What is a Cortado and how is it prepared?

A Cortado is a single (or double) espresso to which a few drops of milk (or a splash) are added to reduce the flavor and soften the bitterness of the coffee.

The Cortado is a very popular way of drinking coffee in Spain, which consists of drinking a hot espresso to which a splash of milk is added, much less than the Latte or the Cappuccino and more similar to the Machiatto.

The Café Cortado is one of the four coffees served in any Spanish coffee shop, along with the Café Solo (espresso), the Café con Leche, or the Manchado. Depending on the establishment, they will not know how to prepare your coffee if you do not opt for one of these four types.

Classic Spanish Cortado
Classic Spanish Cortado

How to prepare a Cortado?

To make a delicious Cortado, starting with a rich and flavorful espresso is essential. To achieve this, you must use the high-quality coffee beans you prefer. I recommend using medium-roasted and high-altitude coffee beans.

➡️ Here is a step-by-step guide on how to make a great espresso:

  1. Preparation:
    • Clean the portafilter with water and dry it thoroughly
    • Set the grinding grade on the grinder
  2. Grinding:
    • Weigh and grind 18 grams of coffee (for 2 espressos)
  3. Filling the Portafilter:
    • Place the ground coffee in the portafilter basket
    • Compact the coffee with the tamper for even water flow
  4. Extraction:
    • Place the portafilter in the machine and the cups on the scale under
    • Start the extraction process and the timer simultaneously
    • Use a preferred extraction ratio between 1:2 and 1:2.5
    • Measure the time it takes to extract the coffee and adjust the grind if necessary
    • The extraction should take 25-30 seconds and yield 36-45 grams of coffee

Add the milk to the Cortado

Once the espresso is extracted, a splash of hot milk (not steamed) is added, changing the espresso’s color from black to a dark brown, and the stronger flavors of the espresso are more delicate thanks to the milk.

The traditional Spanish Cortado recipe does not use steamed milk. In many parts of Spain, the presence of textured milk in a Cortado is not liked.

⚠️ I am aware that in other blogs erroneously indicate that the Cortado is prepared with 50% coffee and 50% milk. However, this would be a Café con leche, while if we have 25% coffee and 75% milk, we will face a Manchado.

Can another type of coffee be used for Cortado?

While the traditional Cortado is typically made with an espresso base, there is some variation in its preparation in Spanish homes. Here, the Cortado base may not always be an espresso.

An alternative option is to use a Moka pot or a drip coffee maker to prepare a black coffee with just a splash of milk added. In these instances, the amount of coffee used can be greater than the standard 30-45 ml served in coffee shops.

Cortado prepared with black drip coffee
Cortado prepared with black drip coffee

How cortado is prepared outside Spain

I live in England, but I am Spanish. I have done the “Cortado test” many times in many coffee shops and have never been served an authentic Cortado.

The drink they usually prepare for you is a small hot coffee containing espresso and hot milk. The balance between espresso and milk is 1:1 (approximately half espresso, half milk).

Sometimes the milk was textured, and sometimes it was not. But for sure, none of these baristas have visited Spain and ordered a cortado in a coffee shop.

Cortado vs. Machiatto

If there is one type of coffee that resembles Cortado, it is Machiatto, also known as espresso Machiatto. In this case, a double espresso is always served, whereas, with the Cortado, you can start with a single espresso.

While the Cortado is served in a small cup with a capacity for a single espresso (30-45ml), the Machiatto is served in a glass cup of about 60-90ml.

A shot of hot milk is added to the Cortado, while the Machiatto has a little milk foam added to the top of the double espresso.

Both coffees will have identical flavors, as they have the same base and very little milk is added. The only difference is in the size of the drink and the texture of the drink.


The Cortado is a classic Spanish coffee that is enjoyed by many. It is made by adding a small amount of hot milk to a single or double espresso, reducing the bitterness and enhancing the flavor.

The traditional Cortado recipe does not use steamed milk and is typically served in a small cup with a capacity of 30-45ml.

Although the espresso base is the traditional preparation, it can also be made using a Moka pot or a drip coffee maker with just a splash of milk added.

Despite being widely recognized in Spain, the authenticity of the Cortado outside of Spain may vary, as baristas in other countries may not have the same understanding of the traditional recipe.

Written by Pablo Barrantes Nevado
I am Pablo Barrantes, a coffee lover. I decided to start this website to solve all the doubts that arise every day when preparing our favorite drink: coffee. I am an industrial engineer by profession, but I have worked in coffee shops for many years, where I have learned all the secrets about coffee machines and coffee. My passion for coffee has led me to investigate and study beyond the obvious, and thanks to this, I can offer solutions and give news about coffee and coffee makers. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I research, document and write here.

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