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How to Make a Cortado – A Detailed Analysis

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One fine day, I walked into this newly opened coffee shop near my workplace and while thinking what to drink, I overheard a woman on another table saying ‘cortado’. As I am an avid coffee lover, I started wondering what is a cortado?  

Cortado is the new favorite among coffee addicts. For people who find black coffee a bit too strong, or those whose acidity kicks in after drinking more coffee, Cortado could well be the answer!

What Is a Cortado? 

In the simplest of definitions, a cortado is an espresso drink with a little amount of warm milk to soften the taste and reduce the coffee bitterness.

Cortado is a beverage that has gained popularity in recent times, and is admired not only in countries where it originated (Spain and Portugal), but by coffeeholics throughout Latin America and Cuba as well.

It is made with 1:1 ratio of espresso and milk. Milk helps lower the acid levels in coffee, making it perfect for people with acidity problems. Usually, Italian coffee is foamy but Cortado is not since the milk is steamed.

A cortado generally has a small layer of froth that is due to steamed milk but split from espresso shots. The milk in espresso acts as a neutralizing agent, lowers the acidic nature and sharp taste of coffee, and sweetens it. Many Spanish cafes serving cortado give you the option to choose your milk according to your liking. You can get your drink from very hot to mild or cold.

Origin of Cortado 

Cortado is derived from the Spanish word cortar, which means, “To cut.” Preparation of this coffee makes use of steamed milk which cuts the bitter taste and acidity of this beverage. Cortado originated in the Basque country of Spain, across Galicia to the northern port of Portugal.

The cortado contains a small layer of foam and is not like the usual frothy coffees you normally get. Spanish style coffees have little to no foam so that you get to devour and enjoy the even consistency of milk.

The Ideal Cortado Recipe

Making a cortado is quite straightforward. All you need to brew a perfect cup of cortado is:

  • Two shots of espresso
  • Two ounces of steamed milk

Two shots of espresso (or one double) are normally used in a cortado. You have to follow the basic rule of equal quantity with milk and espresso. As mentioned above, an ideal cortado recipe should have two ounces of espresso and two ounces of warm milk that will form a small layer of foam.

You can add vanilla or honey syrup to enhance the taste as per your preferences. 

Drink it slowly and enjoy the smooth texture of your favorite coffee! 

Cortado is not one of the regular coffee beverages that you drink. It lets you experience the richness, aroma and purity of coffee, keeping it balanced and flavorsome simultaneously.

Comparison of Cortado with Other Coffee Beverages 

Quite often, the coffeeholics confuse cortado with flat white, latte or macchiato. 

The difference is subtle, however, it does make a huge difference in the overall taste and feel of the drink.  

Difference in Cup Size and Recipe 

Ideal scenario for coffee connoisseurs would be if they get the same measurements in every café they go to – but that is not how it is. Coffee that contains milk differs from one place to another. 

Most coffee shops use more milk while making coffee. Also, they serve coffee in large mugs.

People can get surprised when they go to small shops or cafes for cortado as most small shops serve cortado in small cups unlike big franchises that use bigger cups or mugs for serving. 

So, if you like having your cup of Joe in a bigger quantity, order some other coffee or order more than one cup so that you feel satisfied.

Cortado VS Café Macchiato 

Macchiato is an Italian coffee that consists of espresso and a small quantity of steamed milk, forming a small layer of foam. Macchiato has more foam than cortado and has a 1:2 milk-to-espresso ratio.

The cortado is usually served in a 150-200 ml glass and steamed milk is a crucial part of cortado. The proportions play a great role in setting cortado and café macchiato apart.

Cortado is like a less frothy and foamy version of a cappuccino. 

Cortado VS Piccolo Café Latte 

Piccolo café latte is a famous Australian drink, commonly known as Piccolo. It is in a macchiato glass and contains a single shot of espresso. Piccolo café latte is made with steamed milk as well. 

However, the difference is in the proportions. The ratio for Piccolo café latte coffee-to-milk ratio is 1:2. Piccolo café latte has 5mm of froth or foam on top making it different from a regular Cortado. 

Cortado VS Flat White 

Spanish usually like their milk steamed, and hence cortado contains steamed milk. Unlike a cappuccino or latte, cortado is free of too much froth and foam sitting on top of the coffee. 

On the contrary, flat white is an Australian drink and has not gained much popularity in the US. Australians acquired their coffee-making style from Italians; therefore, flat white is made with textured milk and not with steamed milk.  

The textured milk used in flat white is quite hot, therefore, flat white is hotter in comparison to cortado. Although the ratio of espresso used is almost the same in both flat white and cortado, it is safe to say that flat white is more like a small latte. 

Flat white is usually decorated with the famous “latte art” on top.

Cortado VS Latte 

Latte is a renowned Italian coffee in which a significant amount of milk is used along with espresso. The milk used is steamed and fully frothed, creating a small layer of foam.  

The size ranges anywhere from 6 to 20 ounces and you can add up to three espresso shots, depending on how much caffeine fix you need. 

Since Spanish natives like their coffee with little foam as compared to Italians, it explains why cortado has little to no foam. The small amount of foam enhances the steamed milk texture, followed by a decent balance of steamed milk and espresso.

Cortado VS Espresso

Espresso uses finely ground coffee and is brewed under intense pressure, due to which it is much easier to get the desired flavor out out of an espresso cup as compared to other drinks. 

Due to the extraction method, a concentrated and fresh drink with a strong aroma of coffee is produced. Espresso contains a foam full of creamy consistency on top of it called ‘crema’.

What sets espresso apart from a Cortado is its concentration and strong flavor that other coffees do not have. 

Galao VS Cortado 

Galao is a famous Portuguese beverage. The coffee and steamed milk proportion of this beverage is 1:3, making it very different from a regular cortado.

Remain Cool with an Iced Cortado

Imagine it is a hot summer day and you are tired of the daily chores and now you just want to relax and unwind with a cup of Joe in your hand.. Guess what, the iced cortado will do the magic for you! 

Iced cortado is a cup of espresso and ice cubes over which hot milk is poured. The liquid comes into play with the ice, without making it too runny and cools it right away. The iced cortado is the perfect drink for summers when you want to fix your caffeine needs without indulging into hot beverages.

Cortado and its Availability 

Real coffee connoisseurs can easily differentiate between cappuccino, latte or macchiato. Still, many coffee lovers may find it hard to differentiate between a cortado or any other coffee beverage, mainly because it is not a drink that you would commonly find in North America.

Lately, Cortado has gained popularity and within a few years, we might see this drink as part of the main menu at almost every coffee shop and café.

Taste of Espresso Cortado 

Cortado has a powerful aroma and a sweet taste that falls between a flat white and macchiato.

The best thing about Cortado is its perfect 1:1 ratio of espresso and steamed milk. 

Therefore, if you want your coffee to have more milk than macchiato and more punch of rich coffee flavors than a flat white, cortado is your best bet.

A Perfect Choice for Breakfast 

Cortado is your go-to-beverage if you prefer having a light breakfast. It makes a nice combination with a toast or croissant to give you that nice, refreshing breakfast feel.


What makes a cortado? 

A cortado is a small-sized coffee beverage, which contains espresso and warm milk. 

How many shots are in a cortado? 

A typical cortado contains two espresso shots (or one double). The 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk is the real deal.

Final Word on Our Cortado Guide 

If you have never tried this beverage before and you are wondering ‘what is a cortado?’ – It is about time you try it! 

There are days or moments when you just want to relax and enjoy a perfect, balanced cup of Joe. Well, in times like these, cortado might be the right option.

It is a perfect way to kick start your day without having to worry about the acidity issues that you might get from a cup of black coffee. This is rather a sweet and light coffee drink that gives a refreshing and soothing feeling.

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