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Cortado vs Latte: What’s the Difference?

cortado vs latte

Have you seen a cortado on a coffee shop menu and wondered what it was? This Spanish drink has taken the coffee world by storm, appearing on menus from coast to coast — next to the trusty latte, of course. So what separates a latte from a cortado, and which do you prefer?

Keep reading to find out all about lattes and cortados.

RELATED READ: What are the 21 different types of espresso drinks?

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What is a Latte?

Let’s start with the basics. Lattes are an Italian coffee creation made from espresso shots and generous amounts of steamed milk. The steamed milk is lightly frothed, creating a microfoam layer that sits at the top of the cup. The size of the beverage ranges from 6 and 20 ounces. You can order a latte with one to three shots of espresso, depending on how much caffeine you’re looking for.

What is a latte?

Lattes are popular because they combine the intense espresso flavor with a lot of smooth, creamy milk to create a mellow espresso taste. To help you create exactly what you’re craving, you can also add a range of flavored syrups.

Pros
  • Intense espresso and smooth, creamy milk
  • Can add a range of flavored syrups
  • Satisfying microfoam layer
  • Can make latte art
Cons
  • Espresso flavor isn’t as strong
  • May be too milky

What is a Cortado?

This espresso drink was crafted in Spain and is now popular all over the world. “Cortado” means “cut” in Spanish, and this drink is an espresso shot cut by steamed milk. It’s essentially equal parts espresso and steamed milk with no added flavors or sugar. This means one shot of espresso is matched with equal parts milk, making the drink about three or four ounces altogether. This drink packs a powerful espresso flavor but still has a milky balance.

Cortado coffee with animal crackers
Image: Bex Walton, Flickr, CC 2.0

The cortado may be made without foam or with a small layer of microfoam. Unlike the Italians, the Spanish prefer less foam in their coffee drinks. This less-frothed milk gives the drink a silky texture and a nice balance between the espresso and milk.

Pros
  • Highlights the bold, rich flavor of espresso
  • Smoothed slightly by foamed milk
  • A nice balance of flavor and texture
Cons
  • May be too intense
  • Not a large drink
  • Can be harder to find

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Highlighting the Differences

The main difference between lattes and cortados is the size of the drink and the ratio of espresso to milk. Let’s quickly review:

Cortados are made with equal parts steamed milk and espresso, and they may contain no foam or a small amount of microfoam. Lattes have quite a bit more steamed milk and are almost always topped with a solid layer of microfoam. Cortados are espresso-forward, while lattes are milk-heavy and may be made with caramel or peppermint syrup.

Next up: See our top 10 latte makers of 2020 here. We reviewed dozens of models to make this list.

Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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