Call Us at +1 (302) 208-9293

Need Help?
Call Us at +1 (302) 208-9293

What Is a Cortado Coffee & How To Make It?

Published on:

A cortado is a Spanish coffee drink with equal parts of espresso and steamed milk. It’s served in a small glass and has a strong coffee flavor with a hint of sweetness from the milk. Keep reading to learn more.

As a coffee enthusiast, I want to know everything about various types of coffee drinks. That led me to write about cortado drinks.

Here’s what I’ll go over:

Let’s get this show on the road.

Key Takeaways

  • Cortados have equal parts espresso and steamed milk; 2 shots espresso and 2 oz of milk.
  • Cortados are always 4 ounces; there’s no large or small versions of this drink.
  • It doesn’t matter whether you froth or steam milk for cortados.
  • You don’t need to worry about the milk texture for this drink.
  • The founding date and first person to make it are unknown.

What Is a Cortado?

TasteRich, creamy, balanced
Mouth feelSilky, creamy, balanced
Caffeine level128 mg

A cortado is a drink from Spain that has equal amounts of espresso and steamed milk. It uses a 1:1 espresso-to-milk ratio [1]. The milk in this drink isn’t as frothy and texturized as in other beverages (e.g., latte).

You only should steam it long enough to where the milk heats up. No need to do any fancy texturing.

It doesn’t matter what type of milk you use in a cortado. Its purpose is to balance your drink’s sweetness.

There’s a single size for a cortado, and that’s 4 ounces. Because how else would you get equal parts espresso and steamed milk without having a drink that’s overly caffeinated?

That means avoid ordering mini or large sizes when going to coffee shops and cafés. 

The word “cortado,” in Spanish, is the past participle of the verb “to cut.” In this scenario, we’re talking about cutting, or diluting, espresso with steamed milk to reduce its bitter taste.

There’s more than one type of cortado-like drink, though. Let’s check out their variations.

Variations of the Cortado

Here are the variations you’ll find for cortados:

  • Gibraltar: 1:1 milk and espresso ratio, but cup size doesn’t matter.
  • Piccolo: The same drink, but piccolo has more textured milk.
  • Noisette: Espresso with a teaspoon of milk.
  • Cortado Condensada: Uses condensed milk instead of steamed milk.
  • Leche Y Leche: An ounce of steamed/frothed milk, espresso, and an ounce of condensed milk.
  • Cortadito: Steamed milk, sugar, and espresso.

I’ll provide more details for each drink variation throughout the following sections.

Let’s dive in.

1. Gibraltar

It originated in San Francisco at Blue Bottle Coffee Company. The difference between the cortado and Gibraltar is that you’d serve the latter based on the proportions of the cup size.

For instance, you’d pour a double shot of espresso into a tall glass, then fill the rest of it with steamed milk. Some folks may say there aren’t differences between these drinks, but by definition, they’re technically different [2].

A Gibraltar is also different because it generally has a more velvety and richer texture due to all the added milk. However, this texture will vary based on the cup size used.

2. Piccolo

Australia’s piccolo uses a 1:1 espresso-to-milk ratio, but the milk has more texture. And with the piccolo, it doesn’t matter what cup size you used.

3. Noisette

There’s also the noisette, which means “hazelnut” in French. The name describes the drink’s hazelnut color due to adding a dash—or teaspoon—of hot frothed milk to an espresso shot. It adds sweetness to espresso without overpowering it with sweetness like the cortado may do.

4. Cortado Condensada

I almost forgot to add the cortado condensada. If you haven’t guessed, it’s 2 shots of espresso with steamed condensed milk instead of whole or nut milk. Using this milk makes your drink a bit denser and sweeter.

5. Leche Y Leche

The Leche Y Leche retains a 1:1 ratio of espresso and milk but uses 2 types of milk; hot and condensed. You’d layer this drink by adding an ounce of condensed milk to the bottom, then your espresso shot, and the hot steamed or frothed milk on top.

In Spanish, the usage of 2 “leche” means there are a couple milk types in your coffee.

6. Cortadito

Cuba’s version of the cortado whips sugar in a single shot of espresso. Afterward, you’d add condensed milk. All of which makes this drink very sweet with a carmel(ish) taste.

Let’s learn how to make an actual cortado.

How to Make a Cortado

Ratio: 1:1; 2 shots espresso-to-2 ounces steamed or frothed milk

Time to make: 2–3 min.

Equipment needed:

What a cortado is made out of:

  • Coffee beans: 18–20 grams (finely ground, espresso grind)
    • Best type of roast for cortado: Balanced medium or dark
    • How many espresso shots are in a cortado: 2 shots
  • Softened water: enough to fill the espresso machine’s water reservoir, usually 1–2 liters
  • 2 ounces of milk
    • Whole milk will give you the best flavor.
    • Oat milk is the best dairy-free alternative.

Steps to make a cortado:

  1. Prepare the espresso
  2. Froth the milk: Heat the milk until it reaches boiling temperature (around 150 °F).
    • If using a milk frother, submerge the frother below the surface of the milk and turn it on until the milk is frothy and has doubled in volume.
    • If using a handheld whisk, vigorously whisk the milk in a bowl until it becomes frothy.
  3. Pour the frothed milk: Gently pour the frothed milk into the espresso, aiming for a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk.
    • Start by pouring the liquid portion of the frothed milk, then gently spoon a dollop of froth on top to create a distinctive two-layered effect.

It doesn’t matter whether you froth or steam the milk. As texture isn’t a factor that’ll make or break your cortado. If you’re using something like a Nespresso and don’t have a milk frother or steam wand, we have a guide that’ll teach you how to froth milk without a frother.

Are there any benefits to drinking this specific beverage?

Health Benefits of the Cortado

Here are the health benefits you may see with drinking cortados in moderation.

1. Antioxidant Potential

Coffee, including espresso, is a rich source of antioxidants like ferulic. Such antioxidants have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial activity, and anti-diabetic properties. They could also slow the aging process that’s responsible for wrinkles and age spots [3].

2. Digestive Support

Studies suggest that coffee stimulates the production of stomach acid, which can aid in digestion [4]. The steamed milk in a cortado may also help ease stomach upset and heartburn.

3. Bone Health

Studies suggest that moderate coffee consumption may be associated with reduced bone loss and a lower risk of osteoporosis. That’s because a study performed found that folks who habitually drank coffee had more bone mass than non-coffee drinkers [5].

The espresso component of a cortado could contribute to these benefits.

4. Heart Health

Moderate coffee consumption has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in coffee may contribute to these benefits. So long as you don’t drink too much coffee.

5. Mental Alertness and Mood Enhancement

Caffeine can enhance mental alertness, improve concentration, and promote a sense of well-being. The moderate caffeine content of a cortado may provide these benefits without overstimulation.

There aren’t any specific health benefits to drinking cortados. All the benefits would share that which comes from coffee or milk. Since that’s all this drink is.

Where does this drink come from?

History of the Cortado

It’s unknown what time period the cortado was introduced in Spain, but we know it was during or before the 20th century. Not very specific. However, we do know it originated from the Basque region in Spain.

After its introduction, its popularity spread throughout the Iberian Peninsula and ended up in Portugal, then to Latin American countries. And toward the end of the 20th century, the drink’s popularity spread throughout the word.

But where in the world can you get it?

Where to Order a Cortado

I couldn’t find any other major chains than Starbucks that serve cortados. Despite me saying they only come in 4-ounce cups, Starbucks serves theirs in a 6-ounce cup. They don’t specify whether the cup is full nor how much milk they use.

I’d imagine that not all Starbucks locations may have cortados. Since menu items vary by location.

Otherwise, check local cafés, coffee shops, and coffee drive-throughs to see whether they serve cortados.

You won’t want to confuse the cortado with other coffee drinks. Thus, you should learn the differences between it and other espresso-based drinks.

Cortado vs. Other Coffee Drinks

Let’s compare cortados to other similar espresso-based drinks:

DrinkRatioCaffeine Content *
Cortado1:1; espresso-foamed milk128 mg
Flat White1:2; espresso-steamed milk205+ mg
Latte1:3; espresso-steamed milk63–175 mg
Piccolo1:1; espresso-steamed milk205+ mg
Macchiato1:2; frothed milk-espresso63–90 mg

* Caffeine content may vary by coffee bean type used.

The following sections will compare the differences with cortados and other types of espresso drinks. I’ll talk about where all these drinks differ in foam, flavor, and texture. Then, I’ll provide more in-depth information about their differences if necessary.

Let’s dive in.

1. Cortado vs. Flat White

  • Foam: Flat white has less foam.
  • Flavor: Flat white has a milder flavor.
  • Texture: Cortado has a thicker texture.

Since flat whites use more milk than cortados, they have a slightly milder flavor. And due to the added milk, it doesn’t taste as bitter. Meanwhile, they have a thin layer of foam on top, and you’d typically serve them in a larger class.

Here’s a drink you may find yourself more familiar with.

2. Cortado vs. Latte

  • Foam: A latte has more foam.
  • Flavor: Lattes have a milder flavor.
  • Texture: A latte is lighter and airier.

The milk in a latte is typically foamed, which gives the drink a light and airy texture. They’re also served in a tall glass and have a milder coffee flavor than cortados due to the high ratio of steamed milk.

You might not know this next one, but it’s an idea for a drink to make later on.

3. Cortado vs. Piccolo

  • Foam: Piccolo has less foam.
  • Flavor: Piccolo has a milder flavor.
  • Texture: Piccolo is silkier.

A piccolo is an Australian drink that’s made with a shot of espresso and more steamed milk. You’d serve it in a glass that’s slightly larger than a cortado glass and has a milder coffee flavor than a cortado.

The main difference between the piccolo is that it has a more texturized milk.

Here’s one more drink.

4. Cortado vs. Macchiato

  • Foam: Cortado has less foam.
  • Flavor: Macchiato has a more intense flavor.
  • Texture: A macchiato is airy; a cortado is velvety.

Macchiatos have a lower milk content, typically just a dollop or thin layer of foamed milk added on top of an espresso shot. This results in a more intense espresso flavor, with the foamed milk adding a subtle hint of sweetness and a light, airy texture.

And that’s all. Thanks for reading.


A cortado is a Spain-based drink that uses equal parts steamed or frothed milk and a double shot of espresso. It’s a great drink for anyone who wants to make their espresso a bit sweeter. If the milk is too overpowering, try a noisette.
Learn about other types of coffee drinks by checking out guides we wrote about other espresso-based beverages.

Photo of author


Tim Lee is, as you might have guessed the founder of He is a former barista and a professional web publisher. He has now combined his knowledge and expertise in both subjects to create
flow control espresso machines
how many scoops of coffee per cup
what espresso machine does starbucks use
espresso grinder vs. coffee grinder which do i need
why do espresso machines have 2 spouts
how to clean a mahlkonig coffee espresso grinder

Leave a Comment