What is a Cortado?

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In the diverse world of coffee, the cortado stands out as a modest yet sophisticated beverage that perfectly balances the bold flavours of espresso with the smoothness and creaminess of steamed milk.

The cortado is the ideal choice for those seeking a refined coffee experience that harmoniously blends intensity and delicacy.

In this Coffee Expert guide, we’ll explore the origins, characteristics, and variations of the cortado, helping you better understand and appreciate this elegant coffee creation.

The Origins of the Cortado

Spanish Roots

The cortado, which translates to “cut” in Spanish, originates from Spain and is a popular coffee beverage in Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain and many Latin American nations.

The cortado’s simple yet exquisite combination of espresso and steamed milk showcases the best of Spanish coffee culture and its appreciation for balanced flavours.

Global Appeal

The cortado’s understated elegance and harmonious flavour profile have made it a beloved choice in cafes and coffee shops around the world, from Barcelona to Melbourne.

The Components of a Cortado


The foundation of a cortado is a single or double shot of espresso, which provides the rich and intense coffee flavour that characterises the beverage.

Steamed Milk

The key component that sets the cortado apart from other espresso-based drinks is the addition of a small amount of steamed milk. The milk tempers the boldness of the espresso, creating a harmonious and velvety drink that is neither too strong nor too milky.

The Classic Cortado Ratio

Balance of Flavours

The traditional cortado is composed of a carefully balanced ratio of espresso and steamed milk. This ratio creates a harmonious flavour profile that allows the coffee and milk components to complement each other without overpowering one another.


A classic cortado is typically served in a small glass or cup, holding approximately 120-150ml (4-5 oz), ensuring that the espresso-to-milk ratio remains consistent and the drink maintains its characteristic balance and elegance.

How to Make a Cortado

1. Pull Your Espresso Shot

Begin by pulling a single or double shot of espresso using freshly ground coffee beans. Aim for a rich and balanced extraction, as the espresso will provide the core coffee flavour in your cortado.

2. Steam Your Milk

Steam a small amount of milk until it reaches a velvety, microfoam consistency. The milk should be slightly frothy but not overly foamy, as the goal is to create a smooth and creamy texture that complements the espresso.

3. Pour the Milk

Gently pour the steamed milk over the espresso, allowing the two components to blend together and create a delightful mingling of flavours and textures.

Enjoying and Pairing Your Cortado

Sipping and Savouring

When enjoying a cortado, take your time to appreciate the rich aroma, bold flavour, and smooth texture of the beverage. Notice the interplay between the intense coffee and the creamy milk as they combine, creating a nuanced and satisfying experience.

Pairing Suggestions

A cortado pairs beautifully with a variety of light snacks, such as pastries, biscuits, or fruit. The balanced and refined nature of the cortado can complement and enhance the taste of these accompaniments.

Variations of the Cortado


The Gibraltar, a popular variation of the cortado in the United States, is named after the Gibraltar glass in which it is often served.

This variation typically uses a double espresso shot and a slightly larger amount of steamed milk, resulting in a slightly larger and bolder beverage.


The cortadito, a Cuban variation of the cortado, is similar in composition but typically includes a touch of sugar or sweetened condensed milk.

This addition results in a sweeter, slightly richer beverage that offers a distinct and indulgent twist on the classic cortado.

Flavoured Cortado

Experiment with adding flavoured syrups, such as caramel, hazelnut, or vanilla, to your cortado for a personalised and unique coffee experience.

Be mindful of the syrup quantity, as the cortado’s charm lies in its balance and subtlety, and excessive sweetness can overpower the delicate harmony of the drink.

The Cortado in Modern Coffee Culture

Specialty Coffee Scene

As specialty coffee culture continues to grow, the cortado remains a respected and sophisticated choice for its delicate balance of bold espresso flavours and the smooth creaminess of steamed milk.

The cortado’s understated elegance and harmonious taste make it a favourite among coffee enthusiasts and casual drinkers alike.

Cortado vs. Other Espresso-Based Drinks

The cortado is distinct from other espresso-based drinks, such as the latte, cappuccino, or flat white, due to its smaller size and carefully balanced espresso-to-milk ratio.

These characteristics set the cortado apart by offering a refined and nuanced coffee experience that showcases the beauty of balance and subtlety.

Our Conclusion on the Cortado

The cortado is an elegant coffee creation that expertly balances the intense flavours of espresso with the smooth creaminess of steamed milk.

By understanding the origins, components, and variations of the cortado, you can better appreciate this sophisticated beverage and confidently create it at home.

Whether you’re a seasoned coffee connoisseur or a newcomer to the coffee scene, the cortado offers a refined and balanced experience that is sure to delight your taste buds and elevate your coffee appreciation.