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What Is a Cortado and How Do You Make It?

If you’ve ever been confused trying to order the perfect drink at a coffee bar, you’re not alone. You’ve probably heard of a cappuccino and maybe even a macchiato, but what is a cortado? This drink tastes slightly sweeter than a traditional cappuccino due to its milk content.

A cortado is a type of espresso beverage that originated in Spain and is now popular across Europe, Latin America, and other Spanish-speaking regions. A cortado consists of one part espresso to one part steamed milk.

Cortados are cousins of cappuccinos, but many baristas consider the milk in a cortado to be foamier than that in a cappuccino. This article will explore where the Cortado originated, how to make one, and how to enjoy one.

Where Did the Cortado Originate?

The name “cortado” comes from the Spanish verb cortar and translates roughly as “cut”, describing how the espresso is cut with milk after being brewed.  Many sources claim that the name “cortado” came about when a Spanish barista wanted to offer their customers an alternative to having espresso, so they would add milk and water.

The Cortado originated in Barcelona, Spain. The name was first used in a shop manual for a Barcelona coffee shop in 1926, where it was called “café cortado,” or cut coffee.

It’s not clear how the beverage got its modern name, but it does appear around 1930. Most people believe that its origins lie with Café Soplao in Havana, which created the Cortado (a shot of espresso with steamed milk) to serve Cubans who like stronger drinks than Cubanos (espresso with milk).

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cortado recipe

How Do I Make A Cortado?

To make a cortado, you’ll need an espresso maker, milk frother, and something to heat/steam your milk. You can also use a stovetop or microwave if you don’t have any other tools available.

Cortado Recipe

The recipe for a cafe cortado is super simple:  two shots of espresso and two ounces of steamed milk.  

To make a cortado:

  • Pull two shots of espresso.
  • Steam two ounces of milk.
  • Pour steamed milk into your espresso shots.

Pulling Espresso Shots for a Cortado

Use around two ounces of hot, robust coffee, made from about six grams of ground coffee per fluid ounce. If possible, use premium beans from a local roaster or buy whole bean coffee from a store with high turnover so that you know it’s fresh.

Brew the shot using an espresso machine. You can also use a stovetop or Moka pot to make your coffee, but if you’re trying to achieve the perfect Cortado, the consistency won’t be there. After pulling your shot, measure out one ounce of it, wetting the inside edge of your cup so that it mixes easily with milk later on.

How to Steam Milk for a Cortado

If possible, use whole milk, which will produce a nice micro-foam for this drink; alternatively, you can use plant-based milk vs cow’s milk if you have allergies or are lactose intolerant.

You can stream it directly in the cup if you have access to a wand frother or use another container with holes in the bottom so that air can pass through it and make it frothy (you’ll want to buy a milk frother, otherwise).

Finishing the Cortado

Pour the steamed milk into your espresso shot and enjoy! Add foam to the top (optional) and add sugar or sweetener if desired.

The creation of this drink is an art form that takes time, practice, and patience, but the results are worth it for many people. You can add sugar or any other flavorings once you’ve finished making your Cortado if you’d like.

how to make a cortado

What is a Cortado vs a Macchiato?

While both drinks are a combination of espresso and milk, there are some important differences. A cortado is a double shot of espresso cut with an equal amount of steamed milk.  A macchiato is a shot of espresso with foamed milk on top.  

Cortado Drinking Tips

Drinking one of these can be especially enjoyable on an early morning or during afternoons on lazy weekends at home or outdoors where you don’t want too much caffeine but still need something to wake you up or keep going. Here are some additional Cortado drinking tips:

  • Add sugar while the coffee is still hot so that it mixes in before you add the milk.
  • If possible, use whole dairy milk to get a nice micro-foam for your Cortado.
  • For this beverage, go for an espresso with notes of chocolate and caramel rather than bright fruit flavors because it will pair well with the richness of the steamed milk.
  • To serve a Cortado, a Gibraltar glass is ideal. This glass holds roughly 4.5 oz so it’s the perfect size for a cortado.

How Do You Pronounce Cortado?

Next time you want to order a cortado, just say CORE – TA – DOE. Here’s some pronunciation help if you’re an auditory learner.

A Cortado is the Perfect Pick Me Up

If you like your coffee with milk but don’t want something as heavy as a cappuccino, try making a cortado. This Spanish beverage blends one part espresso, one part steamed milk, and is popular in Spain and other parts of Europe, Latin America and has been increasingly popular in North America.

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