The cortado is a popular choice on cafe and coffee shop menus around the world. Plus, with a decent espresso machine, it's also a drink you can make at home. But what is a cortado coffee, and what's so great about it? Should you choose it over a cappuccino or a macchiato? This guide will give you the low-down on this favourite coffee drink, where it comes from, and how to make it.
What Is a Cortado?
A cortado is a coffee that originates in Spain - in the northern Basque Country, in fact. A cortado is an espresso drink made with a one-to-one ratio of coffee and milk, and typically with little froth. It's a small drink, usually served with one shot of espresso and an equal amount of milk, or sometimes even a little less milk. "Cortado" means to cut and refers to the milk cutting through the espresso to balance it out.
While this is the traditional version of a cortado coffee that you will find in Spain, you can often find slightly different versions in other places. So if you've had it in a cafe, it might not have been served in the exact traditional way.
The Difference Between Cortado and Other Coffees
It's not always easy to tell the difference between different coffee drinks. When you hear what makes one drink different from another, it's often hard not to think "isn't that the same as a …?"
With a cortado, it's pretty easy to see where it differs from a lot of popular coffees, and that's in the milk. There's a lot less milk in a cortado compared to a latte or a cappuccino. One coffee that is slightly easier to confuse with a cortado is a macchiato. Both are small drinks and have about the same ratio of espresso to milk. However, they're not exactly the same drink. While a macchiato has frothy milk, the milk in a cortado coffee is lightly textured. A macchiato sometimes has less milk than espresso too.
History of the Cortado
Where does the cortado come from, and how did it come to be? As mentioned before, the cortado originates in the Basque Country in Spain. It originated as a black coffee with just a dash of milk but then people began serving it in coffee shops as an espresso with steamed milk. If you order a cortado from a cafe or coffee shop, you could find it interpreted in a variety of ways. Some people even say that a cortado coffee can be any size, as long the ratio of espresso to milk is 1:1. You could travel around the world or even just visit some different cafes in one country or town, and find that there are several ways people might make a cortado. However, if you want it made in a particular way, you usually only have to ask.
How to Make a Cortado
Of course, the best way to get a cortado made exactly how you like it is to make it yourself. Being able to make a cortado coffee at home means that you can make one for yourself whenever you want. And if you already have an espresso machine, you're already halfway to making a good cortado.
What you need:
- Espresso machine (with a steam wand)
- Espresso grinder
- A good espresso coffee
A cortado coffee is pretty simple at its heart, but it's still useful to know what step you should take to make one. Once you know how to make it, experimenting with different beans and perhaps adjusting the milk to coffee ratio can help you to perfect it to your liking.
Make the espresso
You'll want to make about 30-40ml of espresso for your cortado. Of course, you could make more if you wanted to. The important part is that you have equal parts milk. After grinding your chosen coffee, make your espresso by cleaning and drying the group handle and then dosing the coffee, settling and distributing it so it's even. Tamper your coffee until it stops giving way, then insert the group handle and brew your coffee. Time your brew to give you your desired amount of espresso.
Steam the milk
Cortado coffee is made with lightly textured, steamed milk. Fill your pitcher with milk, or perhaps a non-dairy milk alternative if that's what you prefer. Purge your steam wand, then aerate and emulsify your milk. Check the temperature by touching your pitcher (or use a thermometer) and then tap any trapped air bubbles out. You should make sure your cortado doesn't have a lot of froth.
Serve in the right cup
Measure out the amount of milk you want - this will make it easier to get the ratio right - and pour it over your espresso shot. What cup or glass should you use for a cortado? It's up to you, but you'll want to pick something that's just big enough for your coffee. Some people prefer a cup, while others like a glass such as a Gibraltar glass. You can even get glasses made to be the perfect size for a cortado.
The Best Coffee for a Cortado
If you want to make the perfect cortado, your choice of coffee is going to make a difference. Here at Horsham Coffee Roaster, we have an excellent range of coffees to help you make the perfect espresso for your cortado. So what coffee should you choose for your cortado?
Coffees with nutty or chocolatey notes are a great choice for your cortado. Something like our Nova Espresso Blend, with its dark chocolate, nuts, and caramel notes, or our Peruvian Organic Decaf Coffee will make an excellent option to experiment with when you make your first cortados. An espresso shot is the basis of a cortado, so it makes sense to choose a coffee that makes a good espresso.
A cortado coffee might be simple, but it's beautiful in its simplicity. It could soon be one of your favourite drinks if it isn't already.