Cortado in a Gibraltar glass

What is a Cortado? And How Do You Make One?

Made of equal parts espresso and steamed milk, a cortado is a small espresso beverage that packs a powerful punch. Learn more about this popular espresso drink and how to make one at home.

A cortado is a small espresso beverage that packs a powerful punch. It’s become favored by coffee connoisseurs and casual coffee drinkers alike for its strong espresso flavor and creamy mouthfeel. Cortados can be enjoyed quickly on the go, or they can be savored slowly while you read your favorite book. In this guide, we’ll teach you all about the cortado and how to make your own so you can enjoy a cortado any time you want.

What is a Cortado?

A cortado is a coffee beverage that consists of equal parts espresso and steamed milk. The word "cortado" is derived from the Spanish verb "cortar," which means "to cut." The idea behind the name is that the addition of milk "cuts" the acidity of the espresso, creating a balanced and smooth flavor.

The milk in a cortado is typically steamed, but it's not as frothy or foamy as the milk in a cappuccino. The result is a strong coffee flavor with a hint of creaminess from the milk. The ratio of espresso to milk can vary slightly depending on personal preferences and regional variations, but it's generally a 1:1 ratio.

Cortados are often served in a Gibraltar glass, a short and squat glass with a wide mouth and a capacity of around 4 to 5 ounces. This beverage has gained popularity in various coffee cultures worldwide and is a favorite for those who appreciate the boldness of espresso but also enjoy a touch of milk.

Learn more: Macchiato vs Cortado vs Flat White: What's the Difference?

The Origin of the Cortado

The drink is believed to have originated in Spain, particularly in the northern regions, and it has become a popular coffee choice in Spanish-speaking countries. The exact history of the cortado is not well-documented, but it is considered a traditional Spanish coffee preparation.

Over time, the cortado has gained popularity beyond Spain and is now enjoyed in various parts of the world, often with regional variations in preparation and presentation. It has become a favorite among coffee enthusiasts who appreciate the balance of strong espresso and the smoothness added by a small amount of steamed milk.

What You Need to Make a Cortado

Ready to make your own cortado? Gather the following ingredients and equipment.

Cortado Ingredients

Cortados are extremely simple to make. All you need are the following ingredients:

The key to making a great cortado is to always use high-quality ingredients. Use fresh milk and coffee to create a great-tasting cortado every time. The type of water you use can also have an effect on the taste of your cortado.

Cortado Equipment

You’ll need the following equipment in order to make your own cortado at home.

  • Coffee grinder
  • Espresso machine OR alternative espresso brewing equipment
  • Steam wand OR milk frothing equipment
  • Steaming pitcher

How to Make a Cortado with an Espresso Machine

Using an espresso machine is the most ideal way to make a cortado. Follow the steps below when making a cortado at home.

1. Brew the Espresso

Grind your coffee beans and brew two shots of espresso using an espresso machine. We recommend using a balanced medium or dark roast for a cortado since this is a very coffee-forward beverage.

Learn more: How to Pull a Shot of Espresso

2. Steam the Milk

Pour four ounces of milk into your steaming pitcher (you’ll only pour about two ounces into your cortado glass). For a cortado, you won’t need to create foam so much as just steaming the milk thoroughly.

Learn more: How to Steam Milk for a Latte

3. Pour and Enjoy

Carefully pour the steamed milk into the espresso, aiming for an equal ratio of espresso to milk. The result should be a balanced blend of strong coffee and creamy milk. Then, drink up! Cortados are meant to be enjoyed immediately to preserve the balance of flavors.

How to Make a Cortado without an Espresso Machine

No espresso machine? No problem! Follow these steps to make a cortado at home without an espresso machine.

1. Brew the Coffee

You’ll need to brew a highly concentrated batch of coffee to substitute for your espresso using a standard coffee maker, French press, Moka pot, or Aeropress. A typical cortado features a double shot of espresso which equates to about 20 grams of ground coffee. You might need to play with the ratios of coffee and water in your brew method of choice before you make something you’re happy with.

Learn more: Espresso vs. French Press: What's the Difference? | How to Make French Press Espresso

2. Steam the Milk

Start by warming up about 4-5 ounces of milk on the stove. Watch it carefully as milk can boil over very quickly! We recommend aiming for a temperature around 140F. You can use an electric whisk or even a French press coffee maker to create light foam once the milk is heated. Alternatively, you can use a milk frothing pitcher to steam and froth your milk simultaneously.

3. Pour and Enjoy

Combine your concentrated coffee and steamed milk in a glass, making sure the milk and coffee mix thoroughly together. Remember, you only need about 2 ounces of steamed milk for this beverage. Once the milk and coffee have been combined, you’re ready to enjoy your cortado!

Which Milk Makes the Best Cortado?

Since a cortado consists primarily of steamed milk instead of foam, you have more options when it comes to milk choice. 

Whole Milk

Whole milk is the undisputed champion of espresso beverages. Whole milk has the perfect amount of fat content to support velvety microfoam and can support the strong flavor of the espresso without overpowering it.

2% Milk

2% or low-fat milk can also be used for a cortado. The mild flavor helps the espresso shine. Though steamed 2% and low-fat milk lacks the velvety texture of steamed whole milk, you can still create a cortado with a pleasant mouthfeel for fewer calories

Oat Milk

If you need a dairy-free option for your cortado, try oat milk. Oat milk has become the go-to dairy-free option for espresso beverages in cafes around the world. Barista-grade oat milk is best to use as it contains extra thickeners, which makes it much easier to steam.

Learn more: 5 Best Oat Milks for Coffee

Almond Milk

Almond milk is also a great dairy-free option for a cortado. Though it won’t foam quite as well as oak milk, you can still create a bit of texture with almond milk. The mild, slightly nutty flavor can also enhance the taste of the espresso you use.

Small Glass, Big Flavor

Tiny but mighty, the cortado is a deceptively delicious espresso beverage to add to your home barista repertoire. We hope this guide gives you the confidence and knowledge you need to start making your own cortado at home–or at least inspires you to order one at your favorite coffee shop!

If you’re looking for the right roast to feature in your own cortado, we’ve got you covered with a wide selection of blends and single-origin coffees that are smooth, delicious, and perfectly balanced.

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