One is equal parts espresso and steamed milk. The other lies somewhere between a latte and a cappuccino. And both are popular among coffee drinkers. So what sets them apart? Here are the main differences between a cortado vs flat white.
I love my coffee drinks to showcase the coffee itself — and both a cortado and a flat white fit the bill perfectly. While they each use espresso and steamed milk, the espresso still shines in each of them.
So, how exactly are they different? In this post, I’ll cover the basics of each drink, from flavor profiles and ingredients to caffeine content.
What is a cortado?
Consisting of espresso shots mixed with an equal amount of steamed milk, some consider a cortado the perfect balance of coffee and milk flavors.
The drink originated in Spain — “cortado” is the Spanish word for “cut” or “chopped.” That’s a nod to the milk in the drink which helps cut through and mellow out the espresso’s strong flavor and acidity.
A traditional cortado coffee is made with a double shot of espresso and 2 oz of steamed milk. Commonly, it’s served in a 4.5 oz ridged, Gibraltar glass, and you may sometimes see a cortado referred to as a “gibraltar.”
The drink uses that smaller glass in order to achieve the right flavor and texture from the specific ratio of espresso to milk.
What does a cortado taste like?
The milk in a cortado is steamed but not frothed, as in a cappuccino. This helps the milk blend effortlessly with the espresso, and it creates a drink with a pleasant coffee flavor, but one that’s not overpowering. The milk also helps moderate the acidity of the espresso, and gives it a smooth, velvety, texture.
👉🏼 Related: Cortado vs Macchiato- The Basics
What is a flat white?
The magic of the flat white is in the thin, flat layer of luxurious microfoam that lays on top of this espresso-based beverage. And that’s how it got its name.
That microfoam is made by gently steaming milk to incorporate tiny bubbles into it. This gives the milk a texture that’s very creamy, but not frothy. Typically whole milk is used, as the higher fat content lends itself better to creating that ideal texture.
Then it’s poured over espresso in a small cup — usually no larger than 6 oz. The delicate nature of the microfoam mixes with the espresso to create a rich, creamy, balanced, coffee beverage.
The origins of the flat white are hotly debated. Some say it started in New Zealand in the 1980s. Others argue baristas in Australia first developed it at around the same time. Either way, it eventually made its way to the United States and the rest of North America about 20 years later, where it’s now a favorite among American coffee lovers.
What does a flat white taste like?
While the creamy microfoam gives a flat white its signature smooth texture, it’s still an espress-forward drink. That has a lot to do with the small size of the cup that it’s traditionally served in. By limiting the drink to 5 or 6 oz, you let the espresso flavor remain prominent without drowning it in excessive amounts of milk.
The espresso coupled with that luxurious steamed milk microfoam delivers a drink with a noticeable coffee taste that’s pleasurable and easy to drink.
Which is stronger: flat white or cortado?
A flat white can be made with either a single shot of espresso or a double shot. If it has a double shot, it will contain the same caffeine levels as a cortado, which also uses two shots.
A single ounce of espresso contains about 65 mg of caffeine, so a double shot will have about 130 mg of caffeine.
But things get a bit more interesting when it comes to taste. Sometimes a flat white will be made with smaller — but stronger — ristretto shots of espresso. A ristretto shot uses the same amount of finely ground coffee beans, but with less water and a shorter extraction time. This produces a strong coffee taste.
So if your flat white is made this way, it will likely have a richer coffee taste than a cortado. However, a flat white with regular espresso, especially just a single shot, will be less coffee-intense than a cortado.
Note: In terms of caffeine, a ristretto and regular shot of espresso have nearly equal amounts, as each uses the same amount of coffee.
What are the differences between a flat white vs cortado?
Origin – Australia or New Zealand.
Ingredients – One or two shots of espresso plus steamed milk with a microfoam layer.
Size – Typically 5-6 oz.
Taste – Mellow to strong coffee flavor depending on the number and type of shots used. Velvety, creamy texture.
Caffeine Content – About 65-130 mg of caffeine.
Average Calories – About 70-120 depending on type of milk used.
Origin – Spain.
Ingredients – Equal parts espresso and steamed milk. Usually 2 ounces of espresso are used.
Size – Typically around 4 oz.
Taste – Mellow coffee flavor with a smooth, milky texture.
Caffeine Content – About 130 mg of caffeine.
Average Calories – About 45.
Both coffee beverages are similar, as they use espresso and steamed milk, but it’s the ratio of milk that sets them apart. A flat white uses much less milk in order to give the drink a stronger espresso flavor. A latte includes more steamed milk, which can result in a very milky tasting drink with a much less intense coffee quality. Additionally, the thin microfoam layer on top of a flat white gives it a luxuriously creamy texture.
The size of the drink is another difference. As lattes can use generous amounts of milk, it’s not uncommon to see them come in sizes up to 20 oz, whereas a flat white is generally made in a 5-6 oz serving.
Both a flat white and a cappuccino are traditionally served in similar sizes — somewhere between 5 and 8 oz. The main difference with these espresso drinks is in the texture and intensity of coffee flavor. A cappuccino has a layer of steamed milk topped with thick milk froth. That gives it a pillowy texture and a balanced coffee and milky flavor.
A flat white has less foam. It’s topped with a thin layer of steamed milk microfoam, making it feel much creamier. It also generally has a more intense coffee flavor, especially if stronger ristretto espresso shots are used.
The amount of milk used is the key difference between these two coffee drinks. A cortado has equal parts espresso and steamed milk, usually 2 oz of each. A macchiato is espresso topped or “marked” with a small amount of milk foam. This can give it a deeper and more bitter coffee taste than a cortado.
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