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What is a Cortado? (And How to Make One)

Cortados are becoming more and more popular in local coffee shops these days. This strong mix of a double espresso and lightly steamed milk is an attractive proposition for the coffee lover that wants to experience the caffeine hit from a double espresso, but without so much frothy milk! 

But, what exactly is a cortado and how can you make one for yourself? Well, let’s find out!  

What is a Cortado?

A cortado is a coffee drink consisting of a double shot of espresso (typically made from medium roasted beans) and warm, lightly steamed milk. This is then topped with a small amount of residual foam. 

A cortado is generally quite a strong espresso based drink, containing a 1:1 ratio of espresso to warm milk. Cortados use milk that has only been steamed for a short period of time, to reduce the froth and micro bubbles that form in the milk. This gives a cortado a stronger flavor and they are usually drunk in one fell swoop, just like an espresso shot! 

Why is it Called Cortado?

The cortado originates from Spain, where the name corresponds to the phrase “to cut” in Spanish. This refers to the double shot of espresso being ‘cut’ with an equal volume of hot, steamed milk, which reduces the acidity of the drink and makes it more palatable to a wider audience. However, because the cortado does not contain a particularly high volume of milk overall, it still retains that characteristic bold espresso flavor, making it a popular choice amongst coffee purists. 

How to Make a Cortado (Step by Step)

There are a few steps to follow if you want to make the perfect, barista style cortado from the comfort of your own home. 


Finely ground, Medium roasted espresso coffee beans

⅓ Cup/4 oz of milk


Espresso Machine

Milk steaming wand

(Alternatives): Aeropress/French Press/Milk Frother/Moka Pot/Percolator


Here is a simple step by step method to help you make a credible cappuccino for yourself! 

Step 1: Choose Your Coffee Beans

The first step in making a great cortado from the comfort of your own home is to pick the perfect coffee beans

Traditionally, cortados are made using medium roasted coffee beans. The reason for this is that there is not much milk in a cortado, so the espresso flavor has more of a chance to shine through, compared to milkier coffee drinks. 

Therefore, picking a medium roasted coffee bean that is well balanced and has distinctive nutty or chocolaty flavor notes will be ideal for a cortado. 

If you want to take your coffee beans selection to the next level, then going for a blend of both arabica and robusta coffee bean varieties will add even more bite and caffeine to your cortado. 

Step 2: Brew Your Espresso

Next, you’ll need to brew your double espresso. 

To do this, grind your coffee beans finely if you have a grinder at home. Alternatively, look out for ground coffee that is labeled as espresso grind, as this will be fine enough to use in your espresso machine. 

Simply add your ground coffee to your portafilter, distribute evenly, tamp and away you go! 

If you don’t have an espresso machine at home, you could also use a moka pot, percolator or aeropress to brew strong espresso. 

Here are 7 alternative ways to make espresso-like coffee if you don’t have a fancy espresso machine at home! 

Step 3: Prepare Your Steamed Milk

Once your espresso is brewed, it’s time to steam your milk. 

If you are using an espresso machine with a built-in milk steaming wand, simply turn the setting on to activate this and your steaming water will automatically heat up through your coffee machine itself. 

Simply pour your 1/3 cup of milk into a metal steaming pitcher, place the steaming wand into the pitcher and let it sit just below the surface for a few seconds, to incorporate some air.

Gently bring your pitcher upwards so your steam wand is fully submerged, and a small whirlpool or vortex is formed.

When it is too hot to touch, just keep the wand in the milk for a few more seconds, and then it will be nicely textured.

To create the foam, simply move your milk pitcher down so that the tip of the steaming want is touching the surface of the milk itself. When making a cortado, there is only a small amount of foam involved and the milk is supposed to be only lightly steamed, to retain that coffee flavour. 

Top Tip: The milk used for a cortado is up to you. Typically, whole milk is used as it gives the most velvety and smooth texture when filled with micro air bubbles. However, if you want to reduce the calories, go for a skimmed or semi skimmed milk. If you are lactose intolerant, then using a milk alternative also works well. Just make sure it is a ‘barista’ style milk alternative, so there is enough creaminess to replicate the fat content of whole milk. 

Step 4: Serve and Enjoy! 

 To finish this off, simply pour your steamed milk on top of your espresso and some of the foam will naturally follow to top it off. If you have barista art skills, bring these to the party and give your little cortado a pattern! 

Cortado Compared to Other Coffee Drinks

Whilst cortados have become very popular espresso based coffee drinks, there are also a number of other coffees that use steamed milk to create an espresso and milk delight!  


A macchiato is actually very similar to a cortado. Where a cortado uses a 1:1 ratio of espresso to steamed milk, and just a dash of foam on top, a macchiato is simply an espresso shot, topped with a splash of steamed milk or foam on top. 

This makes a macchiato even stronger and more intense than a cortado. 

Flat White

A flat white is usually considered pretty similar to a cortado. The flat white is often thought of as the ‘baby latte’ due to the lower volume of steamed milk and foam used to make it. 

The main difference between a flat white and a cortado is the volume and texture of the milk used. A flat white tends to be served in a 6 oz cup, whereas a cortado tends to be served in a 4 oz cup. What’s more, a cortado uses only lightly steamed milk, whereas a flat white (much like a latte) uses more heavily steamed and frothed milk, which includes micro foam bubbles. 

This gives the flat white a creamier, thicker mouthfeel compared to the cortado, and also makes the cortado much stronger to taste than a flat white. A cortado sits between a macchiato and a latte in terms of strength and volume of milk used.  


A cortado differs from a cappuccino due to its much lower volume of steamed milk, as well as the less frothy texture. Cortados use milk that is steamed for a much shorter time. A cortado is also made up of a double espresso and an equal volume of lightly steamed milk, giving it a stronger flavor and a less silky smooth texture compared to a cappuccino. 

Different Cortado Types

Whilst the step by step recipe above gives you an idea of how to make a traditional cortado, below are a number of variations according to the Cortado Wikipedia page

Cuban Cortadito

The most common variation of the traditional cortado is the Cuban Cortadito. Since the cortado originated in Spain but then popularised in Cuba, the Cortadito has become a staple in Cuban culture. 

The Cuban Cortadito uses steamed, sweetened condensed milk as opposed to regular milk. This gives the cortadito a much sweeter flavor, as well as a thicker, creamier texture. 

Leche y Leche

A further variation to the cortado is the Leche y Leche. This drink comes again from South America and features a double espresso, topped with condensed milk, (which is mixed into the espresso), and topped with whipped cream. 


Finally, another take on the traditional cortado comes from Australia. The Piccolo is a small coffee consisting of a ristretto (or concentrated shot) of espresso, topped with latte style steamed milk. Again, this is served in a smaller macchiato glass so tends to be a little stronger than a traditional cortado. 


Overall, a cortado is a small but mighty espresso based drink that promises to add a creamy smoothness to an otherwise bitter or harsh double espresso. Since the cortado uses only lightly steamed milk, it tends to be less thick or creamy compared to its flat white or latte counterparts. 

A cortado has a rich history and can be enjoyed through a range of variations. It is a short, sharp espresso drink that will give you a much needed pick me up in a jiffy! 

Related Questions  

Is Cortado Stronger than Coffee? 

A cortado is usually made using a small amount (approx 2 oz) or lightly steamed milk, which sits on top of a double shot of espresso. Therefore, a cortado tends to be much stronger than a regular cup of coffee, due to the intense taste and lack of additional water or milk. 

What is the Difference Between a Latte and a Cortado? 

A latte uses a higher volume of milk than a cortado, and the milk also tends to be steamed for longer, giving it a thicker, smoother and creamier texture. The milk used for a latte has more micro bubbles in it, due to the longer aeration time. 

Is a Cortado the Same as a Flat White?

No, a cortado uses less milk than a flat which, and the milk used for a cortado is also steamed for a shorter period of time. This makes a cortado stronger, thinner and less textured than a flat white. 

Is a Cortado 1 or 2 Shots of Espresso?

A cortado is made from a double shot of espresso, rather than a single shot. This is what gives it its characteristic strength and flavor. 

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