The Cortado Coffee Deserves Your Appreciation

They're a barista favorite for a reason.


Matt Taylor-Gross

Cortados are a barista favorite drink with Spanish origins — the name means "cut" in Spanish, as the espresso is typically cut with steamed milk. This well-balanced drink is delicious with a morning pastry or as an afternoon pick me up. But what makes a cortado different from other drinks that combine espresso and milk, like lattes, cappuccinos, or macchiatos? It's all about the ratio. If you want to order a cortado on your next visit to the coffeeshop, here's what you need to know.

What is a Cortado Coffee?

Kaleena Teoh, co-founder and director of education at Coffee Project New York, explains, "a cortado is basically a one-to-one ratio of espresso and steamed milk." At a typical specialty coffee shop, ordering a cortado means you'll get about two ounces of espresso and two ounces of milk, so roughly a four ounce drink.It's smaller than many coffee shop favorites and Teoh describes the size as somewhere between an espresso macchiato and a flat white.

A traditional cortado is unsweetened — the only ingredients are espresso and steamed milk, the latter of which lends a bit of sweetness from the milk sugars (some non-dairy milks are sweetened, while regular milk has natural sugars). For a sweeter drink, Teoh suggests a Cuban version of a cortado called the Cortadito, which is sweetened with either condensed milk or a bit of sugar. She calls it the perfect drink for someone who wants that balance of milk and espresso with more sweetness.

How Do You Make a Cortado Coffee?

Cortados are traditionally made with an espresso machine. Teoh has a simple method: "First, pull a shot of espresso. In most coffee shops, you pull a double shot, which is about two ounces. Then you get two ounces of your milk of choice (dairy or non-dairy) and you steam it, which adds air. Just pour that on top of the two ounces of espresso."

It's popular to serve cortados in small vessels where the drink completely fills the glass. Many baristas opt for a gibraltar glass, which is a short ridged glass with a medium lip. Because cortados are often served in these particular glasses, some coffee shops (such as Blue Bottle) will simply refer to a cortado as a gibraltar.

It's traditional to use dairy milk in a cortado, but many non-dairy milks (oat milk and almond milk in particular) steam well and can be used to make dairy free-versions. Teoh ultimately loves these drinks because you can still taste the strength of the espresso. "It doesn't get drowned in milk," she says. "It's a nice balance of the flavors."

Can You Make a Cortado Without a Coffee Machine?

Even if you don't have an espresso machine at home, you can still recreate that coffee shop cortado experience.If you have a Nespresso or Keurig machine, set it to brew espresso and make sure you use the same amount of milk as espresso (the one-to-one ratio is key to the drink). To steam milk at home without a steam wand, Teoh recommends using a handheld frother to aerate the milk and get the right texture. For best results, microwave the milk or warm it on the stove until it's between 130 and 150°F. Use the frother to aerate the milk before adding to the espresso.

If you don't have a Keurig or Nespresso machine, Teoh recommends using specialty brand instant crystallized coffee, which you can purchase online or from your favorite shop (ask your barista for a recommendation). Don't follow the package instructions, which are designed to give you a drink that resembles drip coffee. Instead, add a little bit of water to mimic the concentration and texture of espresso. Then, add your steamed milk (sticking to the one-to-one ratio) and sip away. You can also make an iced cortado with this method using cold milk and adding ice.

The beauty of the cortado is how the milk cuts the bitterness of the espresso while still allowing the flavors to shine. Next time you're ordering a little treat at your favorite cafe, make it a cortado. It might become your new regular order.

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