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New Coffee Drinkers Guide: Cortado vs Espresso – What’s The Difference?

Do you normally order up an espresso at your local coffee shop, but you’re putting some feelers out there for a new drink? If you’ve seen the cortado on the coffee bar menu, then you might be curious how it compares to the espresso.

Well, if your palette is looking for something a bit more milky than you’re used to with that espresso, then a cortado just might be the new drink for you. Let us compare the espresso and the cortado so you’ll know what they have in common and how they differ.

What Is A Cortado?

Though you don’t see this espresso drink on most coffee bar menus, it does seem to be spreading slowly around the globe from its origin of Spain. In fact, the drink is easily found in the coffee shops of London and you can probably order it down in South America.

cortado coffee on wood table

Though in the USA, you’re really only going to to find it in the more hipstery coffee shops on the East Coast and West Coast. Though they call it a Gibraltar on the West Coast.

Overall, this is a good coffee drink to transition to if you enjoy espresso but want something that just a tad sweeter with a bit of milk.

A cortado has a 1:1 ratio of espresso to lightly steamed milk.

What makes a cortado is the milk — it is only lightly steamed and should have no texture (no foam or froth). And the milk it cut in with the espresso instead of just being poured on top of it.

Since the milk in a cortado is only lightly steamed, it’s not going to be as hot of a drink as the espresso.

The milk also gives it a bit of a sweeter flavor than your basic espresso.

What Is An Espresso?

It seems like everyone and their brother knows what an espresso is, right? But if not, let’s cover the basics so that we can show you how if differs from the cortado.

cup of espresso

The espresso comes from Italy, of course. And it’s not uncommon to see large manly men sipping their espresso out of those dainty little cups across the country, as well as the rest of Europe.

Sometimes you see espresso drinkers empty a packet of sugar into the cup, but other times they just drink it black. Traditionally, of course, it should be black with no sugar, but sweeten it to your taste if you prefer (I do!).

The espresso is a small, simple, serious no-nonsense sort of drink. You get what you get with it, and that’s what makes it so great.

An espresso is like coffee; it’s just the result of hot water forced through the espresso grounds.

A single shot of espresso measures in at on ounce of hot liquid, so this is a very small drink. But it’s a hell of a strong one, so you probably won’t be complaining about the size after you finish it.

Of course, you can order an espresso as a double shot or triple shot.

There is no milk in an espresso, though your drink will have some air bubbles on top in the lighter crema. And it will have a bold coffee flavor when you sip it.

The Takeaway

As you can see, the espresso is a completely different drink than the cortado, though they do have some similarities.

If you want a quick glance at how they compare, here are the highlights:

  • An espresso has a smaller serving size of one fl oz.
  • An espresso has a bolder, stronger coffee taste than a cortado.
  • A cortado is often made with two shots, so it has more caffeine in it than an espresso.
  • An espresso has no milk in it.
  • A cortado is a sweeter drink with a cooler temperature.

If that still doesn’t help you make a decision, and you’re curious about calories and caffeine, then you’ll find this interesting:

  • A cortado tends to have a few more calories than an espresso simply because it has more milk
  • The cortado should be made with two shots of espresso, so it has more caffeine than a single espresso, the same as a double, and less than a triple.

Still not sure? Why order up both and see which one tastes better to you!

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