What is a Cortado

What is a Cortado? Plus a Recipe on How to Make One

The Cortado coffee has started to surge in popularity recently. It has now started to appear on ‘specialty’ coffee menus around the world. So, what is a Cortado?

I did some research on this unique coffee drink and have come up with a guide that is perfect for beginners and anyone else who is interested in learning more about what a cortado is and a recipe on how to make one.

There is a lot of curiosity out there on what is the best recipe to make a cortado and what coffee equipment is needed. We are going to provide you with all the answers that you need on this page!

What is a Cortado?

A Cortado is a coffee drink that is an even mixture of espresso and lightly steamed milk. It comes from the Spanish word “cortar” which means to cut.

Before we dive into the intricacies of the history of Cortado, and perhaps more importantly, how you can make one yourself, we do want to give you a brief overview of what Cortado is.

The Cortado coffee originated in the Basque Country of Spain, although has spread throughout the world and is now available in a variety of different ‘styles’. However at its core and originally is a coffee made with a 1 to 1 ratio of espresso to milk.

The Cortado is perfect for those who love their coffee but want to cut back on the acidity and bitterness of the drink a little. The steamed milk helps to even out the taste while, at the same time, ensuring the drink is not ‘overly milky’ like some of the Italian options you may find on your local coffee shops menu.

Unlike a lot of the more popular coffee drinks, the Cortado doesn’t originate in Italy. Instead, it comes to the Basque region of Spain. We aren’t quite sure of the exact time period that the Cortado started to be served in Spain, but we do know that the coffee eventually spread throughout Portugal. It then ended up in Cuba through Spanish immigration.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the drink started to appear in the United States. It was brought over by Cuban immigrants. The Cortado is probably one of the most commonly ordered coffee drinks in Little Havana, Miami. Although, it has recently started to gain popularity throughout the rest of the United States too, with many coffee shops including it on their specialty drinks menu.

So, what about the origins of the name? Well, that is all rooted in the Spanish language. The verb ‘cortar’ means ‘to dilute’. If you know your Spanish grammar, then you will know that this can be turned into ‘Cortado’ if you switch to the past test. This means that the drink is named after the process e.g. the dilution of coffee with a bit of milk.

How To Make a Cortado

It is worth noting that there are several different ‘styles’ of the Cortado now. However, the vast majority of them will boil down to it being an espresso shot with some steamed milk added.


  • Espresso Machine
  • Steamed milk
  • Small Ceramic Cup

Step By Step Brewing Instructions

Step 1

Weight out and Grind 20g of coffee finely into the portafilter.

Step 2

Using slight pressure, “tamp” the ground coffee in the portafilter making sure the coffee is evenly distributed

Step 3

Fix the portafilter in place into the espresso machine and extract 2 (double) shots of espresso.

Step 4

Using the steam wand on your espresso machine, steam your milk of choice. The most popular choice is whole, but whatever you prefer. For example; if you want your drink a bit closer to Cuban style than Spanish and Portuguese style, then you may want to use condensed milk. However, I would suggest that you make Cortado the ‘traditional’ way first. That way you can get a taste of what it is meant to be like.

Step 5

After steaming the milk, pour it into the cup with the expresso making sure to keep to a 1 to 1 ratio.

How to Drink a Cortado

How to make a cortado

The Cortado is a small drink, so you don’t want a massive mug for this. A small glass is fantastic for a Cortado.Start by putting your espresso shots into your glass. You should be using two at the maximum. We would never recommend more than using 2 espresso shots at once.

They are very powerful in terms of taste and contain a lot of caffeine. More than two could cause some issues. Now, add your milk. Since the whole Cortado drink is based on a 1:1 ratio with the coffee, then you should be using the same amount of milk as you have used espresso.

You do not need to measure this out accurately, just try and get as close as you possibly can. There is no need to stir anything. Your Cortado has now been fully prepared! Enjoy your drink.

Best Coffee to Use For a Cortado

Of course, make sure that you use the best-quality coffee that you can afford and grind the beans yourself (very finely). The coffee you choose is very much going to be a personal preference. However, as with most espresso-based drinks, you are going to want to ensure that you use a thicker-tasting coffee, for example a coffee from Brazil.

Don’t go for something that is packed to the brim with complex flavors. The drink won’t work quite as well. You still want that hint of coffee inside of the drink. If you use a delicately flavored coffee, for example a Ethiopia, then you would end up with something that tastes more like milk than anything else. That isn’t what the Cortado is about.

Cortado Variations

The recipe above will make a ‘basic Cortado’. However, there are variations in which you can spice up the taste a little bit. For example; some people will change up the type of milk that they use.

This can have a drastic impact on the taste, particularly since milk is a major component of the drink. Unlike in other coffees, the milk is not going to play second fiddle to the coffee. They are in this together.

Some people may also enjoy adding a drop or two of honey into the mix (or some other form of sweetener). This, once again, can drastically change up the taste of your Cortado.

If you want to get more Portuguese with your drink, then you could even use a bit more milk. The ratio for the Galao that we mentioned previously will be one part coffee to three parts steamed milk. It isn’t a ‘true’ Cortado, but some people may enjoy this if the whole reason they are drinking Cortado in the first place is that they are not a fan of the acidity of coffee.

I suggest you try it the normal way first, though. If you make it properly, this is a delightful drink.