Related

Cortado vs Latte
Piccolo Coffee

There's a world of options beyond the traditional black cup of Joe. Among the myriad choices, two popular espresso-based drinks that have gained significant attention are the cortado and the flat white. These beverages, originating from different corners of the coffee-loving world, offer distinct flavors and textures that have captured the taste buds of coffee enthusiasts worldwide. 

What makes Cortado vs flat white different? Let’s explore their unique qualities, preparation methods, and the experience they offer coffee aficionados.

What is a Cortado? 

A cortado is a delightful espresso-based beverage that has its roots in Spanish and Latin American coffee culture. The word "cortado" itself is a Spanish verb meaning "to cut." 

This name is fitting because the cortado is created by "cutting" or diluting a shot of espresso with an equal amount of warm milk. This results in a balanced and harmonious combination of espresso and milk, where neither overpowers the other.

The cortado holds significant cultural importance in Spain, particularly in Basque Country, where it is believed to have originated from. It is a popular caffeine choice for coffee lovers who want a smooth and mellow flavor profile. Cortado is often enjoyed as a mid-morning or afternoon pick-me-up and is served alongside a small pastry or a slice of toast. 

Another origin story is that Steve Ford invented Cortado while working in a Blue Bottle Coffee Company in Manhattan.  Whatever the origin, cortado has been around for decades and is gracing café menus around the world.

Cortado Latte
Cortado

What are the Key Characteristics of a Cortado?

The first thing that distinguishes a cortado from a flat white is its precise coffee-to-milk ratio, which ensures a delicate balance between the espresso and the milk. 

A cortado consists of a single shot of espresso mixed with an equal amount of steamed milk. This balanced ratio ensures that the bold flavors of the espresso are still prominent while the milk adds a smooth and creamy texture without overwhelming the palate.

A cortado is served in a small glass and you will not see any fancy form art because the harmonious flavor is what sets this drink apart.

Ingredients and Preparation

For a perfect cortado, you must have an espresso machine. This will enable you to pull a perfect shot of espresso. That being said, here’s how you can make a perfect cortado at home:

Ingredients:

Equipment:

Espresso machine

Preparation:

  1. Place fresh, finely ground coffee into the portafilter, tamp it evenly, and attach it to the espresso machine to extract coffee. 
  2. Pull 2 shots of espresso from the espresso machine
  3. Steam milk
  4. Pour 2 ounces of steamed milk directly into the espresso.
  5. Serve the cortado in a small glass and enjoy.
YouTube video embed

Understanding Flat White

The flat white is a velvety espresso-based beverage that originated in Australia or New Zealand, depending on who you ask. Its exact origin story is a subject of debate, with both countries claiming to be the birthplace of this beloved drink. Regardless of its precise origins, flat white has gained global popularity and has become a staple in specialty coffee shops worldwide.

Flat white is made by combining a shot of espresso with steamed milk. But unlike cortado, the flat white has a higher proportion of milk to espresso, resulting in a smoother and creamier taste.

Flat White Coffee
Flat White

What are the Key Characteristics of a Flat White?

One of the defining features of a flat white is its velvety milk texture. The milk used in a flat white is microfoamed, which means it is steamed to create a creamy and dense foam with very fine bubbles. This microfoamed milk blends smoothly with the espresso, creating a luxurious and creamy mouthfeel.

A flat white typically has a higher proportion of milk to espresso compared to a cortado. This results in a well-balanced and mellow flavor where the espresso and milk complement each other without overpowering one another. Unlike cortado, flat whites are mostly adorned with latte art, which adds an aesthetic touch to the beverage. 

Ingredients and Preparation

Since you need to pull an espresso shot, you need an espresso machine to pull a perfect shot. Here is a flat white recipe you can try at home:

Ingredients:

  • Milk (preferably whole milk) or alternatives

Equipment: 

Espresso machine

Preparation:

  1. Prepare a shot of espresso by placing finely ground coffee into a portafilter, place into a coffee machine and pull a shot of espresso.
  2. Pour espresso into the base of a cup.
  3. Froth the milk using a steam wand found in your espresso machine.  
  4. Pour 2 shots of steamed milk directly into the espresso cup
  5. Add form, decorate with form art, and enjoy.
YouTube video embed

Iced Flat White - A Creamier Iced Latte

The iced flat white is a popular variation of the traditional flat white coffee, which originated in Australia and New Zealand. It is a refreshing and delicious coffee beverage that combines espresso and velvety textured milk over ice.

Here's a breakdown of the components of an iced flat white:

  • Espresso: An iced flat white starts with a base of one or two shots of espresso, depending on the desired strength and flavor intensity. Espresso is a concentrated coffee brewed by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee beans.
  • Milk: The milk used in an iced flat white is usually whole milk, as it contributes to a creamy and smooth texture. The milk is carefully steamed to achieve a velvety microfoam, which is key to creating the signature flat white texture.

The flavor profile of an iced flat white is characterized by a strong, bold espresso taste with a hint of sweetness from the milk. The milk's creamy texture, created by the microfoam, helps to balance the acidity of the espresso, resulting in a smooth and well-rounded flavor.

The iced flat white has gained popularity worldwide due to its refreshing nature, especially during warmer months. It provides coffee enthusiasts with an alternative to hot espresso-based beverages while maintaining the rich taste and quality of a traditional flat white.

Whether you're a coffee lover looking to beat the heat or simply want to try a different coffee experience, an iced flat white is a delightful choice. Its combination of espresso, creamy milk, and ice creates a harmonious blend of flavors and textures that is sure to satisfy your coffee cravings.

Flavor Profiles

What about cortado vs flat white flavor profiles? What makes each drink distinct from the other? 

Just like we’ve discussed above, cortado has a delicate balance between the boldness of espresso and the creaminess of steamed milk. Its taste is smooth, rich, and satisfying, providing a delightful coffee experience for those who appreciate a harmonious blend of flavors.

Flat white, on the other hand, is creamier ( thanks to the interplay between espresso and microfoam) and has a milder flavor profile compared to a cortado. This espresso drink gives a velvety mouthfeel and the right balance between bitter and sweet, thanks to the double shot of milk. 

Just like with any other espresso drink, coffee beans play a major role in determining the coffee flavor profile. It is important to pull your shots from freshly ground coffee to get perfect espresso shots every time.

Another factor that will enhance your coffee’s flavor is the espresso bean you use. Different coffee bean varieties, such as Arabica and Robusta, have distinct flavor profiles. 

Arabica beans are known for their complex flavors, delicate acidity, and nuanced aromas. They often exhibit notes of fruit, floral, and chocolate. Robusta beans, on the other hand, tend to have a stronger and more bitter taste with earthy or nutty undertones. By selecting the right bean variety, you can tailor the flavor of your coffee to your preferences.

The roast level of espresso beans plays a crucial role in flavor development. Lighter roasts tend to retain more of the bean's natural acidity and floral or fruity notes. 

Medium roasts balance acidity and body and offer a wider range of flavors. Dark roasts result in more robust and smoky flavors, with less acidity. By experimenting with different roast levels, you can achieve different flavor profiles in your coffee.

Cortado in a shot glass
Cortado

Cortado vs. Flat White: Making the Right Choice

ProvideHere’s a detailed side-by-side comparison of the critical differences in serving size, coffee-to-milk ratio, and milk texture of cortado and Flat white.

Serving Size

Cortado: A cortado is served in a small glass or cup, ranging from 5 to 7 oz (around 150- 200 ml. 

Flat White: A flat white is also served in a small cup, usually around 5.5 oz cups (around about 160 ml). 

Coffee-to-Milk Ratio

Cortado: A cortado has a balanced coffee-to-milk ratio, that is, equal parts espresso and steamed milk. The equal proportion ensures that the espresso flavor is more pronounced while the milk adds creaminess and sweetness.

Flat White: A flat white has a higher milk-to-coffee ratio compared to a cortado creating a smooth and velvety texture while still allowing the espresso's flavors to shine.

Milk Texture

Cortado: The milk in a cortado is typically steamed to a creamy and velvety texture, incorporating small bubbles. It should not have a thick layer of foam but rather a smooth consistency that blends well with the espresso.

Flat White: The milk in a flat white is also steamed to a microfoamed texture, resulting in a creamy and velvety consistency. The microfoam is more pronounced in a flat white than in a cortado and allows for latte art to be created on the surface.

a cortado on the left and a flat white cup on the right to show the differences
Cortado vs Flat White

Recommendations

So If you have never tasted a cortado or a flat white, how can you choose the right coffee drink for you? 

Well, if you prefer a stronger espresso taste with a balanced milk presence, along with a smaller serving size, the cortado is an excellent choice.

On the other hand, if you enjoy a smoother and creamier coffee experience with a higher milk-to-coffee ratio and the possibility of latte art, flat white is a great option.

Conclusion

Now that you can distinguish cortado vs flat white, you can confidently order knowing what to expect. You can also make cortado or flat white at home and experiment with different bean varieties and roast levels to get your perfect cup of Joe! Let us know below which coffee drink between the two you prefer.

Meet the expert

I'm a mom of two boys and a freelance writer who loves to travel and spend time at the beach. When I'm not chasing after my kids or working on my next writing project, you can usually find me sipping on a delicious cup of coffee while reading a book. I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting coffee shops, whenever I am exploring a new town or city.

Related Articles

Monthly news worthy of your inbox.

We write a monthly newsletter about our curiosities and what's happening in the coffee world. Topics like monthly deals, industry news, the science behind our favorite beverage, and more.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Amazon Prime Day is here, get up to 50% off coffee brewers, beans, pods and more. Click here to view our top picks!