How They Make Cortados in New York City and Spain

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A cortado is a drink that blends espresso coffee mix with warm milk. Typically, this milk is dense, rather than frothy or foamy. The word cortado is Spanish and means “dilute,” which is a reference to how the espresso mix is diluted with milk. It is most popular in Spain and Portugal, but it’s widely enjoyed throughout Latin America. In fact, the cortado originated in Spain’s Basque Country, which is why its popularity first spread throughout Spanish speaking countries. The cortado was first popularized in North America through Cuban immigrants, who served the drink in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida. It first became popular in that area around the 1960s and has slowly been popularized in other parts of the country.

For years, cappuccinos, lattes, and mochas have been among the most popular drinks available at cafes. Today, the cortado is becoming increasingly more popular. A cortado is larger than a macchiato but still smaller than a cappuccino. The balance between the milk and espresso allows the drink to mellow, retaining the flavor but making it less strong at first taste. If the drink is too frothy, than you’re drinking a badly made cortado.

Throughout its history, the cortado has been less popular than other café drinks and was typically only known to professional baristas. Even among baristas, the drink was less well known, but the drink began to grow popular in New York City in the last decade. Slowly, it has appeared in places like Brooklyn and Soho, but it’s become popular throughout almost all of the city. However, the cortado is made differently in North America than it’s traditionally made in Spain.

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A Spanish cortado is usually stronger. Baristas prepare it with more espresso than milk, rather than the 50-50 blend that’s used in New York City. Depending on what type of coffee drinker you are, this could be a good or bad thing. If you prefer stronger drinks, the Spanish cortado might be preferable. Spanish cortados typically aren’t prepared with the same attention to appearance that North American baristas like to apply to their drinks. A properly served cortado is usually delivered in a unique type of glass, quite often with base metal rings and a wire handle. You can have it served in several varieties, including with condensed milk and cream.

Unlike New York City, the Spanish cortado is also widely available and far more common throughout the country of Spain. In Spain, almost every restaurant and café that serves coffee typically offers cortado, and the drink is far better known by servers. In fact, the cortado may be one of the most popular drinks in Spain. Perhaps the only other drink that’s nearly as popular in Spain is the café con leche, which is ordered almost as much as the cortado.

Unfortunately, if you’re in Spain, you’ll also have to spend a little more time seeking out a truly good cortado. A good cortado requires a careful blend of both the espresso mix and the milk, and many of the locations serving up a quick cortado lack the finesse to make the drink truly memorable. The best cortados are also served with only the best, expertly roasted beans, which contribute to the delicious flavor of a good cortado.

Even when you’re traveling through Basque country, you’ll find it hard to find a truly excellent cortado. The establishments in the area might serve up a better drink but excellence requires a time and resource investment. As the cortado has grown in popularity, it’s become quicker and easier to make, but this has come at a cost of its flavor. What was once the drink of only a few individuals is now enjoyed by many, but the time and care that once went into the cortado is now lacking.

If you’re a coffee lover though, it may be worth it to investigate and find a local establishment that serves cortado. Although the drink will be different than if you enjoyed it in Spain, a good local cortado is still a delicious addition to your day.