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What is a Cortado? Your Ultimate Guide to this Delicious Espresso Beverage

Today, we're here to answer the age-old question: what is a cortado? Now, you might be thinking, "a what-ado?" Fear not, we're here to break it down for you. A cortado is a delightful coffee beverage that strikes the perfect balance between espresso and steamed milk. It's like a mini-latte, but with a lot more personality (and a lot less milk).

When traveling around Spain a Cortado was something that was in the local coffee shops a lot. I also asked “What is a Cortado?”. I’ve been drinking coffee for over 15 years but never heard or looked for a Cortado before traveling to Spain. I tried my first Cortado by a Spanish locals recommendation and was shocked by its strong Espresso flavour.

Cortado is in fact in most Coffee shops around Europe even if you haven’t noticed it. It’s well worth trying if you like Flat-Whites and strong tasting Espresso coffee!

The Origin of the Cortado

Spain – The land of sunshine, tapas, and of course, coffee. It’s no surprise that the Cortado, with its Spanish roots, has become a beloved beverage all around the world. Cortado is Spanish means “cut” which is essentially what the coffee is. An espresso that has the bitter taste cut with milk.

As the Cortado gained popularity, it started to evolve and adapt to different cultures and tastes. In some places, it’s known as a Gibraltar (due to the Gibraltar glass its usually served in), while in others it’s called a Piccolo or a Cortadito. No matter what you call it, the basic recipe remains the same – a shot of espresso with an even amount of milk.

Whats the Difference Between a Cortado a Latte and a Cappuccino?

Now, you might be thinking, “what’s the difference between a Cortado and a latte or a cappuccino?” Well, the answer lies in the balance of espresso and milk. A Cortado has a higher ratio of espresso to milk than a latte, 1:1 compared to 3:1. This means you get more of that bold, rich espresso flavour without the milk overpowering it. 

And unlike a cappuccino, which has a lot of foam, a Cortado has just a small amount of steamed milk, giving it a smooth and velvety texture on top.

Making a Cortado

Now that you know what a Cortado is and where it comes from, it’s time to learn how to make one for yourself. Don your barista hat and get ready to impress your friends with your newfound coffee-making skills.

Ingredients Needed

To make a Cortado, you’ll need:

Image of What is a Cortado
  • A shot of espresso
  • A few ounces of steamed milk

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Pull a shot of espresso: First things first, you’ll need to pull a shot of espresso. Make sure your espresso machine is heated up and ready to go before you start.
  2. Steam the milk: While your espresso is brewing, steam a few ounces of milk. You don’t need much – just enough to add a touch of creaminess to your Cortado.
  3. Pour the milk: Once your milk is steamed, pour it into your espresso shot. Make sure to hold back a bit of the foam – you want just a small amount of steamed milk to create that perfect balance.
  4. Enjoy: That’s it – your Cortado is ready to be enjoyed. Sip slowly and savour the rich, bold flavours of the espresso.

Tips for Achieving the Perfect Balance of Espresso and Steamed Milk

  • Use the same ratio of milk to espresso: If you talk to a baristar they will tell you the key to a perfect Cortado is ratios. If you want a larger drink increase the shots of espresso.
  • Use high-quality espresso beans: The key to a great Cortado is a great shot of espresso. Invest in high-quality espresso beans to ensure that your drink is bursting with flavour.
  • Don’t overdo the milk: Remember, a Cortado is all about balance. Use just a small amount of steamed milk to create that perfect harmony between espresso and milk.
  • Practice your steaming technique: Steaming milk can be tricky, but with a bit of practice, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. Make sure to use a thermometer to check the temperature – you want your milk to be around 140-150°F for the perfect Cortado.

Variations of the Cortado

The Cortado may be a simple drink, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of ways to mix it up and put your own spin on it. Here are just a few of the many variations of the Cortado that you might encounter in your coffee-drinking adventures.

Regional Variations

Just like any other coffee drink, the Cortado has regional variations that reflect the tastes and traditions of different cultures. In Cuba, for example, a Cortadito is made with sweetened condensed milk instead of steamed milk. In Australia, a Piccolo is a popular variation that’s made with a ristretto shot of espresso and just a touch of steamed milk.

Flavor Additions

If you’re feeling adventurous, why not experiment with adding some flavor to your Cortado? A dash of cinnamon or nutmeg can add a warm, cozy touch to your drink, while a shot of flavored syrup can give it a fun, fruity twist. If you really want to go all out, you could even try adding a bit of chocolate or caramel sauce for a decadent treat.

Vegan or Dairy-Free Options

For those who can’t or don’t want to consume dairy, fear not – there are plenty of vegan and dairy-free options for enjoying a Cortado. Simply swap out the dairy milk for your favorite non-dairy alternative, like soy milk, almond milk, or oat milk. If you want to get really fancy, you could even try making your own nut milk at home for a truly personalized coffee experience.

So there you have it – the Cortado in all its glory. Whether you prefer it classic and simple or like to mix things up with a few flavor additions, this beloved espresso-based drink is sure to satisfy your caffeine cravings and leave you feeling warm and cozy inside.


Well folks, there you have it – everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about the beloved Cortado. It may not be as well-known as some of its espresso-based counterparts, but this little drink packs a big punch in terms of flavor and caffeine content.

So why is it important to understand the Cortado? For one, it’s always good to have a few coffee-drinking tricks up your sleeve to impress your friends and colleagues. But more importantly, understanding the Cortado can give you a newfound appreciation for the art of coffee-making and the complex flavors that can be coaxed from a simple shot of espresso and a bit of steamed milk.

If you’ve never tried a Cortado before, I encourage you to give it a shot (pun intended) – either at your favorite local coffee shop or by trying your hand at making one at home. It’s a delicious and unique beverage that’s sure to please even the most discerning coffee connoisseur.

With that, we come to the end of our journey through the world of Cortados. Whether you prefer it classic and simple or like to mix things up with a few flavor additions, this beloved espresso-based drink is a true gem in the world of coffee – and one that’s definitely worth getting to know better. Cheers!

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