If you’re looking for a caffeinated pick-me-up but don’t love the intensity of espresso, then cortado and latte are two great options.
Both drinks are created by mixing steamed milk with espresso to lessen the bite you’d get from straight coffee. The main differences between a cortado vs latte, are serving size, the milk-to-coffee ratio, and temperature.
In this article, I’ll share a quick primer on both of these espresso drinks, what makes them different and when to reach for a cortado vs latte.
What is a Cortado?
Cortado is an espresso drink of Spanish origin that was created to cut through the intensity of coffee with milk. The word literally means “cut.”
It is created by combining equal parts espresso and steamed milk for a 4-ounce drink.
With cortado, you’ll still experience the bold flavor of espresso. Only at a lesser intensity than drinking a straight shot. The steamed milk also adds a sweet taste and silky smooth mouthfeel to the cup.
When ordering a cortado, expect to finish it quickly. It’s not a large drink, a fact that many surprised customers are quick to point out to their local barista. And it’s served at a cooler temperature than other milk-espresso combinations.
The other signature of a cortado vs latte is that has very little foam on cortados.
What is a Latte?
The latte is the milkiest of espresso drinks. Unlike a cortado, a latte doesn’t simply “cut” the intensity of the espresso. It straight-up buries it.
Traditionally, a cafe latte is an 8-ounce drink prepared using a 1:3 coffee-to-milk ratio. This breaks down to 2 ounces of espresso and 6 ounces of steamed milk.
Many cafes have scaled up the traditional recipe, disregarding the original ratio and simply loading up on milk. For example, Starbucks only uses 1 part of espresso for every 7-11 parts steamed milk in their latte drinks.
As I mentioned…the texture of modern lattes is very smooth and milky.
You’ll get less coffee flavor and a creamier mouthfeel when compared with other drinks. There will be a light layer of microfoam but nothing near what you’d expect from, say, a cappuccino.
Because of the high-dairy content in lattes, it’s often considered a morning drink.
Differences Between Cortado vs Latte
When comparing a cortado vs latte there are several distinct qualities between these drinks. Perhaps the most dramatic is the intensity of the espresso flavor.
A cortado is excellent if you like coffee flavor, just not at full blast. It adds sweetness and balances some of the bitterness. But it doesn’t diminish your ability to taste those robust espresso tones.
A latte is for you if you like milk, sweetness, and caffeine A LOT more than coffee itself.
A latte is served taller than a cortado.
The size of a cortado never changes – it’s always a 4-ounce drink. A latte is usually 2-3x bigger and can be served even taller in some cafes.
For example, you can order a 20-ounce venti latte at Starbucks. It’s 5 times bigger than a cortado but packs the exact same amount of espresso.
A cortado is meant to be consumed quickly rather than sipped like a cafe latte.
To make it more drinkable, a cortado is always served cooler. The milk is steamed to only 130 F. The serving temperature of a cortado also suits the serving style. Because glass conducts heat rather than insulating it, a cool drink ensures you won’t burn your hand.
The milk in lattes can be heated as high as 160 F, although some baristas say that the best milk temperature for latte art is closer to 140 F.
Traditionally, a cafe latte is served in a preheated ceramic mug. This helps it maintain a steady temperature for slower sipping.
Texture is also one of the major differences between these drinks. This is due to both the volume and preparation difference of the milk.
The mouthfeel of a latte is creamy, light, and smooth. If the barista uses skim milk, you’ll experience less infusion between the microfoam and milk than whole milk.
You’ll get the same smooth and silky milk taste with a cortado, only less textured. The milk takes less time to steam, which translates to fewer air bubbles.
While a cortado and latte can carry the same amount of caffeine, that’s not always the case. A cortado is always poured using 2 ounces of espresso, also known as a doppio or double shot.
Caffeine content varies based on several factors, but it’s generally accepted that a single shot carries 85mg. Therefore, you can assume your cortado has about 170 mg of caffeine.
A cafe latte can be prepared with either 1 or 2 ounces of espresso, so in many cases, a latte only has half the caffeine content of a cortado. For many people, this may feel surprising since a latte is always the bigger drink.
Unlike a latte, a cortado doesn’t have many variations.
Yes, you can substitute whole milk for lesser-fat dairy. And some folks prefer making their cortado with plant-based milk for dietary reasons or for flavor.
Plant-based milk has a different type of sugar (sucrose), meaning it responds differently to heat and agitation. Steaming time may vary depending on the milk alternative used to achieve a similar result.
The same principles are true for Latte preparation. And alternative milk is definitely on-trend right now. People love options!
While a cafe latte isn’t traditionally served with flavor inclusions, they are very popular today. Some shops offer honey, milk, caramel, pumpkin spice, and a dozen other syrups are used to create festive and seasonal recipes.
Flavor inclusion isn’t something you’ll find with cortado.
Latte art is another difference that you won’t get with cortados.
To be fair, art isn’t part of a traditional latte presentation either. But, in recent times, you’ll find that nearly all specialty cafes train artsy baristas.
Latte art is mostly a professional skill, although some people do learn at home. The main reason is that takes a lot of repetition.
If you’re only preparing a few drinks a day, don’t expect to master this skill quickly.
It’s also worth noting that art doesn’t impact drinkability. If you’re having fun doing it, then there really is no reason not to.
I won’t pretend to be a health “expert,” but I can point out two key dietary factors that many people care about when it comes to their coffee. Milk and sugar.
As I’ve already mentioned, at length, lattes get very milky. Depending on the milk used in preparing a drink, a lot of dairy fat and lactose can be present.
Sugar derived from heated milk gives a natural sweetness that many people find appealing in both latte and cortado. But if you’re adding special syrups and sweeteners to your drink, the sugar content can be a lot.
Again, not a nutrition expert here. But you probably have a decent idea about your goals and constraints when it comes to sugar and dairy. And it’s worth considering, especially if you’re deciding on what to make your daily brew.
It depends. A cortado will always have a strong espresso flavor intensity than a cafe latte because it is less diluted by milk – a 1:1 coffee-milk ratio. The difference in a latte is that it is prepared with at least 3 parts of milk for every part of coffee. A cortado is always prepared using 2 ounces of espresso, whereas a latte may have either 1 or 2 ounces.
Although the amount of milk in a latte varies widely, depending on where you order, it will always have more milk than a cortado. The total volume of a cortado is 4 ounces. Most lattes are prepared with at least that much milk.
A cortado and flat white are similar but not the same. A major difference is that a flat white is typically served as a 50% larger volume drink than a cortado. The order of preparation is the opposite of the drinks. Milk is prepared first and then topped with espresso with a flat white. The milk in a flat white is also prepared hotter, typically to a denser consistency than with cortado.
Cortados at Starbucks To order it, ask for a double shot of espresso with 2 ounces of steamed milk on top. Since it’s not an official Starbucks drink, it may be rung up as an espresso macchiato or another drink.
In spite of their similar ingredients, a latte and cortado are very different drinks.
So, which one should you get?
Some people love coffee drinks like cortados to get a taste of espresso. It’s a small, warm drink that is meant to be consumed quickly. You can gulp it down if you’re on the go.
If you’re looking to get caffeinated, and prefer sweet milky flavors to the bitterness of coffee – a latte may be for you. It’s a taller drink, so also a great fit for sipping slowly while still getting that strong coffee flavor. And the comforting feel of a warm cup in your hand.
Want to know the difference between a cortado and other drinks? Head to one of these!
Looking for more coffee comparisons? Head on over to one of these posts!