Cortado vs Flat White – What’s The Difference and How Can We Make Them at Home?

by Mama Loves A Drink

Comparing popular milk espresso drinks – which one might you prefer?

Sometimes it can seem like we have too many options facing us when we visit a coffee shop, right?

When you have two similar drinks like a Cortado and a Flat White it can be tempting to just go for the option you’re most familiar with, rather than asking the barista for a full explanation and understanding how the coffee is actually made.

Let’s look at these two delicious espresso drinks now in a bit more detail – plus we’ll share how to make the perfect Cortado and Flat White coffee at home!

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close up of a Cortado - text overlay the difference between a cortado and a flat white

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What is a Cortado?

A Cortado is usually made up of a 1.5 to 2 ounce (40-60ml) espresso shot, with the same quantity of steamed milk added to ‘cut’ the espresso.

The drink is named ‘Cortado’  because it means ‘cut’ in Spanish – you are cutting the intensity and acidity of the espresso by adding milk.

You may also hear the Cortado referred to as a Gibraltar, particularly on the west coast of the USA – due to being served in a Libbey “Gibraltar” glass” – the 4.5fl oz glass tumbler it is commonly served in.

The Cortado is a small drink with not much milk so the taste of the Espresso remains fairly strong. The Cortado does not traditionally have foamed milk or creamer on top (though some baristas do add it for an artistic flourish).

What is a Flat White?

The Flat White is an Australian creation (though the kiwis argue otherwise!) and consists of a double shot of espresso topped with 4 to 5 oz of steamed milk and a very thin layer of micro-foam.

a side on view of a glass of flat white coffee on a wooden table

It’s very similar to a Latte, in fact when we’re looking at Flat White vs Latte, it’s all really down to proportions.

Whereas the Latte is a long drink with a foamy texture to finish, the Flat White is served in a smaller cup making it the stronger of the two.

Which type of milk espresso drink may I prefer?

It really all comes down to the milk ratio and how strong you like your coffee.

Cortado vs Flat White

If you enjoy the bitter, dense taste of an espresso drink then the Cortado is the drink for you. It’s also a better choice for you if you’re counting calories as the milk ratio of 1:1 or slightly less, means less fat.

If you like your coffee smooth, creamy and with only a light foamy finish, then the Flat White is a great choice for you.

The coffee/milk ratio of 1:2 makes it the more calorific choice, but using steamed milk means this little coffee is always served piping hot.

What about other espresso drinks with milk?

Let’s take a look at other milk espresso drinks that can be confused with a cortado.

Cortado vs Latte

The major difference between these two drinks is the amount of milk used and the foam – they contain the came amount of espresso.

The Cortado has an even ratio between espresso and milk whereas a Latte will contain much more milk, sometimes as much as a 6:1 ratio, depending on just how milky you prefer your latte.

The Latte is a long drink served in a tall glass or mug, whilst the Cortado is a short drink served in a small 4.5 fl oz coffee glass.

Finally, the Latte is known for its velvety foam, as much as 1-2 oz of your drink, whereas froth is not a pre-requisite of the Cortado.

We talk more about our favourite types Nespresso coffee for latte drinkers here.

Cortado vs Macchiato

If you like your coffee flavour intense, a Macchiato is a great choice for you.

The Macchiato is a single espresso, served with just a dash of steamed milk with a microfoam texture, allowing the pure flavour of the coffee to shine through.

Macchiato means “marked” in Italian, so just basically, just a mark of milk in your espresso.

The Cortado is less intense due to the slightly higher milk ratio and lack of foam.

If you look at it on a spectrum, a Macchiato has the strongest coffee flavour as the least amount of milk is added, followed by the Cortado, the Flat White, then the Latte.

Have an experiment next time you see your local barista, or if you’ve got an espresso machine at home, play around. Try each type we’ve described here side-by-side and see which flavour resonates with you.

How to make a Flat White at home

Here are some tips for making the perfect Flat White at home.

For the best and most consistent outcome, treat yourself to a really great espresso maker, along with some good quality glasses.

  • Pour either a single or a  double espresso into your cup or glass.
  • Steam the milk to 55–62°C. Your own taste will vary in terms of temperature but Flat White’s are usually served piping hot.
  • To make the milk smooth and thick, use a barista’s trick and give the pitcher/pan a little thump carefully on a counter. A few of these will swirl the milk and disperse any bubbles.
  • Pour your milk onto the espresso almost until the top of the cup or glass. 
  • Depending on your preference, you can add a small amount of good quality brown sugar and stir in to dissolve.

And now here are your tips for making the perfect Cortado at home

For the best result just like the coffee house, we recommend you invest in a proper set of Gibraltar glass tumblers for the perfect finish.

  • Using your preferred method, espresso machine or Moka Pot, brew a delicious single or double espresso.
  • Pour 2-3 ounces (60 – 80ml) of milk into milk pitcher or pan.
  • Extract one or two shots of espresso into a good short glass.
  • While espresso is brewing, steam your milk. Make sure not to let it foam if you want an authentic espresso.
  • Pour your milk slowly into the espresso and enjoy.

Love coffee? Find all our favourite coffee recipes in our Coffee Connoisseur section!

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