Cortado vs. Espresso: What Is the Difference?

You might have come across the term espresso if you’re a coffee-lover, but cortado is unfamiliar to most people. There’s a widespread perception that espresso is a type of bitter roast of coffee. So, what exactly are espresso and cortado, and what’s their main difference?

An espresso is a concentrated form of coffee brewed from different roasts or varieties. A cortado is a type of espresso containing an equal amount of milk. The main difference between the two beverages is that espresso coffee has a bold acidic taste, while the “acidity” in cortado is reduced.

In the rest of the article, I’ll discuss more details on espresso and cortado. Read on to learn more about the beverages.

Espresso Overview

Do you know that the term espresso also refers to a coffee-brewing method? It generally means a coffee-making process where boiling water is pressed through finely-ground coffee beans. Espresso’s history dates to 1884 when Angelo Moriondo, an Italian, invented and patented the first espresso machine.

Hence, Italy is the home of this popular beverage.

Espresso coffee is one of the purest forms of coffee. You can either have it in its undiluted form or derive other beverages from it. Most coffee lovers love pure espresso coffee due to its bold taste. However, some consider it bitter, so they prefer diluting the taste to their preferences.

So, how do you prepare espresso coffee?

Well, as mentioned earlier, espresso is brewed using an espresso machine. The process involves forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water (90°C or 190°F) at a pressure of about 9 to 10 bars (900 to 1000 kPa). The water passes through the finely-ground coffee to produce a bold and creamy coffee brew.

Espresso coffee is thicker than most coffee brews as its viscosity resembles that of warm honey. The thickness results from a high amount of dissolved and suspended solids and the top cream.

The beverage also has a high concentration of flavors due to the pressurized brewing process.

Espresso is served in “shots” and has a topping of “crema,” which is also known as a brown foam.

Different types of espresso coffee exist, including:

  • Pure espresso: This is the undiluted form of espresso, which means it has a bold or intense flavor.
  • Cold espresso: You can prepare this drink by adding cold milk or water to your espresso coffee. You can also refrigerate the espresso coffee to lower its temperature.
  • Espresso ristretto (Short shot): This is a single shot of espresso where you put half of the normal amount of water into the espresso machine.

Espresso coffee is also the baseline of other forms of coffee specialties, which include:

  • Cappuccino: This is a single espresso shot with a topping of frothed or steamed milk.
  • Café latte: A double espresso shot with a topping of steamed milk.
  • Café Americano: This strange-sounding drink is a single shot of espresso with hot water.
  • Red-eye: For those times when you need it, this drink is a shot of espresso mixed with filtered coffee.

Cortado Overview

What Is a Cortado?

A cortado is a derivative of espresso coffee and contains equal amounts of espresso and hot milk. Unlike several Italian coffee drinks, a cortado is made using steamed milk and not heavily “textured” or frothy.

 The creamy drink is served in small cortado cups and has a layer of microfoam on top. A cortado is, therefore, one of the “diluted” versions of espresso coffee.

How Many Shots Are in a Cortado?

A cortado usually has a double shot of espresso mixed with 2 oz (59ml) of milk. In other countries, beverages similar to a cortado have varying contents.

They include:

  • Café solo corto: A Spanish coffee containing a single shot of espresso.
  • Cortadito: This is a Cuban form of cortado and contains a shot of espresso with a similar amount of heated and sweetened condensed milk.
  • Gibraltar: The term originates from San Francisco, California. It refers to a cortado with a double shot of espresso, served in a Gibraltar glass, and topped with foamy steamed milk.

 Why Is It Called a Cortado?

The term cortado originates from the Spanish word “cortar,” which is the past participle of “cut.” This means the added milk helps in cutting (or reducing) the acidic taste of espresso. Hence, a cortado will have a more delicious taste than espresso coffee.

Which Milk Should I Use in a Cortado?

To make a cortado, you will need steamed milk. Most people use whole milk to make a cortado, but you can use any milk of your choice, for example, coconut milk, almond, or oat milk.

Since the milk is steamed, it’ll have a thinner and lighter texture than in other coffees like cappuccinos. However, the milk’s texture is similar to the milk added in Café latte.

Similarities Between Espresso and Cortado

Espresso and cortado have gained popularity, especially in most European countries. The main similarity between an espresso and a cortado is that they both contain an amount of espresso coffee.

Therefore, you have to first express boiling water through an espresso machine to prepare the beverages.

Another similarity is that both drinks originate from European countries. The term espresso has an Italian origin, while cortado originates from Spain.

Differences Between Espresso and Cortado

Though espresso and cortado have a few similarities, you might have noticed some striking differences. These entail the flavors, contents, and serving of the two beverages.

The main differences include the following:

  • While espresso coffee has an intense acidic flavor, a cortado has a delicious taste as its acidity is reduced.
  • Espresso coffee doesn’t have any added milk, but a cortado has a topping of steamed frothy milk.
  • Espresso is usually served in espresso cups, commonly referred to as demitasse cups in Italy. In contrast, a cortado is served in glasses, such as the Gibraltar glass in America.
  • An espresso is a pure form of coffee that serves as a foundation for other coffee specialties. In contrast, a cortado is a derivative of espresso.

Other Related Questions

How Do You Tell if the Drink Is a Cortado or a Latte?

You can differentiate a cortado from a latte by its size and milk content. A cortado is served in small cups, while you’ll find a latte in various larger cups.

Another difference is that a cortado will have less froth than a latte. Cortados also have a silky texture and bold, creamy flavor, while lattes have a mild and creamy taste.

What Is the Difference Between Cortado and Espresso Macchiato?

While both cortado and macchiato have espresso and steamed milk, there’s a distinction between the two beverages. A cortado has a 1:1 ratio of espresso and milk, while a macchiato has a 2:1 ratio of espresso to milk.

Moreover, a cortado is served in a cortado glass, while you’ll have your macchiato in a demitasse cup on a saucer.


While both espresso and cortado are popular coffee brews in most European countries, there’s a striking distinction between the two. The main difference is that espresso coffee has a strong and acidic taste, while a cortado has a reduced acidity or balanced flavor.

Charlie McFarlane

Specialty Coffee Enthusiast. Hungry for knowledge in the art and science behind specialty coffee and decided to document my journey, sharing it with the public. +10 baristas interviewed. +20 farms toured across 5 countries. +75 Coffee Shops throughout 10 countries.

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