Do you ever walk into a new coffee shop in your neighborhood, look at the extensive list of options, and realize you don’t recognize everything on the menu? And now you’ve no idea what to order?
Well, you’re not alone. Even as a coffee lover myself, I get intimidated by the long list of available coffee options in new places. I often end up sticking to my regular order to save the hassle of choosing – one latte with soy milk, please!
Lattes are a popular go-to coffee choice for coffee lovers worldwide. The cortado, on the other hand, is a lesser-known gem. You usually find it in specialty or artisanal coffee shops. You might have considered trying a cortado but stopped yourself and wondered, what is a cortado? How is a cortado any different from a latte or a macchiato?
Fret not! Today you will find everything to know about cortado vs latte – their differences in size, types of milk and ratios. I’ll also share instructions on how you can make a cortado and latte at home and which option may be the healthier choice.
So, what are you waiting for? There’s a latte to learn!
What is a Cortado?
A cortado is a relatively small coffee beverage that contains espresso and steamed milk. Some may even say it’s the middle of a macchiato and a flat-white. But don’t get it confused with the two; cortados are different.
Coming of Spanish descent, in the Basque country, the cortado is popular in Spain and Portugal and has slowly spread across the world. If you ever see a cortado in a coffee shop near you, your best bet is they know their coffees.
The word cortado comes from the past tense of a Spanish word, which means ‘to cut.’ In this scenario, the expresso is ‘cut’ with steamed milk. The milk balances the bitterness and tones down the acidity of the expresso.
A standard size cortado (5 oz) has a 1:1 ratio of steamed milk to espresso. Sometimes more milk is added, but it depends on the barista and your preference. It might take a few tries before you find your perfect ratio.
It’s also important to note that the steamed milk used in a cortado has as little foam or froth as possible. Traditionally, the milk was served cold or hot and just as a dash in espresso.
How to Make a Cortado
Making a cortado is simple! All you need are two shots of espresso brewed from your favorite ground coffee beans, some milk, the help of a milk steamer, and a coffee machine.
First, brew two shots of espresso with your ground coffee beans using your espresso machine. Remember to tamper (compress) your grounds beforehand to get the best quality brew.
Next, steam the milk (soy, almond, oat, etc.) with a milk steamer. Try to achieve as little foam as possible. You don’t want to steam the milk too hot. If you have a kitchen thermometer, the milk should be around 120 to 130°F. If not, you’ll know the milk is ready when it’s warm to the touch.
Lastly, ‘cut’ the espresso by slowly pouring the steamed milk into your espresso, and you’re ready to serve! If you’re going for the authentic Spanish cortado, you’ll want to skip the latte art. If not, feel free to experiment artistically to get a picture for the gram.
You can serve a cortado in a Gibraltar or flat glass. Fun fact: that’s why the milk shouldn’t be too hot, as the glass typically has no handle, so it should be comfortable to hold in your hands. Otherwise, you can always serve cortado in your favorite coffee mug.
Interested in learning more about making cortado at home? Check out our complete guide here!
What is a Latte?
A latte is a creamy coffee beverage made out of one to two espresso shots with some steamed milk. It’s a classic and popular beverage that can be found in almost any coffee shop.
The word ‘latte’ comes from the Italian phrase ‘caffè e latte,’ which translates to coffee and milk. Lattes are also called caffe latte or café au lait (in French).
The specific origins of the latte are often debated by coffee connoisseurs. Latte has made its mark all around Europe – Austria, Italy. Lattes then became popularised in Seattle, America, in the 1980s. Rightly so, Seattle is also the city where Starbucks was born.An average size latte is around 8oz, making it a large coffee drink. The usual ratio for lattes is 1 part espresso to 2 parts steamed milk. Sometimes more milk is added; read more on the perfect milk ratio in lattes here. It is then finished with a thin layer of foam at the top.
How to Make a Latte
Making the perfect latte is an art form that anyone can master and do at home. After all, it is just coffee and milk. So, gather your favorite coffee beans, milk of choice, milk steamer, and an espresso machine, and here’s how you can make a latte at home:
First, brew 1 to 2 shots of espresso from your ground coffee beans using your espresso machine. The espresso amount depends on how strong you’d like your latte or if you need a caffeine kick. If you don’t have espresso, you can substitute it with strongly brewed coffee.
Steam your milk of choice with a milk steamer. Steam the milk to about 150°F or until it has become frothy, creating microfoam and has a silky sheen texture.
Lastly, you can measure the ratio of milk needed or wing it, then slowly pour the milk over your espresso at an angle, and now you have a latte!
You may also customize your latte by adding flavoring such as caramel, vanilla, or chocolate into your milk before heating. If you’re feeling artsy, you can have a go at latte art with the milk foam.
Lattes are usually served in wide white porcelain cups with a saucer. For a European style, you can also serve latte in tall clear glasses.
No espresso machine? No problem! Check out our guide on how to make latte with a French press.
What’s the Difference Between a Cortado vs a Latte?
Now you know what and how to make a cortado and a latte. Let’s learn the differences between the two!
Both contain espresso and milk; it can’t be that different, right? I’ve found that the main differences between a cortado and a latte are size, type of milk used, ratio, and the customizable aspects.
You can tell that a cortado is much smaller than a latte, just by looking at their cup sizes. An average cortado is usually served in a Gibraltar or a short, clear glass that can hold around 5oz. A latte is usually 8oz and can even go up to 12oz and is typically served in a broad white porcelain cup.
You won’t need long to enjoy a cortado, but a cup of latte will take you a little more extra sips to finish and enjoy.
Type of Milk Used in Cortado vs Latte
In a cortado or a latte, you can use any variation of a diary or non-dairy milk. The difference will not matter to the overall drink. So choose whichever variation you like, be it soy, full cream, oat almond, etc.
What matters and what is different for both is how the milk is prepared, steaming, and frothing.
In a cortado, the milk is steamed until around 120 – 130°F, just until it’s silky with as little foam as possible.
For a latte, the milk is heated for a longer time until 140 – 150°F. This is to achieve a rich and slightly stiff microfoam consistency in the milk. Making it frothy and light, perfect for latte art too!
Milk to Espresso Ratio
The next not-so-obvious difference is the milk to espresso ratio in a cortado vs latte.
Usually, a cortado has a 1:1 ratio of milk and espresso. Sometimes, the milk is much lesser than the expresso and is a mere dash of milk. You will find that a cortado has a stronger coffee flavor as it contains more espresso than a latte.
If you are not big on caffeine, then a latte will be best for you. The latte has a lower espresso ratio, containing just 1 part espresso and 2 parts milk. Some baristas may even go by the 1:3 ratio, depending on their practices.
On top of that, you will typically enjoy a layer of foam on a latte. No doubt, a latte is much milkier than a cortado.
Lastly, while both beverages allow you to choose your own milk, one is more customizable than the other.
A latte is pretty versatile and allows you to customize it to your own likings. You’ve heard of a caramel latte or a hazelnut latte, and there are so many more variations you can try with lattes. All you need to do is add syrup or flavoring to the milk.On the other hand, the cortado is pretty perfect as it is, and the recipe does not and usually should not be changed. The most you can do is add some sugar or sweetener.
Some lattes can also be served over ice, while a cortado is usually served warm. If you’re lucky, your cortado may be served with cold milk upon request.
When Should You Drink – Cortado vs Latte?
When exactly is the perfect time to drink a cortado or latte? Well, the answer is anytime you feel is right!
A latte or cortado, or any milk-based drink, is considered a breakfast drink in Italy and coffee connoisseurs for its rich milk content. They are usually drunk in the morning to kick start your day.
You can also enjoy a latte on ice on hot summer’s day. Cortados would be great for an extra boost of caffeine that can be enjoyed slowly. Or it can also be appreciated quickly and on the go as it is a small size drink.
Cortado vs Latte – Which is Healthier?
The definition of healthy is tricky here as one may not be definitely healthier than the other. However, let’s look at the milk content of cortado and lattes. From the milk content, we can distinguish which contains fewer calories and is healthier.
Generally, a cortado has a lower milk ratio and is smaller in size compared to a latte. The cortado would overall contain fewer calories as it contains less milk. So, in this case, a cortado is healthier than a latte.
If you use a healthier milk alternative (low-fat or skimmed milk) and do not add any additional sweeteners or flavoring, things could change. The latte could be a healthier choice than a cortado.
Cortado vs. Latte – there is no definite answer to which is healthier. A cortado or latte can only be as healthy as you make it. Even though both contain just milk and espresso, you can enjoy each of them differently and customize them to your liking.