A cortado is a regular feature on every coffee shop menu - but it's a quiet competitor to the classic espresso or popular milkier alternatives like a latte or cappuccino.
However, if you're a fan of barista-style coffee and maximising your caffeine kick at the start of a busy day, the cortado isn't a coffee you should overlook!
Let's look at the feisty cortado, a coffee with a small stature but an impressive personality.
Where Does the Cortado Come From?
Like all Hoxton Coffee explainers, we'll start at the beginning because the history and origin of coffee recipes and blends can tell us a lot about them!
Unlike many modern-day coffees, a cortado isn't Italian - rather, it's Spanish, with a name that comes from cortar, which means 'to cut'.
That doesn't refer to a biting flavour but the way in which the milk cuts through the bitter espresso to give a distinctive taste.
The cortado was created in the Basque region of Spain and expanded into Portugal before reaching our shores.
What makes a cortado different from every other milk/espresso blend?
It's all in the absence of foam (or very little), producing a smoother blend with a light milky flavour that doesn't mask or drown out the underlying espresso.
How Is a Cortado Coffee Made?
The basics of a cortado are deceptively simple - all you need is espresso and a bit of warm milk, mixed evenly at a 1:1 ratio.
However, if you get that milk concentration wrong, you'll get a different result, with either too much or too little acidity from your coffee beans.
A cortado also looks different from our everyday Italian coffees since it uses steamed milk, with much less froth or foam than you might be used to.
When you order a cortado, you'll get a dainty little cup, which hits a middle ground between a double shot espresso and a taller drink - but don't try and mess with it; a cortado is specifically intended to be a shorter, feistier drink!
If you sip a cortado in Spain, you'll get a glass or metal coffee cup, which indicates what a cortado stands for - simplicity and impact.
Making a Cortado at Home
Interested in sampling this coffee purist's favourite? You’ll need an espresso machine, but you can use pretty much any milk you prefer.
Here's how to make your perfect cortado:
- Grind and measure out your espresso beans.
- Make two shots of espresso with your machine as usual.
- Steam your milk - it doesn't have to be dairy, although whole milk is usually the creamiest option!
- Pour the warm milk slowly over the espresso, getting it exactly half and half.
That's all there is to it, and if you're keen on presentation, you should serve your cortado in a small coffee cup of about five ounces.
You can try a few variants - swap the milk for condensed milk, and you've got yourself a cortado condensada!
Cortado Coffee Comparisons
The caffeine content in a cortado is pretty strong, so it's not a drink you knock back in one!
If you're a fan of gentler, less robust espresso flavours, it might not be for you - but there is no mistaking a cortado for anything else.
Let’s take a peek at a few comparisons with other well-known coffee players to explain how they differ.
- Cappuccino: a cortado is a close cousin of the cappuccino because they're both made with the same espresso volume. The contrast is that a cappuccino has much more milk and a generous dash of foam, so it's less caffeinated and a taller drink.
- Flat white: another close comparator, the flat white is better matched to a latte. Cortados have the same amount of espresso as a flat white, but the latter is thicker and often more flashy in presentation.
- Latte: again, they might look similar, but the latte has a lot more milk. It's still steamed, but your espresso is much more diluted.
Fun fact: a cortado is sometimes referred to as a Gibraltar - and they're identical!
Gibraltar as a term originated in San Francisco, where a company named it after their Gibraltar glass - a 4.5-ounce coffee glass that you'd not serve anything else in!
As we've learned, cortado bucks a lot of the big coffee trends, but it's got a following in coffee lovers who want the power and depth of espresso flavour, but none of the foamy faff you'll find on more commercialised coffee blends.
Try it and see for yourself - we're convinced it's one of the best coffees going.