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What makes a cortado special?


In a world brimming with endless coffee options, from the aromatic espresso to the comforting cappuccino, the cortado stands as a unique choice for those seeking balance in flavour and texture. Originating from Spain, this coffee beverage has won hearts globally, including in the United Kingdom where the coffee scene is ever-evolving. But what makes a cortado special? In this article, we delve into the cortado’s unique attributes and try to answer some frequently asked questions about this much-adored beverage.

Is a Cortado a Small Cappuccino?

No, a cortado is not a small cappuccino. While they both feature espresso and milk, the ratio, preparation, and presentation differentiate them substantially.

Understanding the Components

A cortado typically consists of equal parts of espresso and steamed milk. This balance offers a strong yet smooth coffee flavour, minus the froth. On the other hand, a cappuccino is one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third foam, resulting in a more textured and frothy drink.

“A cortado is to a cappuccino what a minimalist painting is to a baroque masterpiece; it’s all about balance and simplicity.”

The Texture Difference

The milk in a cortado is steamed but not frothy, aiming to cut through the espresso—hence the name ‘cortado,’ derived from the Spanish verb cortar, meaning to cut. In a cappuccino, the frothy milk adds a creamy texture, creating a multi-layered experience.

Temperature and Presentation

A cortado is generally served at a lower temperature than a cappuccino. It’s usually offered in a glass to showcase its beautiful layers, while a cappuccino comes in a ceramic cup to maintain its heat longer.

The Ingredients That Make a Cortado Unique

  • High-quality Espresso: The foundation of any great cortado.
  • Steamed Milk: Provides smoothness without frothiness.
  • Glass Cup: Traditional serving vessel that displays the drink’s layers.

Comparing Coffee Types: A Quick Glance

Type of CoffeeEspressoSteamed MilkFroth
Flat WhiteYesYesMinimal

The Cultural Impact of Cortado

The cortado has made significant inroads into the UK’s vibrant coffee scene. Cafés offering this beverage often present it as a sophisticated option for those who prefer a smooth yet potent coffee experience. Unlike more elaborate coffee drinks, the cortado’s simplicity leaves little room for errors, making it a true test of a barista’s skills.

“In the UK, the cortado has been embraced as a coffee drink for those who appreciate the finer nuances of coffee brewing.”

Why Choose a Cortado?

  1. Flavourful Simplicity: If you love the taste of espresso but find it too strong, a cortado is a perfect middle ground.
  2. Textural Balance: No foam means a smoother sip every time.
  3. Cultural Experience: Drinking a cortado can offer a subtle nod to coffee traditions outside the usual Italian espresso or Americano.


So, what makes a cortado special? Its understated elegance, textural finesse, and harmonious balance of flavours make it a unique choice for coffee aficionados. Far from being a small cappuccino, it’s a drink in its own right, offering a different—some would say more refined—coffee experience.