What is Cortado Coffee?

The Cortado is an espresso coffee drink, cut with a small amount of steamed milk. Originating from Spain, this drink is becoming a popular choice in cafes around the world. It shares characteristics with the Flat White and Macchiato, so it’s useful to understand the subtle differences that may just mean it edges out some of your favourite coffee drinks next time you order a coffee.

The steamed milk should create micro-foam that doesn’t separate from the espresso shot, unlike many other milk-based coffee drinks. The milk is simply used to reduce some of the acidity from the espresso here, or in the past was to be just enough to sweeten heavy, bitter espresso. In very authentic Spanish cafes, you may also be able to pick how you take your milk – very hot, hot, cold, or even using condensed milk.

Differences between Cortado and your other favourite coffee drinks

Although it’d be useful if all cafes and coffee shops used the exact same measurements when serving drinks, the truth is, all milk-based coffees can vary dramatically from one café to another. Often, the size and amount of milk added can vary quite considerably, meaning a Cortado in one café can be served differently in another.

Large coffee chains tend to add a lot more milk to their drinks as well as serving them in much larger cups compared to specialty coffee shops. This can sometimes mean people are surprised when they visit a specialty coffee shop and order the same drink to find it is served in a much smaller cup.

In the case of a Cortado, it is a small drink traditionally, so don’t order one if you’re looking for a large quantity of coffee.

With a ratio of espresso to milk of 1:1, this espresso-based coffee drink is nestled somewhere between the Flat White and Macchiato. For some, the silky steamed milk helps provide the perfect balance between milk and espresso. The milk doesn’t overpower the espresso and allows the unique character of a speciality coffee to really shine through.

Cortado Vs Flat White

The Flat White is becoming a staple in cafes all over the world now. Originating from Australia (or New Zealand, depending on who you talk to), the Flat White has become the favourite for people who want an espresso drink without the milk dominating the cup and flavour.

A Cortado is smaller than a Flat White so it’ll provide a stronger taste. Think of dilution here – it isn’t only water that can dilute things. Milk dilutes coffee in the same way, but offers its own flavour too.

Cortado Vs Macchiato

The Macchiato is an Italian classic – a shot of espresso with a spot of milk. It’s served in an espresso glass and is widely drank by those who want to enjoy the richness and flavour of an espresso, with a dash of milk to make it more palatable. Milk is sweet and fatty in composition, so it is used in these sorts of drinks for people who love the full bodied nature of an espresso but want the sharpness reduced slightly.

However, it’s also worth noting that an acidic espresso shot may be more about dialling in the coffee better or simply selecting a more suitable coffee blend. For many, the Macchiato will always be a favourite. However, if as a consumer you are adding milk to mitigate the effect of acidity in espresso, perhaps look to choose a less acidic coffee to gain a more palatable result that needs no rebalancing. A good example might be a coffee of predominantly chocolatey or nutty flavours, for example our Brazilian single origin, the Rainha de Paz.

Something we feel very passionately about here at North Star Coffee is the ability to source and roast coffee to celebrate all the beautiful flavours and nuances coffee offers. This means we can help you select the perfect coffee depending on your preferences.

How to Make a Cortado

Due to a Cortado being an espresso-based drink, it is more associated with cafes than a style of coffee drunk at home. Nevertheless, for those lucky enough to own an espresso machine at home, or for any budding baristas out there, we asked one of Leeds’ top baristas, Rob Gordon, to take us through the steps to make a Cortado.

1. Make an Espresso Shot

  • Clean & dry your group handle & filter basket to prepare for dosing your ground coffee.
  • Dose your coffee according to the capacity of your filter basket.
  • Distribute & settle the coffee evenly in the filter basket.
  • Use a vertical motion to tamp the coffee down, until it stops giving way under pressure.
  • Flush water through the grouphead to prepare the group for brewing.
  • Gently insert the group handle & start brewing.
  • Time & weigh the brew, stopping in line with your recipe (a traditional cortado would be of 1:1 ratio, so perhaps 40ml coffee to 40ml milk)

2. Steam Milk

  • Fill your pitcher with milk (or a milk-alternative).
  • Purge the steam wand.
  • Stretch (aerate) and texture (emulsify) the milk.
  • Touch the pitcher to check the temperature.
  • Tap out any trapped air bubbles and swirl the steamed milk around to get ready to pour over your espresso shot.
  • **Tip – Consciously add less foam than for other steamed milk drinks, as a Cortado is served in a small glass.

3. Pour Milk and Serve

  • Pour the milk over your espresso shot (pre-measure the milk – it’s very difficult to accurately add the correct amount of milk for your 1:1 ratio).
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at some artwork in the milk.

Best Coffee to Use for a Cortado

The quality of a Cortado is largely dependent on the coffee beans used, and the standard of the barista. As the offee beans will play a defining part in the tastes and flavours that come through in your Cortado, it’s important to select appropriate coffee beans for this type of drink.

To get started, try using coffees that have chocolatey and nutty profiles, such as our house blend or the Brazilian coffee mentioned above.  This type of coffee will provide a richness and full bodied coffee that’ll ensure your Cortado doesn’t disappoint.

A Cortado is crafted from an espresso shot, so selecting a coffee that delivers a great espresso is often the best way to go. Think heavy-bodied coffees other than delicately flavoured ones, as these flavours will quickly be altered or subdued in a little milk.

Fruity coffees often don’t pair as well with milk based coffee drinks as they can appear more sour. These types of coffees are much more suited to brew methods like the V60 or Chemex.

Creating the perfect espresso shot is both a science and an art, so if you’re needing help understanding how to effectively produce better espresso shots, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our dedicated Coffee Academy was created for the very purpose of helping those who love coffee get more out of it.

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