What Is a Cortado and How Can You Make the Perfect Cup at Home?

multiple cups to keep you up

How do you take your coffee?

That might be one of the most underrated self-defining questions of our time.

Sure, there are other more important methods that we could use to define ourselves, but coffee is special. It affects the entire human species — daily. No wonder there are so many unique coffee drinks around the world, i.e., a cortado.

In the 1998 rom-com classic You’ve Got Mail, Joe Fox (played by Tom Hanks) in the opening minutes of the movie says:

“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc.

So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

And although this fictional character uses his observation ironically (mocking his tall-decaf-cappuccino self in the process), as crazy as it may seem, we humans, with all our quirks and pet peeves, find solace in a cup of caffeine drink.

A good cappuccino or a macchiato can make a world of difference.

So how do cortados fare on the list of delicious espresso drinks that fuel our day?

As far as our experience goes, people have either never heard of it or have only seen this less-known coffee drink on the menu of their favorite café but never tried it.

After reading this information-packed guide on the cortado, you’ll not only want to give it a try the first chance you get, but also know how to make one at home.

And it will prove useful even if you drink cortado daily for that dose of self-definition served in a cup we all require.

Helpful tip: If the café you frequent has cortados on its menu, that’s a good sign. It means the baristas working there know their business.

What Is a Cortado?

Cortado is a single or a double shot of espresso, depending on if you like stronger or milder espresso-based coffee drinks. It’s blended (cut) with an equal espresso to milk ratio and often served in a Gibraltar glass (aka rock glass).

Coffee wooden on table

Making a cortado requires some know-how, and more often than not, every café and barista has a special recipe. So try a few places to discover your favorite kind.

The perfect cup of cortado is nestled somewhere in between a macchiato, cappuccino, and a flat white — they’re similar, but the nuances in which they differ are important.

We’ll get to those differences in a bit, but first, let’s discover more about the cortado.

Cortado — The Origin Story

This originally Spanish drink spread from the Basque country of Spain all the way across to parts of northern Portugal before going worldwide.

Its name, cortado, comes from the Spanish word meaning to cut — hence the metaphorical cutting of two shots of espresso with an equal amount of milk that results in a harmony of delicious and less acidic coffee flavor.

It’s the perfect blend of espresso, with its slightly bitter kick reduced by warm milk resulting in a not-too-hot drink perfect for enjoying at your own pace.

After spreading from Spain and across the world, it picked up different names you could find it by, like:

  • The French noisette — because of its specific hazelnut color
  • The Cuban cordito — made with condensed milk
  • The U.S. West Coast Gibraltar — prepared in a specific glass

The East Coast — West Coast Conundrum

As much as you’ll hear this drink being called a cortado on the East Coast of the U.S., you’ll hear an order by the name of a Gibraltar on the West Coast. Why? The cortado started being served on the West Coast in 2005.

The Gibraltar Coffee Drink — Cortado Conquers U.S.A.

It’s not that you couldn’t find cortados on U.S. soil before 2005, but that is the year that coffee connoisseurs link to the birth of a popular version of the cortado, called the Gibraltar.

Its birthplace is San Francisco, where a local coffee company started serving cortado in a four-and-a-half-ounce tumbler glass similarily called Gibraltar or rock glass.

As we said earlier, to make a cortado, you can use a single or a double shot of espresso, but Gibraltar specifically (because of its serving size) uses a double espresso and milk ratio. This trend spread across the U.S. like wildfire.

It still remains a somewhat unusual coffee drink, but if you’re a fan of espresso-based drinks with a rich and strong coffee taste — cortado is the drink for you.

Cortado vs Macchiato vs Cappuccino vs Flat White

Cortado’s Italian cousins’ Macchiato and Cappuccino, and its distant Australian-New Zealand relative Flat White are similar drinks when it comes to the ingredients but completely different in the way they are prepared.

Coffee drinks Shots / Ounces of espresso Amount of steamed milk Amount of milk foam
Cortado/Gibraltar 2 shots/ounces Equal ratio to coffee No
Macchiato 1 shot/ounce Little milk Dash of milk foam
Cappuccino 1 shot/ounce Equal ratio to coffee Equal amount to coffee
Flat white 2 shots/ounces Double the amount to coffee A thin layer on top

Just by looking at the table, you can see that the trick is in the preparation of milk. As is the case with all Italian coffee, the same is with this delicious Spanish variation, cortado.

How to Make a Perfect Cup of Cortado at Home?

To make a cortado, you will need an espresso machine, your favorite espresso coffee, hot water, and some milk. Easy, right?

Right, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

How Many Shots of Espresso?

When it comes to the amounts of coffee you should use, some coffee shops use two ounces (two shots) of espresso, and others use one. But the secret recipe is actually to your taste preference.

If you’d like your cortado to be stronger, pull two shots. The important aspect to keep in mind is to keep the same ratio of espresso and steamed milk.

Shots of espresso Volume of coffee Brewing time
Single 1 ounce 20–30 seconds
Double 2 ounces 20–30 seconds

Got Steamed Milk?

When it comes to milk, it get a little bit tricky.

You want to steam an equal amount of milk to espresso — for one-shot, use 85 ml of milk. Now, what’s important is to steam the milk to just the right temperature (150 to 160 °F/ 65 to 70 °C) without it frothing.

If you don’t have a thermometer, press your hand lightly against the milk frothing jug. When the milk is hot but not so hot you can’t hold your hand against the jug, it’s ready.

barista frothing milk with steam wand

Expert tip: First, steam the milk. Leave it to settle while you pull the shot or two of espresso, then add an equal amount of milk to the cup or Gibraltar glass using a slight wiggle motion for that perfect blend.

Your new favorite espresso drink is served and ready for you to enjoy.

>> Check out our full review of the best milk frothers

Discover the Barista in You

Are you ready to become a member of a growing coffee lovers’ tribe?

If so, join Nomad Coffee Club today and get our prepaid subscription program.

Every month, we’ll send you a fresh date-stamped and perfectly roasted single-origin or blend coffee.


Expect 100% organic and non-GMO coffee beans, sourced from across the globe, to be brought to your doorstep. Enjoy preparing your favorite coffee beverage like a true barista. Maybe even a cortado?

Be sure not to miss out on our next month’s delicious selection and become a part of the Nomad Coffee Club today.

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