What’s a Cortado?

by Ted Stachura

Recently a Coffee Review reader sent in a request that we post information on our website about cortado, a relatively obscure coffee beverage in North American cafés. I searched the reference pages, thinking some mention of it had to be buried in the “espresso cuisine” section. But no, no cortado was to be found.

Most serious coffee drinking café denizens are able to precisely define the differences between espresso and macchiato or latte and cappuccino without the blink of an eye. Cortado, on the other hand, is one of those second tier beverages like café con panna or an affogato. Sure, professional baristas will know what these are, but average coffee consumers are bound to draw a blank. By second tier I simply mean that these beverages are not often found on the menus of cafés in North America and therefore less frequently ordered, though they certainly have the potential to be delicious.

In Spanish, as in Portuguese, the word cortado translates to cut. In the case of the coffee drink, cortado is simply a serving of espresso that is cut with an equal part, or slightly more, hot milk. Typically a cortado is served in a small glass with very little, if any, froth. The cortado is common in Spain and Portugal as well as various Latin American countries. Naturally, alongside the diaspora of these cultures, cortado can be found in restaurants and cafes throughout the world.

Over the past half century, in the United States at least, coffee cup sizes have steadily crept up from six to eight ounces, then twelve to sixteen, and now twenty and even a mind boggling, heart pounding thirty ounces! Consumer demand and a desire for higher margins seem to be the drivers behind this escalation. In this climate, weighing in at about four ounces, little room is left for the diminutive cortado in most mainstream cafes.

Of course not all cafes fall into lock step with mainstream coffee trends, and recently there has been a small but distinct backlash against the “bigger is better” movement. You may recall the momentary flurry of media attention that Chicago based Intelligentsia received a couple of years ago when it decided to stop serving coffee in twenty ounce cups. An increasing number of cafes are focusing on a more basic, perhaps more traditional, assortment of coffee sizes. With ristretto shots of espresso and five ounce traditional cappuccinos, the humble cortado could fit quite comfortably on the menus of these cafes. In fact, it is increasingly available in select cafes but often served with more froth on top than a traditional cortado and occasionally with different names such as Piccolo or Gibraltar. Even when not listed, it is usually possible to order cortado off the menu.

This entry was written by:Ted Stachura and posted on Friday, June 18th, 2010 at 9:53 am and is filed under Espresso. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “What’s a Cortado?”

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  2. Jeanet Woolcott says:

    I love and miss the Cortado. In Peru it was the coffee beverage I ordered. The way it was served was in a small tall glass with very little froth if any. The flavor was deliciously strong and dark. Unfortunately, when I moved to the USA I couldn’t find Cortado anywhere.
    It is interesting how people get used to their new environment. Back in Peru, we knew the difference between coffee cups (very small) and tea cups; the latter ones became the choice of many coffee drinkers who preffered a bigger cup of coffee, which is very similar of how is served in the USA.
    After a couple of years of living in the USA, I took a trip to three European countries (not Spain) and whenever I ordered a cup of coffee they served it in a very small cup, more like an espresso. I appreciate different cultures, and this one reminded me of how coffee used to be served in my country of origin. Oh, and I got to drink a Cortado, what a treat!
    I believe that coffee is one of those beverages to be enjoyed slowly, and for me a 4 – 6oz cup will be more than enough.

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  5. andrea says:

    For a stretch of 5 years or so, I would spent 3 summer weeks traveling Spain; the cortado was one of the reliable pleasures there – and how I miss them! My recollection differs from some other posters’ descriptions here; I recall a deliciously ‘toasty’ espresso cut with a very small amount of steamed milk. (Sigh!)

  6. Dan K says:

    I was schooled by my favorite coffee shop (Ozo Coffee in Boulder, CO) when I ordered a macchiato and was served a cortado instead. It blew me away how good it was, the balance of milksweetness and their amazing 2012 blend (w Nekisee!). I went back and asked what was up with the drink and he explained the difference and gave me a macchiato to compare the flavor of the two. I will never order a macchiato again, and rarely a capp. either the flavor is soooo much more THERE! Of course, it does all depend on the barista’s abilities and the espresso they’re working with.

  7. Sebastián says:

    In Chile Cortado is almost the national coffee drink.
    The milk is exposed to very high temperature, over a hundred celsius degrees, too much.
    The milk create foam an liquid diferent than the capuccino preparation, the result it’s not very tasty compare to capuccino, it’s to hot and does not benefity the coffee flavor.

  8. Mike says:

    It’s been a few years…..I think I’ll go make one.

  9. First of all sorry for my english. ” Cortado ” is the spaniards national coffee beverage.Not as big as a ” cafe con leche” the quantity allows you to drink several ones during the day. The nearly equal proportion of espresso and milk gives athe consumer more coffee taste than the lattes.
    In Barcelona is served in porcelain cups bigger ( 90 ml. ) than a espresso cup. Great after meals for those who love coffee blended with milk. If it is properly prepared must have a spot of milk froth ( not a lot of great baristas here!). I can hear in our shops that foreigners apreciatte a lot this way of drinking coffee.
    Salvador Sans
    Cafes El Magnifico
    Barcelona ( Spain)

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