What is a Cortado Coffee?


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A cortado is a hot espresso beverage, coupled with warm, steamed milk. Typically, it has roughly equal parts espresso and milk, to make a small, but delicious, morning cup of delight.

The Meaning of a Cortado

The word “cortado” is the past participle in Spanish for the phrase “to cut.” Amply named, a cortado is much smaller than the American cup of coffee, since it is only about the size of two espressos cups.

A cortado is all about balance. The “cut” refers to how the milk cuts the espresso, reducing the intensity if you were to just drink the espresso alone. Unlike many American coffee drinks, there are no added flavorings or sweeteners to a cortado, aside from the milk.

These small, elegant drinks are most popular in Spain and Portugal. They are also commonly enjoyed in some parts of Latin America, such as Cuba.

In fact, some coffee connoseuirs may consider a cortado to be rather similar to the Italian macchiato, as well as the French noisette. However, most macchiatos have foamed milk, while the milk in a cortado is steamed. This is the main distinction between the two European drinks.

Traditionally, in Spain, a cortado is served in a four or four and half ounce glass. While it is rather small, it is not intended to be drank quickly. Instead, you should slowly sip a cortado, at your own pace. It is often consumed in the morning, but many Spaniards also enjoy coffee throughout the day.

The cortado’s origins come from the Basque country in Spain, where drinks typically have less foam. 

Is Cortado Strong Coffee?

Yes, a cortado coffee is considered strong in taste and caffeine. As there is a one to one ratio of espresso to steamed milk, it can be rather bitter. However, the milk is intended to cut the acidity of the coffee drink, and somewhat reduce its intensity.

A typical shot of espresso is two ounces, and contains about 128 milligrams of caffeine. In contrast, a twelve ounce cup of coffee contains about 144 milligrams of caffeine, on average.

While a full cup of caffeine has a high caffeine content, a coffee drinker typically consumes an espresso in a much shorter amount of time. This impacts the effect the caffeine has on your body, and creates a more intense caffeine rush. 

As a result, quickly drinking a cup of cortado will likely wake you up faster than slowly drinking an Americano. If you are looking for an efficient but traditional drink, a cortado may be the drink for you.

What is the Difference between a Latte and a Cortado?

While a cortado means a “cut” coffee in Spanish, a latte means “milk coffee” in Italian. While the milk and espresso are equal parts in a cortado, the milk is rather generous in a latte. 

When making a latte, a barista starts out with the same method as a cortado, by pouring steamed milk over an espresso. However, a latte generally has more milk, and typically contains a foamy, textured milk on top. Often, baristas use the textured milk to make a design on top of the latte, such as a flower or heart.

Ultimately, a cortado is only about four ounces, while a latte can be six to eight ounches, containing anywhere from four to six ounces of milk. The microfoam on the top of a latte can also cause it to taste a bit sweeter than a cortado. 

Is a Cortado the same as a Flat White?

Since the cortado is an espresso shot “cut” with milk, it still has intensity, but arguably falls between a machiatto and a flat white

A flat white typically has one or two shots of espresso, with microfoam rather than steamed milk. 

When a barista steams milk, the milk often separates into three distinct layers. At the bottom sits the steamed milk, in the middle lies the microfoam containing tiny air bubbles, and at the very top is the airy foam, or milk froth. 

Since the microfoam is mixed in with the espresso, a flat white typically has a velvety, airy texture. Traditionally, a flat white only amounts to about five ounces in total.

However, many cafes accomodate to the American preference for large drinks, to be sipped throughout the morning. For instance, Starbucks serves flat whites in a twelve ounce cup. This is more than twice the size of the traditional flat white. 

While the cortado and macchiato both hail from Europe, the flat white is believed to have originated in either Australia or New Zealand, sometime during the 1980s. As a result, it is one of the world’s newer coffee drinks.

Does Starbucks make Cortado?

If you’re going to Starbucks, you might want to choose one of their specialty drinks, instead of a cortado. With Italian origins, Starbucks specializes more in macchiatos or lattes.

While you may attempt to order a coffee resembling a cortado, it is not officially on the Starbucks menu. If you ask for a cortado, depending on where you are in the world, the barista may or may not know how to prepare one.

As a result, instead of simply asking for a cortado, request that the barista make a shot of espresso, with steamed milk on top. If you’re looking for a larger drink, you could also request a double shot of espresso, with equal part milk on top. 

However, Starbucks does include the definition of a cortado on its official website, indicating its available in select Starbucks Reserve® stores only.

So, Should I Try a Cortado?

If you love coffee and espresso, and don’t mind a smaller cup of coffee, you should definitely try a cortado. This is especially true if you are traveling to another country, such as Spain or Portugal, and have never tried one.

Coffee lovers who appreciate the true taste of coffee, rather than a heavy serving of cream or sugar, will especially enjoy a cortado.

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