What is a Cortado

What is a Cortado? An Espresso Based Drink You Should Know

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 Cortado? Where did it come from? How is it different from other coffee drinks?

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

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 ?

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.

History of the Cortado

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.

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. For example; many Cubans love to drink the Cortadito, which is made in the same way as the standard Cortado.

The difference is that condensed milk is used instead of fresh milk. In Portugal, they drink the Galao, which is roughly the same, just with a bit more milk added to the mix. This results in a larger, less-acidic drink.

Cortado Recipe

So, now that is all out of the way, how do you make a Cortado? Well, at the very minimum, you need to be able to do the following:

  • Make an espresso shot
  • Steam some milk

If you do not have the option to do either of these, then you are going to run into issues making a Cortado. If you can do them, then thankfully the task is going to be rather simple.

Type of Coffee to Use

This 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.

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. Don’t worry if you do not like those fuller-flavor coffees, because the quantity of milk that you are putting into your Cortado will tone it down considerably.

If you used a delicately flavored coffee, then you would end up with something that tastes more like milk than anything else. That isn’t what the Cortado is about.

Type of Milk to Use

Again, this is a personal preference. To get the full-flavor profile out of the Cortado, we suggest that you use full-fat milk. However, you could also experiment a little bit here.

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, we would always suggest that you make Cortado the ‘traditional’ way first. That way you can get a taste of what it is meant to be like.

Making the Espresso

If you have an espresso machine at home (or a machine capable of making an espresso), then this job is easy. Just follow the instructions for your espresso machine and you will end up with a delicious espresso.

Of course, make sure that you use the best-quality espresso coffee that you can afford (or grind the beans yourself very finely) if you want a great tasting Cortado.

If you do not have an espresso machine, then things become a whole lot more difficult. A standard filter or drip coffee machine isn’t going to make you an espresso.

This is because the whole taste of the espresso is going to come through water being forced at high pressure through fine coffee grains. A filter coffee machine will not do this. It just drips the water slowly, so you won’t get anything that even comes close to the taste of an espresso.

Using a Moka Pot

The closest you are going to get to espresso without a machine is by using a Moka Pot. Some people will use a French Press, but this is going to give you ‘faux espresso’ because the pressure doesn’t get high enough.

This is what you need to brew espresso with a Moka Pot:

  1. Grind up your coffee beans fine, or purchase espresso coffee granules (these are finer than traditional coffee granules used in filter coffee machines)
  2. Add water to the water chamber of your Moka Pot. Do not fill beyond the steam valve.
  3. Add your slightly coarser the espresso coffee grindss to the coffee basket of the Moka Pot. You should not pack them too densely. If you do, water won’t pass through the coffee grounds easily. This can ruin your espresso.
  4. After you have put your water and coffee into your Moka Pot, connect everything up and put the Moka Pot on low heat. The key to a good espresso is to ensure that you are not heating the Moka Pot too quickly. Slow and steady wins the race here. You may need to adjust the heat several times throughout the brewing process. This is something that you will need to learn to do overtime. You will get an eye for when the heat is too low or too high, and that is something that only comes with experience.
  5. Over time, the water will be forced up through the coffee and go into the collection chamber. The brewing of your espresso will be complete just before the coffee starts to come out the top of the spout. You must take the coffee off the stove before this happens. If you don’t, then you will find that the espresso doesn’t taste ‘quite right’.

Steaming the Milk

If you have an espresso machine with a milk wand attached (or you have a separate wand), then this job is easy. Plunge the wand into the milk and steam away. The wand must be fully submerged in the milk. If you leave it too close to the top, you will get frothy milk. This isn’t good for a Cortado.

If you do not have a milk wand, then your best option is to put some milk into a saucepan and stick it on the stove. You can then beat it lightly with a whisk to create steamed milk. Don’t do it too hard, or the milk will become frothy.

There are other options available for steaming your milk, for example, a French Press, but most people should be fine with one of these two.

Preparing the Coffee

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.

Ways to Spice Up the Cortado

The recipe above will make a ‘basic Cortado’. However, there are ways 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.

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