flavor is what temperature you drink the cortado. It doesn’t have to be piping hot, but you do want to enjoy it hot as opposed to lukewarm or cold.

What’s the Difference Between Cortado Coffee and a Latte?

To you, a cortado sounds an awful lot like one of your other favorite caffeinated beverages, the latte. Maybe there isn’t latte art with a cortado, but aren’t they the same beverage when you boil things down?

They are not, and it comes down to one critical difference: microfoam. Well, or the lack thereof.

Microfoam is milk with an extremely fine texture. You’ll recall that cortado coffee omits texturized milk and uses instead regular ol’ steamed milk.

Maybe there’s a touch of microfoam, but it’s not enough to be noticeable. 

A latte is an Italian coffee that has quite a significant layer of microfoam. This is what the barista at your favorite café use to make latte art, not the steamed milk itself. Adding flavored syrups to lattes is very common, including vanilla, caramel, or hazelnut.

Is Cortado the Same as a Flat White?

Another espresso and steamed milk beverage that comes to mind is the flat white. Is the cortado just another variety of flat white coffee?

Once again, the answer is no. 

The texture of a flat white is described as thick and velvety, whereas the texture of a cortado is rich and smooth. That’s due to the untextured steamed milk used in a cortado.

Compare that to a flat white, which does utilize textured milk. That change in consistency makes all the difference in this case. 

Is Cortado the Same as Espresso?

A cortado is a variation on espresso and uses espresso as its coffee base. However, a cortado and espresso are also not identical. 

Espresso is made from ground espresso beans in a specialized espresso machine. It’s served in small quantities due to how caffeinated espresso is.

Espresso is usually drunken black, i.e., nothing gets added to the drink. 

Cortado cuts the espresso with steamed milk. Half of a cortado is milk. That’s the critical difference.  

Is Cortado Coffee Strong?

What about the strength of cortado coffee? Are you going to be feeling it for hours after having a shot, or do the caffeine effects wear off after a while?

A cortado does have a strong flavor, but it’s not as strong as if you were drinking a regular espresso, of course. You’re cutting the beverage with an equal quantity of milk.

As we said earlier, that does weaken the strong flavor profile of espresso somewhat, but the same amount of caffeine is still in a cortado. 

If you want a stronger-tasting cortado, you don’t have to use the full 1:1 ratio of milk to espresso. You can also try a café solo corto, which is black cortado. 

How much caffeine is in cortado coffee, by the way? If the beverage contains two espresso shots, then you’re ingesting 136 milligrams of caffeine. That’s no small quantity.

You may recall that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidance recommends limiting your caffeine intake to no more than 400 milligrams per day.

You could drink three cortado coffees and be at your limit! 

Final Thoughts 

Cortado coffee is a Spanish-based espresso beverage that combines equal parts espresso and steamed milk. It’s a popular way to get your caffeine fix and is fun to enjoy at home (if you own an espresso maker) or at your local café.

We hope this post inspires you to try a cortado, especially if you’ve never had one before. The drink will certainly put a pep in your step! 

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