What Is Cortado Coffee & Should You Be Drinking It?

Step aside flat white, bow down cold brew: there’s a new favourite coffee drink in town. Cortados. But, what is a cortado? I hear you ask. Let us explain.

Do you enjoy tasting the base notes and roast of your coffee beans, but find yourself adding milk to your espresso as it’s just a touch too strong? Then welcome on stage the cortado. This diminutive drink has been growing in popularity in recent years, driven partly by the trends in single origin coffee beans and the need to taste the variations in flavour, and partly due to a society that is jonesing for an ever stronger cup of joe. 

What is cortado coffee?

Hailing from Spain (or Cuban Americans, depending on who you are talking to), the cortado is an intruder among its Italian peers, and has actually been around a good while. The name comes from the Spanish for ‘to cut’, which explains the way the milk cuts through the crema of the espresso, or how the sweet fat of the milk cuts through the acidity of the coffee taste.

A traditional cortado coffee comes down to one simple ratio: 1:1 coffee to milk. When you take into account that most lattes come in at a ratio of 8:1 milk to coffee, you can see why these drinks are best served in tiny 4oz glasses.  

Because of this, the cortado really lets the coffee do the talking. This not only makes it a gateway drink for people who want to get into coffee but can’t take the hit of straight up espresso, but also one for people who dislike the watered down alternatives of americanos or long blacks. Made to be sipped - letting you savour the flavour, rather than the caffeine hit - this is an ideal drink for anyone looking to try out different blends, and find the best beans for them.

Apart from size, how is a cortado different from a macchiato?

A macchiato is probably the cortado’s closest companion. Usually coming with two shots of espresso, a macchiato is characterised by a distinctive blob, or six teaspoons, of cappuccino foam on top to ‘mark’ it, as the Italian root of the name suggests. This is great if you love espresso, but not so much if you are sensitive to caffeine, or simply don't like the robust taste of straight up coffee.

A cortado however uses textured milk which blends well with the espresso. This creates a smooth, sweeter taste, while not overpowering the notes of the blend itself.

*insider tip: the real cool kids know that a cortado is also called a Gibraltar. The name comes from San Francisco Bay circa 2005, when the drinks were named after the Gibraltar glasses they came in.

How to make a cortado coffee:

Cortados are an espresso based drink, so you will generally need an espresso machine to make them, although you could get a passable substitute for espresso shots from a Mokka pot or Aeropress. You will also need: 

  • 4oz of cold milk: full fat milk is best for these drinks as it has the best sweetness and fat content to balance out the coffee, but you can make a cortado with just about any milk. 
  • Two shots of freshly ground espresso. Cortados suit a Brazilian type of bean, or a house coffee blend such as our everyday espresso. As a drink that holds coffee’s centre stage, though, it can be fun to experiment with other blends to see which suits your tastes best.
  • A 4oz or 125ml size cup.

  1. First, prepare your milk. You may be only making 2oz of milk to go with your espresso shots, but we don't recommend texturing that small amount of milk, as the likelihood of burning it is too high. When in doubt, err on the side of a touch too much milk. It seems wasteful, but a couple of mil of unused milk is preferable to burning it all and starting again. 
  2. Plunge the steam wand straight down into the milk, trying as best as possible to avoid the paper tearing noise that comes from fully frothed milk. For this milk we want it to be textured like that of a flat white, but as wet as possible. If yours has gone a bit too frothy, try pouring from up high, using the spout, or use a knife to hold back the foam when pouring.
  3. Bang out any larger bubbles by hitting the jug on a flat surface, then swirling it, incorporating the textures to keep them consistent while you extract your coffee.
  4. Cortados are generally double shot. Make sure to tamp evenly and firmly down on the coffee grounds to get a balanced taste from both sides of the portafilter.
  5. Put your espresso into a 125ml cup, or 4oz glass if you want to be fancy, and top  with the milk (if you’ve kept it moving the whole time, it should have a gloss to it like wet paint). Stop when the milk to coffee ratio is pretty much equal, and wiggle a little pattern on top for good measure. There you have it: a tiny, perfectly balanced coffee drink.


What is a mocha cortado?

While it may not be for coffee purists, you can mix your cortado up a bit by adding chocolate to your milk to make a mocha version. We recommend using stronger tasting blends, as chocolate (or at least good chocolate) can be a strong flavour that drowns out the coffee. Helpfully, all our blends come complete with a taste guide, allowing you to match up the right beans to the taste you’re after. 

If your cortado isn’t complete without sugar or syrup, put it in before the coffee, not after. This will help you to measure the amount more accurately, and will mix it naturally as you pour in the milk. 


If you are keen to explore the variety of different coffee blends we have on offer, but have, till now, been put off by the idea of drinking straight espresso, then please: consider the cortado. Now that we've explained what is a cortado and shown you how to make it, there's no reason not to give it a try.

For more information, why not get in touch with the bean team here today!

Older Post Newer Post