What is a Cortado Coffee? All You Need to Know About Cortado Coffee

As coffee aficionados we are always on the lookout for new and exciting ways to enjoy our favorite beverage. One such delight that has been gaining popularity is the cortado. But what exactly is a cortado coffee? In this article, we'll delve into everything you need to know about this unique coffee drink, from its origins to how it's made, and why it might become your new favourite.

The Origins of Cortado Coffee

The Cortado coffee has its roots in Spain, specifically in the bustling cafes of Madrid and Barcelona. The name "cortado" comes from the Spanish word "cortar," which means "to cut." This refers to the way the coffee is "cut" with a small amount of warm milk, reducing its acidity and creating a smoother taste.

Emerging from the need to balance the intense flavour of espresso with the soothing quality of milk, the cortado quickly gained popularity in the cafés and over time, this simple yet elegant drink crossed borders, carried by travelers and coffee lovers.

What is a Cortado Coffee?

A cortado is a balanced coffee drink consisting of a shot of espresso mixed with an equal amount of steamed milk. Unlike other espresso-based drinks, the cortado emphasizes the balance between coffee and milk, ensuring that neither flavour overpowers the other. This results in a smooth, creamy beverage that highlights the rich flavours of the espresso while being softened by the milk.

Key Characteristics of a Cortado:

  • Equal Parts Espresso and Milk: The traditional cortado is prepared with a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk.
  • Steamed Milk: The milk used in a cortado is steamed, but not frothed to the extent of a cappuccino or latte. This creates a velvety texture without too much foam.
  • Small Serving Size: Typically served in a small glass, usually between 4 to 6 ounces.

How to Make a Cortado Coffee

Making a cortado at home is simpler than you might think, especially if you have an espresso machine. Here’s a step-by-step guide to crafting the perfect cortado.

  • Freshly ground coffee beans
  • Whole milk (or a milk alternative)

  • Espresso machine
  • Milk steamer or frother
  • Small glass or cup (4-6 ounces)

Prepare the Espresso:
  • Grind your coffee beans to a fine consistency.
  • Use your espresso machine to pull a single or double shot of espresso, depending on your preference. A single shot is about 1 ounce, while a double shot is 2 ounces.
Steam the Milk:
  • Pour whole milk into a steaming pitcher. Whole milk is preferred for its creaminess, but you can use milk alternatives if desired.
  • Use the steam wand on your espresso machine to heat the milk. Aim for a temperature of around 150°F (65°C). The goal is to create a smooth, velvety texture with little to no foam.
Combine the Espresso and Milk:
  • Pour the steamed milk slowly over the espresso shot. The ratio should be equal parts espresso to milk.
  • Serve immediately in a small glass.

Variations of the Cortado

While the traditional cortado is delightful on its own, there are a few variations that you might find intriguing:
  • Leche y Leche: A popular variation in the Canary Islands, this version adds a layer of condensed milk at the bottom of the glass before the espresso and steamed milk is added.
  • Cortado Condensada: Similar to the leche y leche but with only condensed milk and espresso, omitting the steamed milk.
  • Gibraltar: In the United States, especially in San Francisco, a cortado is often referred to as a Gibraltar. It is typically served in a 4.5-ounce Libbey Gibraltar glass.

Cortado vs. Other Coffee Drinks

Understanding how a cortado differs from other popular coffee drinks can help you appreciate its unique qualities.
  • Cortado vs. Latte: A latte contains much more milk than a cortado, usually in a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio of espresso to milk, and is served in a larger cup. The milk in a latte is also more frothy.
  • Cortado vs. Cappuccino: A cappuccino has a similar amount of espresso but features a significant amount of milk foam, creating three distinct layers (espresso, steamed milk, and foam).
  • Cortado vs. Macchiato: A macchiato is the inverse of a cortado, consisting of mostly espresso with just a dash of milk foam on top.

Why You Should Try a Cortado

There are several reasons why the cortado has become a favourite among coffee enthusiasts:
  1. Balanced Flavor: The equal ratio of espresso and milk creates a harmonious blend that highlights the strengths of both components.
  2. Smooth Texture: The steamed milk adds a creamy texture without overwhelming the coffee's robust flavour.
  3. Perfect Size: The small serving size is ideal for a quick coffee break without the commitment of a larger beverage.
  4. Versatility: Whether enjoyed on its own or with a sweet treat, the cortado fits perfectly into any coffee lover’s routine.
The cortado coffee is a delightful and balanced beverage that offers a unique coffee experience. Its smooth texture and rich flavor make it a standout choice for those looking to enjoy their coffee in a new way. Whether you’re a seasoned coffee aficionado or a curious newcomer, the cortado is worth a try. So next time you’re at your local café or brewing coffee at home, consider indulging in the simple yet sophisticated pleasure of a cortado.

If you are looking for the perfect coffee for your next cortado, try Farm & Forest Organic Darkwoods Espresso! Brewed as espresso, it has a smooth, supple body with a rich flavour profile that reminds us of molasses, red fruit, and dark chocolate. The Peruvian beans in this beautiful blend lend a touch of sweetness to the smoky ones from Sumatra, while the Ethiopian component brings a splash of fruit that becomes even juicier when brewed as drip. Great on its own but especially luxurious with milk, the Darkwoods Coffee is a favourite among Farm & Forest fans.

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