Cortado vs. Latte: What’s the Difference?

Most of us start our day with coffee, whether it’s with black coffee, espresso, americano, Irish, flat white, coffee with milk, mocha, and so on. It helps us wake up and start the day. If you get your coffee from a coffee shop, you might have noticed a new type of coffee on the menu. Cortado, a Spanish type of coffee, has taken the coffee world by the storm, along with latte. It might look similar, but those two types of coffee are very different. So, what’s the difference between cortado and latte?

The main difference between latte and cortado is that cortado is made up of only one espresso shot with an equal amount of steamed, and latte is a creamy beverage that involves steamed milk being poured over espresso shots, resulting in a well-integrated and sweet coffee beverage.

Even though cortado and latte both contain espresso shots and milk, don’t be fooled thinking they taste the same. They appeal to taste buds that are on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

What is cortado?

The cortado was first discovered in Spain, judging by its name, which translates to cut in Spanish and Portuguese. The name is a metaphor for the drink, as it is “cut” into two different elements, steamed milk and espresso. It is made out of equal parts of espresso and steamed milk, without any additional sugar or flavors. Cortado is also known as Piccolo or Gibraltar. It is a great option for those who want to experience espresso’s full power without hiding its strong flavor. 

Cortado highlights the bold, rich flavor of espresso. It is smoothed slightly by foamed milk, and it has a nice balance of flavor and texture.

There is a chance that cortado might be too intense for some people to drink. Cortado comes in a small cup, which means you pay more money for less coffee than you usually would. There is also a possibility that you will have a hard time finding cortado in stores and some coffee shops.

How is cortado made?

Cortado originates from Spain, where there is no such thing as lightly roasted coffee beans. Coffee is always a very dark roast, and its bitterness is accepted as part of the experience. 

To make cortado, it is best to search for coffee beans roasted specifically for espresso, as milk tends to pair best with it. Prepare a cortado glass and a stainless steel pitcher. When it comes to milk, an ounce or two should be enough. Lower-fat kinds of milk are usually used for cappuccinos and lattes because they froth more easily. Since cortado doesn’t have a milk froth, it doesn’t matter if you go with heavier whole milk or some light cream.

  1. The first step in preparing cortado is measuring espresso grounds and grinding them into a fine powder. Next, they are tamped in a portafilter, which is done to compress them a little, and it helps create a resistance for the water flowing through the portafilter so that it doesn’t pass through quickly and leave your coffee under-extracted.
  2. The second step is to place the filter with the espresso grounds into the espresso machine and get the water flowing. 
  3. The third step is to put milk into the stainless steel pitcher and steam it. Since cortado doesn’t contain any milk foam, only heat in and don’t produce any foam. 
  4. The last step is to combine espresso and milk in the cortado glass.

Is cortado strong?

Cortado is fairly strong, but not as strong as espresso, and much stronger than some other coffees, like flat white. The strength of cortado also depends on whether you put one or two espresso shots. Traditionally, one espresso shot is mixed with equal parts of milk, but those who like stronger coffees add two espresso shots. 

What does cortado taste like?

Cortado has the perfect balance of creamy texture from the espresso shot and the right amount of sweetness coming from milk. It’s not bitter, and you don’t have to put any sugar in it. It’s called “the cut” because it cuts through the acidity for a smoother taste.

The best way to find out what cortado tastes like is to try it. 

How do you drink cortado?

The biggest fans of cortado are people living in Spain and Portugal. Nevertheless, it is becoming an up-and-coming drink in American coffee shops. Even though cortado should be served in a cortado glass, it is usually served in a small espresso mug. Cortado glass has a wire handle and is the size of around 150 – 200ml. 

There are a few variations to traditional cortado. 

Cortado condensada, also known as a bombon, is an espresso made with condensed milk, which is used to give the coffee a sweeter flavor. Since in Spain coffee is enjoyed as a dessert, this provides them with sweetness as well as caffeine.

Leche y Leche is translated as “milk and milk.” This kind of espresso contains condensed milk and is topped with hot milk. The condensed milk appears as a clump at the bottom of the glass until you stir it. 

Piccolo caffe latte is an Australian drink that is very similar to cortado. It is made out of a single shot of espresso and steamed milk. It usually has a bit more milk than traditional cortado does.

What is a latte?

Latte is an Italian drink that is served very warm. It is made out of one-part espresso and three-part milk. Unlike when drinking cortado, to enjoy a latte, you have to add sweeteners. 

Latte became popular because of its “latte art”, which is making aesthetic designs that are formed using microfoam. 

The history of latte goes back to 18th century Europe. Back then, coffee was a widely consumed beverage at home, and it was almost always accompanied by milk. The first remark of such a drink, in written form, is not found until the 20th century. Before that, there have been some mentions in Austria, where some public cafés describe a Kapuziner as a coffee with equal parts milk, enhanced with spices. Even though it sounds like Cappuccino, it was more than likely closer to a Latte because steamed milk wasn’t really often used back then.

Even though latte is one of the most famous espresso drinks, it actually contains a lot more steamed milk and foam than espresso. When making a latte, for every ounce of espresso you put in, there can be as much as six ounces of milk. 

Since coffee latte in Italian means “milk coffee,” you have to make sure to say the full name when ordering it, not just “latte,” because you will get warm milk. 

The latte that we know today is greatly improved than it was before. That is thanks to the invention of the espresso machine, which made the combination of coffee and milk up its game with the introduction of steam and foam. 

The latte is made out of intense espresso and smooth, creamy milk. You can add many flavors to latte so it is hard to get bored of it easily. It is great for making foam art. 

Some people might not like latte because they find it too milky, or they don’t like that the espresso flavor isn’t as strong as it is in some other coffees

How is a latte made?

Latte can be made with and without an espresso machine, but it is much tastier when made in an espresso machine. 

You can use low-fat or a little bit fatter milk to make a latte. Low-fat milk foams nicely, but it doesn’t have the rich flavor as slightly fatter milk such as 2%, which is still light enough to produce a good foam.

  1. First, to make a latte, heat the espresso to about 145 F and pour it into a cup.
  2. Then while using a spoon to hold back the milk foam, pour your desired amount of warm milk into the coffee.
  3. Lastly, pile milk foam on top of your latte. 
  4. You can add some sweeteners or flavors to your latte.

It might seem quite easy but getting the milk right is very tricky. You should pour the milk with the cup at an angle so that the milk hits one side of the cup upon sinking instead of hitting bottom. Ensure the foam is not very thick because a thick layer of foam on a latte only makes it hard to drink.

Is latte strong?

The strength of any coffee depends on the espresso and milk ratio. Since latte consists of one-part espresso and three-parts milk, it is not strong. 

What does latte taste like?

Latte is a mild type of coffee, and you will not feel that bold and strong taste of espresso, so it might not give you the caffeine kick you need. The milder flavor in the latte comes from the presence of a lot of steamed milk.

How do you drink a latte?

You can drink latte from many cup sizes, such as 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz. In casual cafe’s they can go up to 20 oz. 

In finer shops, the latte is served in a ceramic cup with a matching saucer.

The micro-foam is used for making lattes, making it the easiest drink to do execute beautiful designs on top of. Micro-foam is made out of small bubbles that are not filled with a lot of air. Because of the consistency of micro-foam, the elements of the latte can mix.

There are two other types of latte. One of the is cafe au lait, a popular french drink characterized by its lack of foam. It is served in big containers, and it is made with equal parts of coffee and steamed milk. It requires you to put in a lot of sugar.

The other one is a matcha latte, which is basically milk with tea. Matcha is a type of green tea, and it is made by grounding green tea leaves and then making tea with it. Thanks to that we can make very concentrated tea that goes well with milk. Unlike other teas, matcha has a distinct flavor, and it is the only thing you can drink without coffee while still calling it a latte. To make a matcha latte, add a bit of matcha to 30ml of warm water until it has some consistency and a solid, bright green color. 

You can customize your latte by adding different flavors to it. 

The most popular flavor that is added to the latte is vanilla. The vanilla syrup adds a hint of sweetness without using white sugar. Make sure to get a quality vanilla syrup because some of them taste a bit off. 

Caramel Latte is a bit sweeter than vanilla. It is advertised as buttery and rich, and it makes some people nostalgic, as it reminds them of the caramel candy they had in their childhood. 

Hazelnut Latte adds a cozy element to any drink, making it a bit more of a complex flavor that adds layers to any latte.

Coconut Latte is made by adding coconut syrup to a latte. Coconut pairs perfectly with mochas or chai lattes. It s a more refreshing latte flavor and is often used for an iced latte.

Differences between cortado and latte

The biggest difference between cortado and latte is the drink’s size and the ratio of espresso to milk. 

Cortado is made with equal parts steamed milk and espresso, and they usually don’t contain any foam. Latte has quite a bit more steamed milk and is almost always topped with a solid microfoam layer.

While you drink cortado without any sweeteners, you can add sweeteners and flavors to the latte.

For people who don’t eat much for breakfast, a cortado is a better morning coffee choice. It has 40 ml of liquid barely in your cup, making this coffee perfect for when you don’t want, or can’t, have a real breakfast. Serve it hot, with a piece of toast or something else small.

If you like eating more for breakfast, a latte is a much better choice for you. The sweet coffee drink will go well with absolutely any kind of breakfast food, and it is most people’s preferred way to start the day. 

Cortado is a traditional drink that people drink for lunch. In Spain, the tradition is to drink cortado all the way from breakfast to lunch. People who need help functioning after lunch would have a cup of cortado instead of dessert. It’s convenient for a quick caffeine kick because of its small size and still delicious enough to be considered a dessert. It’s a good drink to have after lunch because it helps with digestion. 

For those who want to have a lighter lunch, a latte is a great choice. Since caffeine is a natural stimulant, it will suppress your appetite. 

Latte is also better as an after-dinner drink since there is less caffeine in it to keep you up all night. 

Cortado can be seen as a healthier option, as there are no added sweeteners. It obviously contains fewer calories since it is much smaller than the latte.

Latte can be as healthy as you make it. If you decide to use full-fat milk and white sugar, it will be less healthy and have more calories. To make latte healthier, instead of full-fat milk, use skimmed milk or some unsweetened plant-based milk. You can use an artificial sweetener like Stevia.


Charlie McFarlane

Specialty Coffee Enthusiast. Hungry for knowledge in the art and science behind specialty coffee and decided to document my journey, while sharing it with the public. More than 10 baristas were interviewed; over 21 farms were visited across 5 countries. Almost 100 Coffee Shops. Bean of choice: Pacamara. Preferred coffee country: Panama. Preferred Brewing Method: Aeropress. Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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