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

What’s on the drink menu at your local coffeeshop is only about a tenth of what a knowledgeable barista knows how to make.

Being equally knowledgeable about your options can give you a far better experience. You might even find something you like better than the standard cappuccino or latte.

Two often hidden coffeeshop menu items are the cortado and the misto, two nearly identical drinks with one major switcheroo.

What is a Cortado?

The intention of a cortado is to cut the acidity of espresso without overpowering its flavor. That’s done by meeting the espresso halfway.

A cortado is one part espresso to one part steamed milk.

What really distinguishes this drink of Spanish origin from Italian espresso drinks is its lack of textured milk.

cortado coffee on wood table

This creates an espresso drink that goes down much like a regular coffee, only considerably creamier and with the stronger, richer flavor of espresso.

Since it’s one part espresso to one part steamed milk, it’s also served small – typically only four ounces with a double shot (two ounces) of espresso.

What is a Café Misto?

A café misto is basically the same thing as café au lait – coffee with milk.

However, unlike café au lait, which can be served with any amount of warmed milk (there is no definitive ratio that makes a café au lait a café au lait), the misto has a definitive ratio.

A misto is one part brewed coffee to one part steamed milk.

Since the misto is equal amounts coffee and milk, strong-brewed coffees typically produce a better tasting drink. Lightly-brewed coffees can get washed out in the mix.

coffee with milk

A weak misto often ends up tasting like a glass of warm coffee-flavored milk.

Always opt for the bolder coffee blend when ordering a misto.

The Takeaway

Despite their similarities, the cortado and the misto are two very different tasting drinks. Mainly because espresso and brewed coffee are such differently and distinctly prepared bases.

If you’re looking to make a choice between a cortado and a misto, here are some points that might help –

  • A cortado is always served small (typically 4 ounces)
  • A misto can be ordered in any size
  • The milk content of a cortado and a misto is the same (equal to the amount of espresso or coffee)
  • A cortado has a strong, bold flavor dominated by the espresso
  • A misto has a creamy, light flavor dominated by the milk

As for the health and nutritional differences between the two:

  • A cortado has far fewer calories than a misto because it’s half the size of the smallest misto (generally speaking you won’t find a misto smaller than 8 ounces) and, therefore, contains far less milk
  • A 16-ounce misto contains the same amount of caffeine as a 4-ounce cortado (a larger misto contains more caffeine than a cortado)
  • When served in equal sizes, a cortado and a misto have very similar nutritional properties
  • The filtered coffee in a misto has fewer of the compounds in coffee that raise your bad cholesterol levels, making it the heart-healthier option

Starbucks (and a few other chain coffeeshops) will make and serve a café misto. But you won’t see it on the menu in stores.

The misto is a great substitution for a latte. It has the same basic ingredients, minus the foam, and since it uses brewed coffee instead of espresso it’s cheaper than a latte of the same size.

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