You probably already know that espresso’s huge claim to fame is its high caffeine content: a typical one-ounce shot has 63 grams! Compare that to 95 grams of caffeine in an average eight-ounce cup of coffee.
In fact, there are 21 different types of espressos, each with its own unique profile. The latte is one of the most popular espresso drinks in the U.S., but it’s recently been given a run for its money by the up-and-coming cortado – a drink that’s been a worldwide favorite for years.
So what exactly are the differences between cortado vs. latte? To start, the cortado is a Spanish drink creation, and the latte (more formally known as the café latte) is of Italian origin.
When comparing cortado vs. latte, the espresso is just one ingredient that plays a central role in differentiating these two brews. In this short guide, we’ll explain how each of these specialty drinks compares to the other, including:
- How they’re each made
- Their history
- Their unique flavor profiles
- The pros and cons to consider for each
- Some fun latte vs. cortado FAQs you can use to impress your friends
The Ultimate Cortado vs. Latte Guide for 2023
How do You Make Cortado vs. Latte?
Creating a Cortado
When discussing a cortado, it’s all about the cortado ratio, which is a 50/50 ratio of milk to espresso. Rather than a frothy foam, the milk is steamed, and the drink doesn’t contain added flavorings or sugar.
While the number of espresso shots in a cortado is flexible, it typically comes with two shots unless you specify otherwise. It’s a small drink that still packs a big punch when it comes to the caffeine boost you’ll experience!
To Make Your Own Cortado: For an easy cortado recipe, first, grind the beans of your choice and pull two (one-ounce) shots of espresso. Next, steam your milk and tap out the bubbles, so it doesn’t froth. Measure out two ounces of steamed milk for the correct cortado ratio, pour it over your espresso in a cortado glass, and enjoy!
Creating a Latte
With lattes, the steamed milk is frothed to create a creamy layer on top of the espresso known as ‘microfoam’. One to three shots of espresso are common for lattes, and the typical ratio is 2 parts espresso to 3 parts milk.
While you could technically stop there, in reality, most lattes also include added flavorings like honey, sugar, or flavored syrups.
To Make Your Own Latte: Flavored latte recipes pair select coffee beans with flavored syrups and powders in a variety of delicious combinations. If you use plant-based milk, consider using barista milk for the right foam texture and taste. A latte glass or latte cup can also help create a café experience – right in your own home.
The History of Cortado vs. Latte
The name cortado is from the past tense of the Spanish word for “cut” (cortar), a reference to diluting the espresso with steamed milk. While the Basque region seemingly began the tradition in the 1960s, the drink became more popular in the Galicia region of Portugal.
The west coast’s Blue Bottle Coffee claims the first version of the cortado in the U.S., and they called it Gibraltar – but never put it on the menu because they didn’t want to pay for a reprint! Only regulars knew to ask for it.
The secretive nature added to the cortado’s appeal and helped make it a “cult classic” of sorts in the early 2000s. A barista at Blue Bottle Coffee eventually opened the Abraço in New York City, and rumor has it that this is how the drink began to spread throughout the country.
Today in Spain, the cortado seems to have transformed into “the everyman drink,” and the more refined versions can be found elsewhere worldwide, including in the U.S.
While the cortado was originally created for Spanish and Portuguese people to enjoy, the café latte was actually formulated with American tourists in mind.
The espresso itself became popular in Italy in the 1940s after a Milanese coffee shop owner invented a spring lever to add to the espresso machine so baristas could “pull a shot.”
However, according to Green Farm Coffee, this espresso was too bitter for many U.S. visitors, and frothy milk was added to make it more appealing. This new drink was called a cafe latte. In fact, today, if you travel to Italy and ask for a latte (without specifying ‘café latte’), you’ll be served a warm glass of milk!
The latte does parallel the cortado’s entry into the U.S. in one way: according to Food.com, it was on the west coast, at San Francisco’s Caffé Trieste, that the idea of adding flavored syrups to a milky espresso mix first came about. In 1982, retired coffee industry vet LC Brandenburg spotted Torani brand syrups on the shelves of this café and had the bright idea to experiment with them back at his home in Portland, Oregon.
A partnership was formed between the syrup maker and the coffee aficionado, and the latte trend was born. As the 80s turned into the 90s, Starbucks and Peets coffee took this trend even further with their own unique latte blends – including the forerunner to the famous pumpkin-spiced latte, the pumpkin pie latte.
The Flavors of Cortado vs. Latte
Because lattes have more milk and often contain added flavored sweeteners, you won’t taste the flavor profile of your espresso beans as you will with a cortado. Due to the additional milk, they offer a sweeter alternative, even without added flavors. Lattes also offer a textured foam layer on top, making them the ideal “comfort drink.”
The cortado allows you to get the best of the flavors of your beans, whether they be nutty, fruity, or chocolate, without the excess bitterness sometimes associated with a straight espresso. The milk helps cut the acidic taste while still leaving a bold, smooth coffee flavor. The cortado ratio allows for an ideal balance between sweetness and bitterness.
Pros and Cons of Cortado vs. Latte
When deciding between latte vs. cortado, here are a few of the top pros and cons to consider:
- It’s easier to DIY a cortado vs. a latte since there are only two ingredients: whole coffee beans and milk.
- Lattes are easier to find in cafés and coffee shops throughout the country than cortados.
- Cortados are generally the healthier drink because they don’t have any added sugars or corn syrups from the flavorings, plus they’re smaller with fewer calories.
- Latte flavors can be customized to taste with different syrups, while cortados have a singular bold espresso taste.
Many of the pros and cons of cortado vs latte come down to your personal preferences: do you like the smaller (4-4.5 ounce) size that cortado offers or a larger (6-20 ounce+) latte drink?
Do your tastes lean more towards purist (cortado), or are you the variety is the spice of life type (latte)? Whatever you decide, they both offer a great “pick me up” throughout the day.
3 FAQs About Cortado vs. Latte to Impress Your Friends
1. The Cortado Has an Alias
The cortado is often nicknamed ‘The Gibraltar’ in the U.S. because the first version crafted here was named after the 4.5-ounce Libby Gibraltar glasses in which it was served.
2. The Latte is its Own Art Form
The “latte art” trend began with baristas looking to add a little flair and a personal touch to these specialty drinks. Flowers, animals, and symbols are all favorite latte art designs, and at-home baristas can join in the creative fun with patterned latte art stencils!
3. Both Cortado and Latte are Part of a Growing Trend
While there are a number of differences between cortados and lattes, they are both parts of the growing specialty coffee market. Between 2021-2026, this market’s compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is expected to increase by more than 13%, and the market share will increase by over $68 billion. These popular drinks are truly coffee crowd favorites, both in the U.S. and throughout the world.
When comparing cortado vs latte, the key difference is the ratio of milk to espresso. While cortados have a 1:1 ratio to create the perfect balance between bold espresso taste and satisfying sweetness, lattes have slightly more milk than espresso (typically a 3:2 ratio).
In addition, lattes often have added sugars, syrups, and powders, while cortados are pure steamed milk and espresso. The final difference is the topping: lattes have a frothy foam topping that isn’t present in cortados.
These differences create unique flavor profiles for each drink. Lattes are sweeter and creamier, with just a hint of espresso flavor, while cortados strike a balance between coffee bean flavors and a milky sweet taste. Lattes are also more customizable to taste, whereas cortados have a singular bold flavor.
While the cortado came out of the Basque region of Spain and the café latte was created in Italy, both entered the U.S. via the west coast. Today they share a spot in the growing specialty coffee niche, and their popularity is increasing among coffee connoisseurs who frequent large chains, small cafés – and even those who run their own in-home brewing stations!