What Is A Cortado?

Kirkland Gee
July 26, 2023

The question "What is a cortado?" is a simple question, with a surprisingly intricate answer. The cortado, in its fundamental form, is an espresso-based drink, married beautifully with a similar amount of steamed milk. The term 'cortado' translates to 'cut', implying that the intensity of the espresso is 'cut' by the addition of the milk. A perfect blend of strength and smoothness, the cortado offers an exquisite balance that makes it a beloved choice among coffee fans, specialty and commodity alike.

What's the Difference Between a Cortado and a Flat White?

Often, the cortado is mistaken for its cousin - the flat white. Though they may appear similar to the untrained eye, these two beverages hold subtle differences that make them distinct. Both originate from different parts of the world, with the cortado tracing its roots back to Spain and the flat white having originated in Australia/New Zealand.

The primary distinction lies in their composition. A cortado typically consists of an equal ratio of espresso to milk, whereas a flat white is usually prepared with a double shot of espresso, topped with a slightly larger portion of microfoamed milk. This leads to a velvety texture and a stronger coffee flavor in a flat white, distinguishing it from the balanced profile of a cortado.

Brewing A Cortado At Home - Simplicity At Its Best

Brewing a cortado is pretty easy to do, even if you're not a professional barista. With just a few simple ingredients and tools, you can recreate the magic of a cortado right in your kitchen:

  • An espresso machine
  • Your preferred coffee (pulled as a single or double shot of espresso)
  • Milk (or dairy alternative)

The cortado is no more complex than brewing a latte or a cappuccino. It's a delightful balance of simplicity and sophistication, presenting a challenge, but nothing too daunting.

The Essentials for Brewing a Cortado At-Home

The journey towards a homemade cortado requires a few key elements. Primarily, you'll need:

  • A potent coffee shot (an espresso shot is ideal, but a strong brew from an Aeropress or Moka Pot can also work)
  • Steamed milk (achievable without a professional-grade espresso machine)

The most straightforward route to a cortado is through a traditional espresso machine. This equipment will give you the espresso shot and the capability to steam the milk. But worry not if you don't own an espresso machine, we'll explore an alternative method later

Coffee Recommendations for a Perfect Cortado

For a cortado, we'd suggest something lighter. With so little milk, you will really taste the espresso, so make sure it's something you'll enjoy. Avoid anything that is super acidic. Something like The Natural from Black & White is a great option.

Step-By-Step Guide to Brewing A Cortado With An Espresso Machine

Once you've chosen your preferred coffee, it's time to start brewing.

  1. Weigh out ~18 grams of your selected coffee (according to your preferred espresso recipe)
  2. Brew your espresso! For a cortado, you'll probably want to follow a traditional espresso ratio of 1:1 (if you're aiming for a single shot) or 2:1 (for a double shot). This refers to the weight of the coffee in comparison to the weight of the water.
  3. Pour your shot of espresso into a cortado glass (or any 4-6 ounce glass)
  4. Measure out an equal amount of milk (by volume) into a steaming pitcher and start steaming on your machine
  5. When steaming, aim for a temperature between 140-150℉. This ensures the perfect texture and brings out the sweetness in the milk.
  6. Pour your steamed milk over your espresso, creating that beautiful blend that is a cortado.

Making a Cortado Without an Espresso Machine

If an espresso machine isn't part of your home coffee setup, no worries. You can still enjoy a delightful cortado using a strong brew from an Aeropress or Moka Pot. Simply follow your usual brewing process, and for the milk, heat it up in the microwave or on the stove. A little whisking can help emulate the texture of steamed milk.

While this method may not yield the exact taste and texture of a traditional cortado, it will get you pretty close, and that's the beauty of coffee - it's all about experimenting and finding what you love.

The Origins Of Cortado

The cortado hails from Spain and is deeply woven into the rich fabric of Spanish coffee culture. The history of the cortado traces back several centuries, evolving alongside the growth of coffee consumption in Spain. It was traditionally served in a special glass, a "cortado glass," to be exact, which often featured a metal ring base and a metal wire handle. This particular design served not just a functional purpose – ensuring the hot drink could be safely handled – but also a cultural one, providing a distinctive aesthetic that became synonymous with this beloved coffee variant.

In its homeland, the cortado became a popular choice amongst coffee aficionados, appreciated for its unique blend of strength and smoothness. Its popularity soon spread beyond Spanish borders, becoming a mainstay in many coffee shops worldwide. The cortado offers a unique coffee experience, characterized by a perfect harmony between the bold espresso and the creamy milk, creating a drink that's neither too strong nor too milky.

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