The Cortado Coffee Breakdown: What It Is And How To DIY

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Are you a coffee enthusiast searching for a new brew to savor? Or perhaps you’re wondering what the fuss is about this coffee drink called “cortado”? You’ve come to the right place.
In simple terms, a cortado is an espresso-based beverage comprising equal parts espresso and steamed milk, creating a balanced and robust coffee experience.
As a devoted coffee enthusiast and home brewing lover, I have dedicated numerous years to experimenting with diverse coffee blends and brewing techniques in my kitchen.
My advice comes from a place of passion and personal experience, and I’ve made it my mission to share this passion with you.

In this comprehensive breakdown, we will dive deep into the world of cortado. So, grab your favorite mug and join us on this flavorful journey.

What’s A Cortado?

In coffee parlance, a cortado is a distinctive coffee beverage that balances a double shot of espresso and an equal amount of warm, lightly-steamed milk. 

The steamed milk cuts the espresso’s intensity, creating a smooth drink that’s neither too strong nor too milky. 

The milk is lightly steamed but lacks the frothy foam in a cappuccino or a latte. Instead, the aim is to achieve a silky microfoam that merges seamlessly with the espresso, ensuring that every sip offers a unified taste experience.

A cortado is typically served in a small glass, which looks appealing and visually exhibits the balance of the drink – a perfect split between coffee and milk.

What’s Cortado Origin?

The cortado originates from Spain, specifically the Basque Country, a region renowned for its food and drink culture. 

The term “cortado” comes from the Spanish verb “cortar,” meaning “to cut,” which signifies that the bold, intense flavors of the espresso are “cut” or balanced out by an equal amount of warm, lightly steamed milk.

The precise origins of the cortado are challenging to trace. Like many coffee beverages, it likely evolved from a long-standing coffee-drinking and café culture tradition in Spain.

As espresso machines became more widespread and sophisticated in the 20th century, baristas started experimenting with different combinations of espresso and milk, giving rise to various coffee drinks. The cortado was one such innovation, favored for its balance and harmony between the strong espresso and the creamy milk.

The cortado quickly became a popular choice in cafés throughout Spain and Portugal, where it is often enjoyed as a mid-morning or afternoon coffee break. Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America also embraced the cortado, each region adapting it slightly to their unique tastes and coffee traditions.

As travelers and coffee enthusiasts experienced and appreciated the balanced flavor profile of the cortado, the drink began to garner international attention.

How to make cortado?

Here’s a simple method to make a cortado at home:


  • Two shots of espresso
  • 60 ml of steamed milk (Use whole milk for best flavor)


  1. Start by brewing a double espresso using an espresso machine for better quality.
  2. While your coffee is brewing, steam your milk. The aim is to get it warm and slightly textured but not frothy.
  3. Pour the steamed milk over the espresso. It should be mixed with the coffee rather than sitting on top as a separate layer.
  4. Serve immediately, ideally in a small glass where you can see the mixing of the milk and coffee. Enjoy!

Remember, balance is the key to an excellent cortado – equal parts of espresso and milk.

Which Milk For The Best Flavor?

Choosing suitable milk enhances the flavor of your cortado. Whole milk is often preferred for making cortado and other espresso-based drinks.

It steams well, creates a nice microfoam, and its higher fat content adds a creamy, sweet flavor that beautifully complements the espresso’s bitterness.

However, the choice of milk can also depend on personal preferences and dietary needs. For a dairy-free option, oat milk is popular as it steams and froths quite similarly to cow’s milk and has a naturally sweet, mild flavor. Almond and soy milk are other alternatives, each bringing a unique taste.

What’s the difference between Cortado vs Macchiato?

The critical distinction between a cortado and a macchiato lies in the milk-to-espresso ratio and the nature of the milk used.

A cortado features a 1:1 ratio of espresso to steamed milk, offering a balanced flavor profile.

 Conversely, a traditional macchiato, meaning ‘marked’ in Italian, is predominantly an espresso with just a dash of milk or frothed milk foam ‘marking’ the espresso.

The result is a stronger, more robust coffee flavor in the macchiato compared to the cortado.

Interested in learning more about the unique aspects of a macchiato and how to make one? Dive into our in-depth exploration in our article What’s Macchiato and How to Make It.

What’s the difference between Cortado vs Cappuccino?

A cortado and a cappuccino are both espresso-based milk drinks but differ in proportions and texture. 

A cortado is an even blend of espresso and steamed milk, and a cappuccino follows a 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. 

Adding a significant foam layer increases the overall volume of a cappuccino. It lends a varied texture and subtle coffee flavor notes due to the higher milk-to-espresso ratio when considering just the liquid milk.

What’s The Difference Between Cortado and Latte?

The core difference between a cortado and a latte is the ratio of milk to espresso.

While a cortado brings you a balanced blend of equal parts espresso and milk, a latte goes the milky route, offering a larger drink with a 1:2:1 ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam.

 When you sip a latte, you’re indulging in a creamier, milder coffee experience due to the higher proportion of milk, distinguishing it from a cortado’s balanced, robust flavor.

What’s The Difference Between Cortado and Flat White?

A cortado and a flat white both aim to create harmony between espresso and milk, but they differ in proportions and the specific steaming technique for the milk. 

A cortado maintains a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk.

At the same time, a flat white from Australia/New Zealand typically contains a double shot of espresso topped with a slightly greater volume of micro-foamed milk.

 The milk in a flat white is steamed to achieve a velvety texture throughout the drink, making it slightly more affluent than a cortado.

What’s The Difference Between Cortado and Cortadito?

While cortado and cortadito have roots in Spanish-speaking cultures, their formulation differs. 

A cortado is an equal parts blend of espresso and milk. 

A cortadito, commonly found in Cuban coffee culture, is essentially espresso “cut” with a small amount of sweetened condensed milk. 

This results in a cortadito being a sweeter, more potent coffee drink served in a smaller cup, distinguishing it from the smoother cortado.

Bottom Line

And that wraps up our comprehensive guide to the cortado! From its unique character and origins to the steps to create your own at home and its distinctive differences from other coffee drinks, we’ve explored every facet of this balanced brew.

We hope this knowledge enriches your coffee experience and inspires you to dive deeper into the world of coffee. Until next time, happy brewing!


Cortado Recipes

With its harmonious balance of rich espresso and smooth, lightly steamed milk, the cortado offers a unique coffee experience unlike any other.
Prep Time 4 minutes
Cook Time 4 minutes
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Servings 1


  • Espresso machine


  • 2 Shot of espresso
  • 60 ml Milk (recommend whole milk)


  • Brew a double shot of espresso
  • steam the milk. The aim is to get it warm and slightly textured but not frothy.
  • Pour the steamed milk over the espresso.
    It should mix with the coffee rather than sitting on top as a separate layer
  • Serve immediately, ideally in a small glass where you can see the mixing of the milk and coffee. Enjoy!
Keyword Cortado coffee
Photo of author


Viky Tiagué is a coffee enthusiast and freelance writer with a passion for sharing his love of coffee.

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