Cortado vs Latte: Which to Choose?
Both cortados and lattes are espresso-based drinks that contain luscious, creamy, steamed milk, with a touch of foam on top for good measure.
However, in this article, I will be focussing on the key differences between two of the most popular shot coffee drinks. The cortado and the latte may seem relatively similar on the face of it, but their size, volume of steamed milk and origins set them apart.
Both of these espresso-based drinks are very popular amongst coffee lovers, but for quite contrasting reasons. So, if you’ve ever wondered what the key differences are between a cortado and its bigger brother, the latte, you’ve come to the right place!
What’s the Difference Between a Cortado and a Latte?
The main difference between a cortado and a latte is the volume and texture of steamed milk used. Whilst both drinks start with a 2 oz double shot of freshly brewed espresso, a cortado is topped with an equal amount (1:1 ratio) of steamed milk. On the other hand, a latte contains around 6 oz of steamed milk, so is a considerably larger drink overall.
A cortado is a well-balanced coffee thanks to the use of steamed milk, foam, and espresso, whereas a latte is a longer, richer, and more milky coffee that is savored.
Both of these popular coffee drinks come from Europe but actually originate from different countries.
The latte originates from Italy and was brought into the mainstream in the mid-1800s. Whereas, the cortado comes from Spain (most likely Madrid), but was introduced to the masses in Cuba in the 1930s.
What is a Cortado?
A cortado is a small, espresso-based coffee that combines a double shot of espresso with an equal amount of lightly steamed milk, and a touch of foam to top it off.
A cortado is actually a Spanish coffee that is served in a small espresso cup. The lightly steamed milk in a cortado is added to reduce the acidity and bitterness of the espresso itself, but generally speaking, a cortado is drunk quite quickly, just like a shot of espresso.
The cortado is a creamy, well-balanced coffee that is somewhat similar to a flat white (often thought of as the ‘baby latte’), however, a cortado is actually stronger and more intense than a flat white. This makes the cortado perfect for the coffee enthusiast that wants to enjoy a strong espresso, with enough steamed milk to balance out the acidity and bitterness.
Where a Cortado Comes From
The cortado originated in Spain, although it is difficult to trace any specific historical record of when it was first invented. The Cortado was popularised back in the 1930s in Cuba, where it got its name.
The word cortado refers to the phrase “to cut” in Spanish, which insinuates that black espresso is cut with hot milk.
What a Cortado is
A cortado is a small, espresso-based drink that features roughly a 1:1 ratio of espresso and lightly steamed milk. This gives the cortado a smooth and creamy texture, but it still retains a strong espresso taste.
A small amount of residual foam is used to top the cortado, and this is where some light barista work and patterning can occur.
In terms of ingredients and construction, arguably the most closely related coffee to a cortado is a flat white.
I wrote an article explaining what a Cortado is and how to make one here, so if you are interested in giving it a go yourself from the comfort of your own home, check it out!
What is a Latte?
A latte is a very popular, traditional espresso-based drink that combines rich, espresso with a generous helping of steamed milk and a thin layer of foam for good measure.
Lattes are made up of a double espresso shot, combined with approximately 4 to 6 oz of steamed milk. A layer of foam is then nestled on top of this brew, which is typically formed into a pattern, called latte art.
Whole milk is usually used to make a traditional latte, but alternative ingredients can be used to add a bit of variety to the latte’s taste and texture. Many milk alternatives such as oat milk, soy milk, and almond milk can be used for those that are lactose intolerant or people that simply want an alternative flavor in their latte.
Iced lattes are also incredibly popular, substituting hot, steamed milk and foam for cold milk and ice cubes. Also, a “breve latte” can be made using half and half (a combination of whole milk and heavy cream) rather than regular milk.
Where a Latte Comes From
The common term for latte did not come into the mainstream until the mid-1800s. According to the Wikipedia page for the latte, the first reference to Caffe e latte came in the essay “Italian Journeys” by William Dean Howells.
What a Latte is
A latte is a milky, rich, and velvety smooth coffee-based drink that is one of the most popular forms of milky coffee in the world. People love the natural sweetness and nuttiness that comes from heating up the milk, as it pairs so well with the earthiness and smokiness of a strong double espresso.
I wrote an article explaining what a latte is and how to make one here, so if you are interested in giving it a go yourself from the comfort of your own home, check it out!
The Similarities Between a Cortado and a latte: Explained
Despite cortados and lattes being different sizes and hailing from different countries, there are actually a number of similarities between these two espresso-based drinks.
Both Use a Double Shot of Espresso
Since both a cortado and latte contain steamed milk and foam, there has to be an element of bold, coffee flavor to stand up to that nutty, creamy dairy. Therefore, both cortados and lattes use a double shot of espresso to create a well-balanced blend of bitter, bold coffee along with plenty of delicious steamed milk to offset this.
Both Use Hot, Steamed Milk
Compared to bold, strong coffees like macchiatos and espresso shots, both cortados and lattes are creamier, less intense, and milkier. The use of hot milk rather than cold milk makes both the cortado and the latte naturally sweeter and smoother, as streaming the milk incorporates microfoam (tiny bubbles) into the drink. This is what gives both the cortado and the latte their characteristically silky textures.
Cortados and Lattes Only Have a Thin Layer of Foam
You may think of a milky coffee as having a big, thick layer of foam that will give you a creamy mustache every time you take a sip! Whilst this may well be the case with a cappuccino, which contains around 2 to 3 oz of foam per serving, this is not necessarily the case with a cortado or latte.
Both of these drinks only contain a thin layer of foam on top of the steamed milk, meaning latte art is a lot easier to produce. The thin layer of foam also makes it easier to drink a cortado or a latte more quickly!
The Differences Between a Cortado and a Latte: Explained
So, here are the main differences between a cortado and a latte. Whilst they both contain a double shot of espresso and steamed milk, there are actually a number of differences that separate them!
A Latte is Larger than a Cortado
Naturally, since a latte contains the same 2 oz double shot of espresso but significantly more steamed milk, it is a larger drink than a cortado. This makes it less intense and less acidic but creamier with a smoother texture.
A Cortado Comes from Spain, Whereas a Latte Comes from Italy
You may think that the majority of coffee drinks come from Italy, and whilst this is the case for the latte, it is not for the cortado!
The cortado was first drunk in Spain, and it was later brought into the mainstream in Cuba around the 1930s.
Cortados are Much Stronger than Lattes
Due to the fact that a cortado contains a lot less milk than a latte, but still contains the same double shot of espresso, a cortado tastes a lot stronger than a latte. You can really taste the dark, earthiness of the espresso in a cortado a lot more clearly than you can in a latte.
Lattes Tend to Take Longer to Drink
Because a latte has a richer texture and simply a greater volume of liquid, it is generally enjoyed as a longer drink compared to a cortado.
Cortados are More Acidic than Lattes
Since a cortado contains less milk to offset the acidity of the espresso compared to a latte, it is a more acidic drink. However, both of these coffee-based drinks use milk to reduce the bitterness and acidity of the espresso shot, which makes them more appealing to a wider audience.
So, Which Should You Choose?
So, cortado or latte, which should you pick?
Well, if you love the intensity of a double shot of espresso, but want a small amount of steamed milk to just take the edge off of the bitterness and acidity of the hot java, then a cortado would suit you down to the ground. The velvety smooth texture of the hot, steamed milk pairs brilliantly with the intensity of a double shot of espresso, making the cortado a very well-balanced drink.
On the other hand, if you like coffee but want a bit more variety in your morning cup of joe, along with a creamier, smoother texture and a less intense flavor, a latte would suit you better. Lattes can be customized in a number of different ways and there are plenty of latte alternatives if you are bored of the regular version of the drink.
Overall, both cortados and lattes are incredibly popular in the coffee world for good reason. Whilst there are a number of similarities between these two espresso-based drinks, ultimately they are aimed at slightly different audiences.
Where a cortado appeals to a coffee lover on the move, that wants to experience that classic intensity of a double espresso shot whilst also having a touch of creamy steamed milk to top it off, a latte lover tends to want to relax and savor the moment.
Why is a Cortado Smaller than a Latte?
A cortado contains a double shot of espresso and an equal measurement of steamed milk. With this in mind, a cortado is usually served in a 4 oz cup, whereas a latte is much milkier coffee, containing a double shot of espresso topped with around 5-6 oz of steamed milk and foam. This means a latte is served in a larger cup.
What is a Piccolo?
A piccolo latte is a small coffee that is most closely related to a flat white. The piccolo has been popularised in Australia and contains a single shot of ristretto espresso, rather than the double shot of regular espresso that is found in both the cortado and latte.
Is a Cortado the Same as a Flat White?
A cortado is not the same as a flat white. Whilst a flat white is also a smaller version of a latte, it contains around double the amount of steamed milk as a cortado, and is, therefore, less intense.
What is the Difference Between a Cortado, a Cappuccino, and a Flat White?
Cortados and flat whites are relatively similar to each other when compared to a cappuccino. A cortado is the most intense drink of the trio, containing a 1:1 ratio of steamed milk to espresso. A flat white is slightly more diluted, containing around double the volume of steamed milk as a cortado, but still the same double shot of espresso at its base. Whereas, a cappuccino is a much less intense coffee-based drink. It contains around ⅓ espresso, ⅓ steamed milk, and ⅓ foam, and is usually served in anything between an 8 oz and 10 oz cup.
Does a Cortado or a Latte Contain More Caffeine?
Since both a cortado and a latte are made using the same double shot of espresso, there is no difference in the amount of caffeine that each drink has. However, because a cortado contains less milk than a latte, it will taste stronger and more intense, despite containing the same amount of coffee itself.