Is a Cortado Strong?

This Spanish origin drink has a shade of brown and white as colors and it is comprised of Espresso and steamed milk. This drink being of Spanish origin contains little to no foam. Why milk? to reduce bitterness and acidity.

Cortado could be considered a strong beverage due to its espresso base, having a bold flavor with a high grounds-to-water ratio producing a bitter concentrated liquid; which is softened with steamed milk by reducing intensity and acidity of the drink. The ratio should 1:1 espresso and steamed milk.

We will explore the different elements that could have an impact on a Cortado to be considered a strong beverage. Al comparisons need a base to compare to. We would use 2, the Espresso shot, and 12 oz of drip coffee.

What should be considered a strong beverage?

To complete this analysis, we would explore 2 routes: Caffeine amount and bitterness and/or acidity as the indicator for a “strong” coffee drink.

If we limit the definition of strength to the amount of caffeine present on a particular drink, we would have to say that the level of strength will be proportional to the size of the drink. To make it more objective, let’s discuss the amount of caffeine in a drink.

Volumemilligrams of Caffeine
2 oz of Espresso128 (average)
12 oz of brewed coffee144 (average)

As you can see, the serving size of the drink will have a huge impact on the amount of caffeine. Then, we need to consider the span of consumption. You drink an espresso in a shorter period than 12 oz of brewed coffee. The caffeine rush in your body will have a bigger impact from the espresso.

For this particular case, any drink based on 12 oz of brewed coffee will be stronger in caffeine than the one mixed using 2 oz of double espresso; but the Espresso will be consumed in a shorter time, getting to your system faster. Again, what is strong?

On the other hand, if we define strong by the level of acidity or bitterness, the brewing process will be key to this analysis. The Espresso needs finely ground coffee and high-pressure hot water for the brewing process, this results in a slightly thicker, more bitter concentrated drink. This is not the case for drip coffee.

If we compare the acidity and bitterness of the two, we would need to consider the Espresso drink stronger. But, how are we serving it? If we continue with the Cortado drink, there is a considerable reduction of acidity and bitterness due to the milk.

Not all milk is created equal.

Additionally, not all milk is created equal. For our particular case of the Cortado, the role of the milk is to reduce acidity, without sacrificing the coffee flavor.

Depending on the type of milk you use, the more you will neutralize acidity and bitterness. Cow milk has less sugar than evaporated milk, and evaporated milk, has less sugar than condensed milk. You can make a cortado with several types of milk. This had an impact on the strength of the drink.

What about the beans?

The beans used to brew the espresso will have an impact on the strength of your drink if we maintain the strength of the drink based on bitterness and acidity, but also the type of grind. Both elements have a huge impact on the strength of your espresso. Always take into consideration that the espresso is the foundation of the cortado, therefore, the stronger the shot, the stronger the cortado.

Specialty coffee beans provide a wide range of flavors. How you roast this specialty coffee beans, will also have an impact on the flavor and aroma, therefore, acidity and bitterness will be different from espresso from beans with a quality grade lower than 80.

Using arabica coffee will create a much milder, sweeter, gentler taste in your espresso and therefore, in your cortado. Which is nowhere near to using robusta beans for your cortado foundation.

Not to mention, single-origin and single state arabica coffee beans. This is a superior level for your cortado.

Cortado variations

Cortado has been adapted and suffered modifications along with the years and regions. The most popular in the US is Gibraltar.


This is a variation that has become very popular in the United States, some sources as Time Out USA, state that it was invented in San Francisco by Blue Bottle Coffee Company, in 2005.

Gibraltar is served on a 4.5 oz Gibraltar Libbey glass and it contains 2 shots of espresso and 2 shots of textured milk. Blue Bottle Coffee Company has been considered by many an influencer and promoter of the Coffee Third Wave, this is why many Specialty Coffee stores will serve and link a Cortado with the Gibraltar glass.


In Cuba, a cortadito will be crafted in several ways. The most popular is using condensed milk over 1 oz of espresso. Why condensed milk in Cuba? Condensed milk is the most accessible preserved form of milk. This is also known as “café bombón”.

They also have the “Leche y Leche” (Milk & Milk) which is a cortadito modification that entails two types of milk: condensed and cow milk, a dollop of cream resting on top.

Other countries

Puerto Rico, a cortado is referred to as “cortadito”; For the case of Venezuela, they call it “marron” (which is brown in Spanish), distinguishes it from the regular espresso, called “café negro” (Black Coffee). Around these Latin countries, the ratio between milk and espresso will differ slightly.

For the Italians, a cortado will be a macchiato, and for the French, it is a noisette. For the Italian case, you might get some foam or cream on the top of your cortado, which could be considered a huge distinction between the two beverages.


A cortado comparted to an Espresso should be considered a softer drink, considering that the addition of milk to the drink will reduce the acidity and bitterness; but not reducing the amount of caffeine.

A cortado compared to a drip coffee cup, should be considered a stronger drink, considering that a cortado has 2 oz of Expresso, which is a bolder and bitter drink compared to drip coffee; depending on the serving, drip coffee could have higher levels of caffeine than a 2 oz Espresso.

Using specialty coffee beans to brew your cortado foundation, is a different story. The bean and the roasting process used has a huge impact on the flavor, reducing bitterness and acidity dramatically in your cortado.

Ask your barista what is the local recipe for a cortado, you can be surprised by it.


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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