What is a Cortado?

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A cortado is a coffee beverage traditionally made by combining equal parts of espresso and steamed milk. The term “cortado” comes from the Spanish word “cortar,” which means “to cut,” and refers to the fact that the espresso is “cut” with a small amount of milk.

Key Takeaways:

  • Composition: A cortado is made by mixing espresso with a roughly equal amount of warm milk. This combination helps reduce the acidity of the drink.
  • Milk Texture: Unlike many Italian coffee drinks, the milk in a cortado is steamed but not frothy or “texturized”.
  • Origin: The cortado is believed to have originated from Spain, with Madrid being the most likely birthplace. It’s commonly served in this region.
  • Name Origin: The term “cortado” is derived from the Spanish verb “cortar”, which means “to cut”. In this context, it refers to the act of “diluting” or “cutting” the coffee with milk. This term can be used to describe various coffee or espresso drinks in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries.
Cortado In A Glass
Cortado | Photo by Lex Sirikiat on Unsplash

What is a Cortado?

A traditional cortado is a coffee beverage mixing equal amounts of espresso and steamed milk. They’re often served in small glasses or cups and are known for their balanced flavor and smooth texture.

The combination of the strong, bold flavor of espresso with the creamy, slightly sweet taste of steamed milk results in a coffee drink that is both rich and refreshing.

Cortados are popular in many countries around the world, especially in Spain, South America, and parts of Europe. They are often served in coffee shops and cafes and are a popular choice for coffee drinkers who want a more nuanced and complex flavor profile than what is typically found in a standard cup of drip coffee.

Key Ingredients:

Espresso: In a Cortado, the espresso’s boldness is balanced with steamed milk, creating a harmonious blend of strength and creaminess. The quantity, typically between 1 to 2 ounces, ensures that the Cortado remains robust in flavor, but not overwhelmingly so.

Steamed Milk: The Cortado significantly distinguishes itself from other espresso-based beverages in its preparation of milk. Unlike the frothy and textured milk found in lattes and cappuccinos, and most other espresso-milk combinations, the milk in a Cortado is simply steamed to warm it, with minimal air introduced.


The birth of the cortado is closely linked to the rise of espresso, which first made its appearance in Italy in the early 20th century. As espresso gained traction in Madrid, Spain, the cortado emerged as a beloved variation of this iconic drink.

Its allure soon reached shores beyond Spain, captivating coffee enthusiasts in places like Portugal, Cuba, and the Americas throughout the 1900s.

Traditionally served in dainty ceramic mugs called “chiquitos“, the cortado was often savored as a rejuvenating pick-me-up during late mornings or early afternoons.

An Outdoor Cafe In Spain
An outdoor cafe in Spain | Photo by Lex Sirikiat on Unsplash

With the passage of time, the cortado has cemented its place in Spanish coffee traditions and is now a common sight in coffee establishments across the nation. Its popularity isn’t confined to Spain; it’s also a favorite in various European countries, the United States, and beyond.

Cortado Variations Explained

The cortado, a blend of espresso with warm milk, is recognized by various names across different regions:

  • Spain:
    • Catalonia: Here, it’s known as Tallat.
    • Basque Region: It’s called Ebaki.
  • Mainland Spain:
    • Café Solo Corto: This is a straight espresso without milk.
    • Café Cortado: An espresso with a slight addition of milk, making it a bit stronger than the standard cortado.
  • Portuguese Regions: It’s either Pingado or Garoto.
  • U.S. East Coast: Simply referred to as Cortado.
  • San Francisco:
    • Gibraltar: This variation is named after its specific glassware. It’s made with a double espresso shot, topped up with steamed milk, resulting in a creamier texture.
  • Czech Republic: At Costa Coffee outlets, it’s branded as Corto Classic.
  • Cuba:
    • Cortadito: This is akin to the café solo corto but stands out due to its sweetened condensed milk.

Each of these variations offers a unique twist on the classic cortado, tailored to regional preferences and traditions.

Making a Cortado: A Quick Guide

  1. Brew the Espresso: Begin with a shot of top-notch espresso. Remember, the espresso’s quality will largely dictate your cortado’s taste.
  2. Heat the Milk: As your espresso brews, warm about 2-3 ounces of milk in a frothing pitcher. The exact amount can vary based on your cup size and taste.
  3. No Foam, Please: Aim for a milk texture without foam. This ensures that signature smooth blend typical of Spanish coffee drinks.
  4. Pour the Espresso: Transfer the freshly brewed espresso into a 6-ounce cup. Glass or ceramic cups are ideal.
  5. Add Milk: Slowly pour in the heated milk, ensuring it blends evenly with the espresso.
  6. Serve Hot: A cortado tastes best when fresh. Serve it as soon as it’s made.

Note: The key to a perfect cortado lies in the quality of ingredients. Always opt for freshly ground espresso and fresh milk. Ensure your espresso machine is of good quality for the best results.

Comparing the Cortado to Other Coffee Drinks

The cortado, with its balanced blend of espresso and milk, is often compared to other coffee favorites. Let’s break down how it stands out:

Cortado vs. Gibraltar:

  • Similarities: Both are espresso-based drinks mixed with steamed milk and typically served in small glasses.
  • Differences: The name “Gibraltar” specifically denotes the drink being served in a Gibraltar glass. Both drinks emphasize the espresso flavor, but their distinction mainly lies in the specific glassware.

Cortado vs. Latte:

  • Key Difference: It’s all about the espresso-to-milk ratio. Cortados have an even espresso to milk ratio, making them bolder. Lattes, on the other hand, contain more milk, diluting the espresso flavor.
Cappuccino In A Glass
A cappuccino has a lot of foam | Source

Cortado vs. Cappuccino:

  • Key Difference: Foam. Cappuccinos feature a shot of espresso, minimal steamed milk, and a significant amount of stiff foam. Cortados have a softer, more velvety foam layer.
  • Visual Cue: Cappuccinos have a thick foam layer, often used for latte art.

Cortado vs. Flat White:

  • Key Difference: Milk texture and ratio. While both drinks have a velvety texture, the flat white leans towards being creamier due to its microfoam milk. The espresso flavor in a cortado is more pronounced.

Cortado vs. Caffè Macchiato:

  • Key Difference: It’s primarily about the milk addition. Cortados use a roughly equal blend of espresso and steamed milk, resulting in a creamier drink. Caffè Macchiatos, on the other hand, are essentially espressos “stained” or “marked” with just a dab of frothy milk, retaining a much stronger espresso taste.

In essence, while all these drinks share espresso as a base, their preparation, milk ratios, and textures set them apart, offering coffee enthusiasts a spectrum of flavors and experiences.


Are Cortados sweet?


Cortados are not sweet and are primarily known for their bold espresso flavor. They may add a small amount of sweetener, but this varies by coffee shop and customer preference.

What kind of glass is a Cortado served in?

Cortado Glass

A cortado is typically served in a small, 6-ounce glass or ceramic cup. The size and shape of the cup can vary depending on the individual coffee shop or barista, but the goal is to create a balance between the espresso and milk and to allow the flavors to develop fully.

How do you pronounce Cortado?

In Spanish, “Cortado” is pronounced as “kor-tah-doh”. Emphasize the “tah” part. The “c” sounds like “s”, the “r” is lightly rolled, and the vowels “a” and “o” sound like “ah” and “oh” respectively.

Can Cortados be iced?

Yes, cortados can be served iced. To make an iced cortado, brew espresso and pour it over ice. Then, add a small amount of cold milk or milk alternative and stir to combine. Alternatively, you can make a cold foam cortado by frothing cold milk or milk alternative and adding it to the iced espresso.


Overall, a Cortado is a delicious and unique coffee drink that is worth trying for any coffee lover. It is a perfect balance of espresso and milk, offering a bold and satisfying flavor, unlike any other coffee drink.

Avatar Of Kelsey Todd
With over two decades in the coffee industry, Kelsey is a seasoned professional barista with roots in Seattle and Santa Barbara. Accredited by The Coffee Association of America and a member of The Baristas Guild, he combines practical expertise with a profound understanding of coffee's history and cultural significance. Kelsey tries his best to balance family time with blogging time and fails miserably.