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How to Make a Cortado

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By Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Cortado is a little bit of an outlier in the espresso drinks line-up. On the surface, it seems a fairly simple manipulation of the coffee to milk to foam ratio, much like the other classics found at your local coffee shop. However, if you want to know how to make a cortado, you have to understand why it is different, and what the end result should taste like.

At its simplest, a cortado is made by adding warm (but not textured) milk to an equal amount of espresso. But that’s overly simplistic.

So read on, for everything you need to know about Spain’s most famous coffee export.

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Easy Cortado Recipe

Infographic: How to Make a Cortado
  1. Grind your Robusta coffee beans: To stay true to the authentic cortado recipe and for the characteristic bold flavor profile, you should opt for Robusta over Arabica beans
  2. Dose and tamp your grounds into the portafilter: Alternatively, you can push a button on your super-automatic or single-serve machine
  3. Pull your espresso shot: You’re looking for 20-25 seconds for the perfect extraction of a 1-ounce shot of espresso
  4. Steam the milk: For the best results, fill the jug to just under halfway with your preferred milk or plant-based milk alternative. Then, keep the steamer submerged until the outside of the jug is warm to the touch. There should be very little foam.
  5. “Cut” your espresso with the milk: Gently pour around 1oz of milk onto your 1oz espresso shot.

You should now have a delicious cortado with the milk bringing all the dark chocolatey goodness from the dark roast Robusta beans.

The hardest part of this simple coffee drink is being able to steam just 1oz of milk on a manual steamer. So, you will more than likely end up with extra. You could always pull some more espresso shots (try using decaf coffee beans if a second shot of caffeine is a concern). After all, two cortados are better than one.

You may be used to drinking cortado made with a double espresso. If this is your preference then simply double the size of everything. 2oz of espresso, 2oz of steamed milk. You can even buy the 4.5oz Gibraltar glasses often used to serve the drink in America. Which are also responsible for it’s increase in size.

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What *Technically* is a Cortado?

Being a Spanish coffee drink, we need to do a bit of translating:

In Spanish, “cortado” means “cut”.

Specifically, it is the past participle of the verb “cortar” which means “to cut.” This makes perfect sense, which is nice, as the espresso is cut with milk.

Unlike many other espresso drinks, cortado only comes in one size (2oz in Spain and 4oz in the US). Even more surprisingly, almost all big chain coffee shops stick to this rule and only sell it in that one size.

So, a cortado is a single shot of espresso cut with the same amount of heated, but not foamed, milk. The result is a slightly sweetened espresso that amplifies the dark chocolate flavors in the coffee beans.

A Cortado in the US is usually a double shot of espresso served with the same heated, but not foamed, milk keeping the 1:1 ratio.

There’s a cortado variation known as a breve coffee. It’s double the size and uses half and half milk to really add an extra hit of indulgent sweetness (and calories).

A cortado coffee
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Best Coffee Beans for Cortado

Like many coffee lovers, I am obsessed with trying different types of coffee beans. Particularly if they are high-elevation Arabica hailing from regions such as Ethiopia, Burundi, Costa Rica, and Colombia. However, to make a cortado, we need to turn to the less vaunted sibling of Arabica – Robusta.

A well-made cortado coffee brings out the sweet smoke and dark chocolate flavors from a dark roast Robusta. Viet Nam and Java in Indonesia are two of the best places in the world for growing high-quality Robusta. They’re not always easy to get hold of outside the countries themselves but if you’re looking for some beans for your cortado, those are the places to start.

Our two current favorites are:

Bag of Nguyen Coffee Supply, Truegrit 100& Peaberry Robusta coffee beans

TrueGrit, Nguyen:

Source: Vietnam

Roast: Medium

Variety: 100% Peaberry Robusta

Tasting notes: Scotch, grapefruit, bitter melon

Important notes: This is a full-bodied coffee experience that packs a punch. Nguyen is woman-owned by first-generation Vietnamese-American, directly trading with farmers in Vietnam before roasting in Brooklyn.

Nam Coffee - Dalat 100% Robust coffee beans

Da Lat 100% Robusta from Coffee Nam:

Source: Da Lat, Central Highlands of Vietnam

Roast: Dark

Variety: 100% Robusta

Tasting notes: Dark chocolate, caramel, wildflower

Important notes: Bold Vietnamese coffee that packs a caffeinated punch. Roasted in California by Vietnamese American, Vince Nguyen, who directly trades with a family run farm on Langbiang mountain in Da Lat.

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Origins of the Cortado

The exact history of cortado coffee is unclear. Unlike many coffee beverages, there isn’t some nice story involving a romanticized interaction between a customer and a barista. The result of which was a beverage that took Spain, and then the world, by storm.

Some place the origins in Madrid, whilst others claim it is from the Basque country. But, ultimately, no one actually knows where it started.

In all likelihood, this espresso coffee drink was probably served in multiple places under different names before being formalized into the coffee shop version we know today. Super boring compared to many coffee types; the cortado needs a better PR team.

San Francisco’s Blue Bottle Coffee Company popularized a variation of the cortado, known as the Gibraltar, in the US. The drink started its life as an off-menu order named after the small espresso glass it was served in. It soon became one of their most popular espresso drinks and swept across the nation in third-wave coffee shops. The desire to serve a full glass resulted in the use of the double espresso with milk to fill the 4.5oz Gibraltar glass adequately.

Psst… Want to see how Cortado compares to other popular coffee options? Check out the guides below:

Cortado vs Macchiato | Cortado vs Flat White | Cortado v Latte | Cortado v Cappuccino

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Final Thoughts

When you first start practicing how to make a cortado at home, you will be blown away by how easy it is. You don’t need any fancier coffee gear than an entry-level espresso machine, as long as you can steam milk either on your machine or with a separate milk frother.

The use of Robusta coffee beans also helps to keep this impressive espresso drink a budget-friendly option. Enjoy your fancy café drink without the fancy café cost.


Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Matt's coffee obsession started in 2006 when working as a Barista. A tendency to turn up to work hungover kickstarted his coffee journey which quickly turned into a love affair. As he moved on to work as a Restaurant Manager and Sommelier, the obsession continued to grow. Now, his passion is helping others to enjoy better coffee at home.

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