Have you ever found yourself standing, staring at your espresso machine or a huge menu at your local coffee shop, and felt decision paralysis take hold? Getting more enjoyment out of all the different coffees available starts with understanding what the names mean. Sure, the basics of espresso and cappuccino are simple but what about cortado and latte?
Cortado v latte comes down to the amount of milk with the espresso. A cortado is traditionally a single espresso shot with the same volume of steamed milk but no foam. A latte is made up of 2/3 milk and 1/3 espresso. The steamed milk also has a thin layer of foam on top. The longer latte is for those who prefer a more subtle, creamier coffee flavor.
There are a few key differences between these popular espresso drinks and they have very different beginnings. Read on as we look at both in detail so you can get the perfect coffee order to suit your mood:
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Over time the name was shortened in English-speaking countries to just “latte”.
Milky coffees are more popular in Italy at breakfast time, cappuccino being the most common. But caffè latte was (and still is), a common coffee order in Italy in the morning.
Traditionally, it should be espresso mixed with twice as much milk to coffee and only a small amount of foam on the top. This differentiates it from the cappuccino which is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 textured milk, and 1/3 foam.
Over time, however, the latte has evolved in many coffee shops to being so milky that the espresso is almost undetectable. The result is a very creamy, milder coffee taste but it should really be a balance between the two.
To make a cortado, a shot of espresso made from dark roast Robusta beans is cut with an equal amount of steamed, but not textured, milk.
The name “cortado” comes from the Spanish verb meaning “to cut”, cortar. It is possible it started life as “café cortado con leche” or “coffee cut with milk”. But was quickly shortened to “coffee cortado” or just “cortado”. Like many apocryphal coffee stories, we have no evidence for this. But it sounds plausible.
When the cortado made its way to the US, it got bigger. The Blue Bottle Coffee Company, who popularized the drink, served it in 4.5oz glasses called “Gibraltars.” 2oz of coffee in a 4oz glass doesn’t look very good. So they doubled it, 2oz espresso and 2oz of milk. This has then been duplicated across the US.
Type of Coffee Beans
Traditionally cortado should be made with Robusta beans. The milk brings out the sweeter, dark chocolate, and more potent coffee flavor of the Robusta. For the best results, they should be dark roasted too.
There is no “traditional” coffee bean variety for a latte. It will also have started life with dark roast Robusta due to availability. But the beans aren’t integral to the profile of the overall coffee in the same way as a cortado. So you can use whichever beans and roast level you prefer.
Milk to Espresso Ratio
Cortado is made with a 1:1 ratio of coffee to milk. Latte should be made with a 1:2 ratio of coffee to milk.
In reality, lattes are often made with the coffee much more diluted than this. Many popular coffee chains around the world use 1:5 or even higher ratios for a weaker coffee taste.
The latte is much more flexible in this way. It really just means “milky coffee with a touch of foam” and the exact proportions can be nearly anything. Cortado is fixed, it’s 1:1 or it isn’t a cortado.
Style of Milk
The cortado is made with milk that is steamed but not textured and has no foam. This means the milk hasn’t been heated to a temperature where the milk gets that silky texture. And there shouldn’t be a layer of foam on top, not even a super thin one.
Latte is made with textured milk that should be around 10% foam which is why Baristas can draw pretty pictures with it. But this isn’t just about aesthetic. The latte milk has a very different mouthfeel to the steamed milk for cortado, creating a very smooth coffee drink.
In reality, you’ll often see cortado served with a thin layer of foam or “latte art” drawn in it. Personally, I blame Instagram and TikTok for prioritizing visuals over taste. But I’m probably just old and grumpy.
The cortado comes in one size. It’s a small coffee drink that should be a single espresso with milk. Of course the standard size in the US is a double espresso with 2oz of milk, but it’s still a small drink and one size only.
But you won’t see a selection of sizes on the menu. Partly because filling a 20oz coffee cup with half espresso and half milk would be insane. But also because it is a short drink to be sipped and savored.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, a latte can come in any size you can imagine. From a thimble-full to a bathtub.
Starbucks serves it’s smallest latte at 8oz and it’s largest at 31oz. These large sizes have a much higher ratio of milk to coffee as 10oz of espresso to 20oz of milk would be psychotic.
There are many ways to pimp your latte, particularly if a more sweet coffee drink is your preferred option. The base recipe will be the same but you can add flavored syrups, whipped cream, sauces, whatever you love most.
Alternatively, you can opt for an iced latte if you need to cool down during the hot summer months.
But, cortado coffee exists exactly as it is. No bells or whistles to be added or it becomes a totally different espresso drink.
Psst… Want to see how cortado stacks up against some other popular coffee drinks? Check out our guides below:
Each espresso shot is around 63mg of caffeine (according to the USDA). If you have a classic cortado, that’s all your getting. If your cortado is 4oz then you’re getting around 126mg. A small latte will probably also only contain a single shot of espresso, so the caffeine content will be the same.
If you find yourself needing more caffeine, you can scale up the size of your latte for a double (or more) espresso shots. The caffeine will go up and up in multiples of 63mg. When comparing the two, just count the espresso shots and you’ll know which one has more or less caffeine, depending on your preference.
If you just want the milk to draw out the sweeter notes of the espresso, then cortado is the one for you. It still offers a stronger coffee taste but with a slightly more rounded edge.
But, if you’re looking for a more diluted espresso flavor with a silkier texture, a latte is a better choice.
Both are very popular coffee drinks, particularly in the mornings, so it all comes down to personal preference.
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