What is a cortado?

Picture yourself sitting in a cozy café, savoring the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee. As you peruse the menu, your eyes land on the enticing phrase: “cortado.” Piquing your curiosity, you wonder – what exactly is a cortado? This intriguing beverage, which is a must-try for coffee enthusiasts, combines the smoothness of espresso with the silkiness of steamed milk. In this article, we will delve into the world of cortados and uncover its origins, preparation, and the reasons why it has become a beloved choice for many coffee aficionados. So grab a cup of your favorite brew and let’s embark on a delightful journey to discover the enchanting essence of a cortado.

What is a cortado?

If you’re a coffee lover, you may have come across the term “cortado” in your search for the perfect espresso-based drink. But what exactly is a cortado? In simple terms, a cortado is a delicious coffee beverage that consists of equal parts espresso and steamed milk. This unique combination creates a balanced and smooth flavor profile that is both creamy and robust. Whether you’re a seasoned coffee connoisseur or a newcomer to the world of espresso, the cortado is definitely worth exploring.


The term “cortado” actually comes from the Spanish word “cortar,” which means “to cut.” This refers to the way the espresso shot is “cut” or balanced by the steamed milk. Unlike other espresso-based drinks such as lattes or cappuccinos, the cortado has a higher ratio of espresso to milk, resulting in a beverage that is bolder in flavor, yet still velvety and smooth. It is often served in a small glass or cup, allowing you to fully appreciate the beautiful layers of espresso and milk that make up this delightful drink.

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The cortado originally hails from Spain and Portugal, where it has been enjoyed for many years as a beloved coffee tradition. It is commonly consumed in the morning or early afternoon as a way to energize and invigorate the senses. In Spain, the cortado is a staple in many cafés and is often enjoyed alongside a small pastry or piece of toast. Its popularity has spread beyond the Iberian Peninsula and is now enjoyed in coffee shops all around the world.


To make a cortado, you’ll need just two simple ingredients: espresso and milk. The espresso is brewed using finely ground coffee beans and hot water, resulting in a concentrated shot of rich, bold flavor. The milk is then steamed to achieve a velvety texture that adds a creamy element to the drink. It’s important to note that the ratio of espresso to milk in a cortado is equal, ensuring that both components shine through in every sip.


Preparing a cortado is a relatively straightforward process. Start by pulling a double shot of espresso using an espresso machine. The espresso should be strong and full-bodied, with a rich crema on top. Meanwhile, steam an equal amount of milk using a steam wand or a milk frother. The milk should be heated to a temperature that is warm but not scalding, allowing it to blend seamlessly with the espresso. Once the milk is steamed, pour it gently over the espresso, aiming to create a beautiful layered effect. And that’s it! Your cortado is ready to be savored.

Comparison to Other Espresso-Based Drinks

While the cortado shares similarities with other espresso-based drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos, it stands out due to its unique balance of flavors. Unlike a latte, which has a higher milk-to-espresso ratio, the cortado allows the espresso to shine through while still providing a creamy mouthfeel. Similarly, the cortado differs from a cappuccino, which typically has a thick layer of foam on top. The cortado’s simplicity and equal parts of espresso and milk make it a distinct and enjoyable beverage for those who prefer a more intense coffee flavor.

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Popular Variations

As with any coffee drink, the cortado has inspired several variations that add an extra layer of complexity and uniqueness to the beverage. One popular variation is the “leche y leche” cortado, which incorporates both regular milk and condensed milk for a sweeter and creamier taste. Another variation is the “flat white cortado,” which brings together the best of both the cortado and the flat white—a velvety steamed milk texture with a strong espresso shot. These variations offer a delightful twist on the classic cortado, providing coffee lovers with even more options to explore.

Serving Size

Traditionally, a cortado is served in a small glass or cup, usually holding around four to six ounces of liquid. This smaller serving size allows you to fully appreciate the balance of flavors in the drink without feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of the espresso. The cortado’s modest size also makes it a great choice for those who prefer a quick and concentrated coffee experience, perfect for those busy mornings or afternoon pick-me-ups.

Taste and Flavor Profile

The cortado offers a unique taste and flavor profile that sets it apart from other espresso-based drinks. Thanks to the equal parts of espresso and milk, the cortado strikes a harmonious balance between the rich bitterness of the espresso and the creamy sweetness of the milk. The result is a smooth and velvety beverage that is bold and flavorful, with a lingering aftertaste that satisfies the taste buds. The cortado’s flavor profile is often described as having a caramel-like sweetness, nutty undertones, and a hint of dark chocolate, making it a truly indulgent treat.

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Cultural Significance

The cortado holds significant cultural importance, particularly in Spain and Portugal where it originated. In these countries, the cortado is more than just a coffee beverage—it is a beloved part of the daily routine and a symbol of social connection. Spaniards and Portuguese often gather in cafés and enjoy cortados while engaging in lively conversations or reading the newspaper. The cortado represents a moment of pause and enjoyment in the midst of a bustling day, allowing individuals to savor the simple pleasures of life.

Health Benefits

As with most coffee beverages, the cortado offers a range of potential health benefits when consumed in moderation. Firstly, the cortado provides a source of antioxidants that can help protect the body against free radicals and oxidative stress. Coffee has also been linked to a reduced risk of certain diseases, including type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and liver cancer. Additionally, the cortado’s smaller serving size means it contains fewer calories than larger coffee drinks, making it a more waistline-friendly option. However, it’s important to remember that individual health needs and sensitivities may vary, so it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional regarding your specific dietary requirements.

In conclusion, the cortado is a delightful espresso-based drink that offers a unique and satisfying coffee experience. Its equal parts espresso and steamed milk create a well-balanced and flavorful beverage that is sure to please any coffee lover. Whether you’re enjoying a cortado in a bustling café in Spain or sipping one in the comfort of your own home, this classic drink is a testament to the simple pleasures of coffee and the rich cultural traditions that surround it. So why not treat yourself to a cortado and discover the joy of this exquisite beverage firsthand? You won’t be disappointed.

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Candace McMillan

About the Author: Candace McMillan

With each cup she brews, Candace seeks to spread her love for coffee, inspiring others to appreciate the beauty and depth that this beloved beverage has to offer.