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Most urban coffee shops offer the same array of coffee drinks on their menu. And in this broad, seemingly never-ending list of caffeine-infused deliciousness, it’s always a couple of variables that are dancing around the same, main component of the perfect cup of joe: espresso.
Today, we’ll take a look at two espresso-based beverages that often get confused: the elegant, laconic cortado and the smooth, velvety latte. We will learn what makes them similar, and what sets them apart so that you know exactly what to order on your next trip to the local café. Or, you’ll know exactly what to do if you’re trying to recreate these coffeeshop classics at home.
What Is Cortado?
A cortado gives a Spanish twist to the usually Italian-crafted array of espresso beverages. You see, “cortado” means “cut” in Spanish. The drink is named cortado, or cut, because you cut that wonderfully acidic shot of espresso with some steamed milk. Unlike most Italian milky takes on the espresso, the cortado contains less foam and is generally made without any frothed milk. Any thin layer of foam that adorns a cup of cortado is the result of steamed milk.
The taste of the cortado is a beautiful balance between coffee and milk, combining that flavorful espresso punch with the smooth, silky taste of steamed milk. It’s the ideal choice for coffee lovers that like a strong cup of java, but don’t want to be knocked to the ground by the bold taste of an espresso shot.
How Do You Make a Cortado?
A cortado is made of equal parts espresso and flat steamed milk. This makes the drink quite short – when you add the espresso and steamed milk, the drink averages a total of 3 – 4 ounces.
While frothed milk, or foam, in lattes is often optional, cortados are traditionally made without any foam. The most you’d get is a thin, foamy layer that’s come out of the steamed milk.
What Is a Latte?
The word latte, as you may have suspected, means milk in Italian. The name makes perfect sense, as a latte is one of the milkiest espresso-based beverages you’ll come across. One of the main differences between a cortado and a latte is the amount of milk. A latte uses twice as much steamed milk as a cortado. Another difference is that while frothed milk (foam) isn’t a must in a latte recipe, it’s an optional ingredient that baristas often choose to add. Cortados never really come with additional foam – unless you specifically ask for it.
Lattes are the perfect choice for people who prefer experiencing the intense flavor of the espresso through a veil of silky, velvety-smooth steamed milk. A lot of coffee shops also offer lattes with different flavored syrups, like mint, vanilla, caramel, and so on. (But why would anyone ruin their coffee with a syrup? What am I, twelve?)
How Do You Make a Latte?
A latte is generally made with one part espresso and two parts steamed milk. The steamed milk is also slightly aerated in the process, so it comes with a thin layer of foam on the top (perhaps a bit thicker than a cortado). If you prefer having foam on your latte, you can specify this to your barista, or you can create it at home using an affordable, handy milk frother.
As a latte comes with more milk than a cortado, it’s also a larger cup of coffee. The size of a latte starts at 6 ounces, but can also go all the way up to 20 ounces in coffee shops like Starbucks, where a coffee drink seems to count only if you can barely carry it. Of course, in these cases, baristas also add a second shot of espresso to maintain the balance between espresso flavor and silky-smooth milk.
Recapping the Differences Between Cortado and Latte
So, what are the differences between cortado and latte? Let’s recap:
- A cortado has a 1:1 espresso to milk ratio; a latte has a 1:2 espresso to milk ratio;
- A cortado usually has no foam; a latte may contain anything from a thin to a generous layer of foamy, frothed milk.