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The Cortado Coffee Deserves Your Appreciation

They’re a barista favorite for a reason.

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The name “cortado” comes from the Spanish word for “cut,” as the espresso is typically diluted with steamed milk to make this popular barista drink. Whether you’re looking for a morning pick-me-up or an afternoon refresher, this perfectly balanced beverage will not disappoint. What, though, sets a cortado apart from the many other espresso-and-milk beverages that exist? The ratio is crucial. Here’s the lowdown on how to get yourself a cortado the next time you stop by your favorite coffeehouse.

Can you please explain a Cortado?

“a cortado is basically a one-to-one ratio of espresso and steamed milk,” says Kaleena Teoh, co-founder and director of education at Coffee Project New York. In most specialized coffee shops, a cortado will consist of two ounces of espresso and two ounces of milk, for a total of four ounces. It’s smaller than a lot of people’s go-to drinks at coffee shops; Teoh compares it to the size of an espresso macchiato or a flat white.

Espresso and steamed milk are all that go into a classic cortado, with the milk sugars providing the only sweetness (some non-dairy milks are sweetened, while regular milk has natural sugars). Teoh recommends the Cortadito, a Cuban variation of a cortado sweetened with condensed milk or sugar, for those who prefer a more sugary beverage. She says it’s ideal for those who enjoy a sweeter beverage but still want the savory flavor of espresso and milk.

Where Can I Find Instructions for Making a Cortado?

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It is customary to use an espresso machine when preparing a cortado. Teoh employs a straightforward strategy: “In the beginning, make an espresso shot. A standard coffee shop order is a double shot, which is two ounces. Then, using a steamer, you add air to two ounces of milk (dairy or non-dairy) of your choosing. Add it to the two ounces of espresso and stir.”

Serving size for cortados is typically quite small, with the drink filling the glass entirely. Gibraltar glasses, short and ridged with a medium lip, are a popular choice among baristas. Given the prevalence of these glasses for serving cortados, some coffee establishments (like Blue Bottle) shorten the name to “gibraltar” to avoid confusion.

Cortados typically call for whole milk, but many non-dairy milks (especially oat milk and almond milk) steam well and can be used to make dairy-free versions of the drink. Overall, Teoh prefers these beverages because the espresso flavor comes through clearly. She explains, “It doesn’t get drowned in milk.” The flavors are harmonious with one another.

Do You Need a Coffee Maker to Make a Cortado?

Recreate the perfect cortado from your favorite coffee shop without breaking the bank by investing in an espresso machine.

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Make sure to use the same volume of milk as espresso when brewing with a Nespresso or Keurig (the one-to-one ratio is key to the drink). Teoh suggests using a hand-held frother to aerate the milk and achieve the desired texture when steaming milk at home in the absence of a steam wand. Milk should be heated to a temperature between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit before being frothed and added to espresso for optimal flavor.

Teoh suggests using instant crystallized coffee from a reputable brand like Keurig or Nespresso if you don’t have access to a Keurig or Nespresso machine (ask your barista for a recommendation). Don’t make the mistake of following the instructions on the package, which are meant to simulate drip coffee. Instead, dilute it with water to make it taste and feel like espresso. Then, slowly pour in the steamed milk, keeping the one-to-one ratio, and enjoy. If you use cold milk and ice, you can turn this into an iced cortado.

The cortado’s charm lies in the way its milk tempers the espresso’s bitterness while leaving the drink’s other flavors intact. Make sure to get a cortado the next time you stop in at your favorite cafe for a quick snack. This dish could easily become a staple in your diet.