Remeber when no one knew what a flat white was? Thanks to the popularity of international coffee drinks coming to the US, a Spanish coffee creation is gaining traction in the states. You may have heard it ordered in your local cafe, but have been too afraid to ask—what is a cortado? 

The Recipe

tea, coffee, espresso, milk, cappuccino
Alex Weiner

It doesn't get much simpler than a cortado. It's made by combining an equal amount of espresso and steamed milk, usually using one shot of espresso and an equal amount of milk. Some cafes may use slightly more milk than espresso or serve you a doppio with an equal amount of milk to make the drink a bit larger.  

Traditionally, cortados are served in small cups made of glass or metal rather than a ceramic cup. Even at Starbucks, the only size option for a cortado is the short. It's a deviation from the typical coffee shop beverage, coming in a small size with no added sugars or flavors. This drink is meant to be sipped slowly and enjoyed as part of a relaxing morning. 

Why the Name?

coffee, espresso, milk, cappuccino
Kelsey Emery

Cortado comes from the Spanish word cortar, which means "to cut." The steamed milk is said to "cut" the espresso to reduce the acidity and intensity of the drink. The Spanish origin is important to the make-up of this drink. Unlike many other popular espresso drinks, the cortado contains little to no foam. Italian coffee drinks tend to contain some froth or foam, but Spanish coffee drinks don't come with "texturized" milk. This means you get to appreciate the silky, smooth texture of the warm milk mixing with the espresso without the two separating.

How the Cortado Compares

coffee, cappuccino, milk, espresso, cream
Lissane Kafie

On the espresso beverage spectrum, a cortado falls between a short macchiato and cappuccino. They all have roughly the same amount of espresso but vary by the amount of milk. Traditional short macchiatos have less milk than a cortado, while cappuccinos have much more.

You may think you'll miss the milk foam found in your favorite Italian coffees, but the lack of foam in the cortado allows the espresso and milk to perfectly combine in the cup. This Spanish creation will make you forget all about your cappuccinos and lattes when you realize the balance of flavors it has achieved. 

If you're from the West coast, you may have heard of a very similar drink called a Gibraltar. It's the invention of the people at Blue Bottle Coffee in San Fransico, and they've been serving it up to insiders for years. The drink was named because it's served in a Gibraltar glass tumbler. It's a four and a half ounce glass cup that they fill with two shots of espresso and steamed milk. Technically, you can only call it a Gibraltar if it's served in the iconic mug, but many people refer to this one-to-one recipe by the name. 

For those days when you have time to try out a new local cafe, the cortado is the perfect drink to sip and enjoy a slow morning. It provides the ideal amount of caffeine for waking you up, yet tastes so balanced due to its simplicity. I don't know about you, but I'm all for trying out a drink that encourages me to sit back and relax.