One of these drinks is among the most popular with coffee lovers worldwide. The other is less known, but no less delicious. Let’s take a closer look at the main differences between cortado vs latte.
Do you prefer your coffee iced rather than hot? Then you may reach for a latte.
What if you like a smaller drink as opposed to the large sizes common at many coffee chains? A cortado may be for you.
While both of these beverages start with an espresso base, how they’re made and what they taste like differs widely.
In this post, I’ll look at the origin of each drink, how they’re prepared, and their flavor profiles. And I’ll walk through how to make each drink at home, so you can make your own cortado or latte whenever you want!
What’s a cortado?
The cortado hails from Spain’s Basque region in the northeastern part of the country. It was consumed regionally throughout Spain and Portugal in the early 20th century before making its way to Latin America. Now, cortados are served worldwide as their popularity continues to grow.
The drink consists of equal parts espresso and steamed milk, typically two ounces of each.
Its name derives from the Spanish word “cortar,” which means to cut. That’s a reference to the effect the milk has on the bitter espresso when it’s added to the drink. The steamed milk cuts through some of that bitterness but does not take away from the strong coffee flavor.
A cortado is commonly served in a 4.5 oz ridged, Gibraltar glass. That’s why you may sometimes see a cortado referred to as a “gibraltar.” The smaller glass is the perfect size for the specific ratio of espresso to milk, and it helps achieve the right flavor and texture balance in the drink.
How does a cortado taste?
When the espresso and steamed milk are combined correctly in a cortado, the result is a slightly creamy drink with a bold but not overpowering coffee taste. The milk also adds a bit of sweetness and helps create a smooth, silky texture, making a cortado pleasurable to drink.
If you like the aroma and taste of espresso but not the bitterness or high acidity that can often come with it, then a cortado may have just the perfect balance of flavor and sweetness for you.
How to make a cortado
Making a traditional cortado at home is easier than you make think. Here are step-by-step instructions:
- Make two shots of espresso. Add them to a 4.5 oz glass.
- Steam 2 oz of milk. Use either your espresso machine’s steam wand or you can steam milk on the stovetop. Whisk until you have a slightly frothy texture.
- Combine. Pour the steamed milk over the espresso in the cup.
- Enjoy your cortado!
💡Tip: If you don’t have an espresso maker, you can use a regular coffee maker that has a “rich” setting to make a strong, small cup of coffee. On a Keurig or Nespresso machine, use the espresso setting and just combine an equal amount of espresso and milk.
What is a latte?
The word latte is Italian for “milk.” So it should come as no surprise that milk makes up much of this drink.
Traditionally, a coffee latte includes one or two shots of espresso. Next, steamed milk is added. Then it’s topped with a thin layer of milk foam. Together, they create a smooth, balanced drink with a milky taste and subtle coffee flavor.
A type of latte is believed to date as far back as the 17th century. Various versions of coffee combined with milk were popular in France and later in Spain (as cafe au lait and cafe con leche, respectively). The major difference was that they weren’t made with espresso. That wasn’t invented until the early 20th century.
The prominence of the “Caffè Latte” in America is credited to the owner of the Caffè Mediterraneum, which opened in Berkeley, California in the 1950s. His customers complained that his cappuccinos were too small and had a bitter taste. So he made a drink that was similar, but included more steamed milk. The result was essentially the latte as we know it today.
Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the latte soared in popularity in the United States after coffee shops like Starbucks began offering both original and flavored versions. Today, it’s one of the most popular coffee drinks in the world.
How does a latte taste?
Because of the extra milk that’s added, a traditional latte generally has a more prominent creaminess with a milder coffee flavor and slight sweetness.
Other flavorings can also be added to the drink, usually in the form of syrups, that can change both the taste and the level of sweetness. Common ones include caramel, vanilla, and hazelnut.
How to make a latte
A main difference between a latte and a cortado coffee is that lattes can be made hot or iced. That makes them a great option for both cold winter days and hot summer ones.
And while it helps to have an espresso machine to make them at home, it isn’t necessary. If your regular coffee machine can make a rich, small cup of coffee, you can use that instead.
To make a hot latte:
- Make the espresso. Use a single or double shot of espresso depending on your tastes.
- Heat up milk. Typically, you’ll want a large amount of milk compared to espresso — around 8-15 ounces of milk per 1-2 shots of espresso. The milk is meant to moderate the bitterness of the drink. You can heat it up with a steam wand, on the stovetop, or in the microwave.
- Steam the milk. If using a steam wand, steam it until you get just a thin layer of foam. Other options: you can use a frother on your coffee machine, or even simply shake the warm milk vigorously in a mason jar for a few seconds.
- Combine. To create the latte, add the hot espresso shots to a cup, then pour the hot milk gently over it, finishing with the foam. That’s it!
⭐️ Note: Whole milk is often used in lattes, but feel free to use lowfat or nonfat milk. Or you can use non-dairy varieties like oat milk, almond milk, or soy milk depending on your personal preference.
Making an iced latte is very similar to making a hot one. Here’s how to do it:
- Make your espresso or rich coffee.
- Add ice to a tall glass.
- Pour the espresso over the ice.
- Add your choice of milk (and any sweetener or flavored syrup) to a mason jar. Shake until the milk starts to froth.
- Pour the milk over the espresso and ice. Enjoy!
Which has more caffeine, cortado or latte?
The caffeine content in these drinks comes down to how many shots of espresso you add to them.
☕️ Each espresso shot contains about 65 milligrams of caffeine. So a double shot would have around 130 mg.
Since you can make a latte with either one or two shots, and a cortado is typically made with a double, the cortado would be stronger in terms of caffeine.
If they both have a double shot, they each would have equal caffeine levels. The exception would be if you include extras like mocha sauce to your latte for example, as it can contain small amounts of caffeine. Some might say you’re venturing into mocha territory if you do that, and that’s a whole other drink altogether!
Latte vs cortado summary
Here are the key differences between these two espresso drinks, at a glance:
- Dates back to 17th century Europe, but the modern espresso version was popularized in America in the 1950s.
- A hot drink made with 1 to 2 ounces of espresso and generally more than 8 ounces of steamed milk.
- Contains about 65 to 130 mg of caffeine, depending on whether it has a single shot of espresso or a double.
- Has a milky, subtle coffee flavor that’s very sweet, as no sugar is added. But flavorings can add sweetness.
- Usually served in 12oz cups and larger.
- About 125-200 calories for a 12 oz serving, depending on added sweeteners.
- Can be made hot or iced.
- Originated in Spain’s Basque country in the early 20th century.
- Made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk. Usually 2 ounces of each are used.
- A traditional double-shot cortado has about 130 mg of caffeine.
- Features a mellow yet still bold coffee flavor with a smooth, velvety texture.
- Served hot in 4.5 oz glasses.
- Each serving has about 45 calories on average.
A latte is made by combining 1-2 shots of espresso with large amounts of steamed milk to create a milky drink with a mild coffee flavor. While a flat white also uses espresso and steamed milk, it uses less milk. And it’s topped with a thin, flat layer of luxurious microfoam. Hence its name. The delicate microfoam helps produce a creamy, rich espresso drink with a stronger coffee flavor.
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