Coffee is one of those things that people are understandably, very particular about. There are a lot of reasons for it, from wanting to make sure you get the right amount of caffeine for your day, to different techniques for dealing with the bitterness of coffee beans when you’re making the beverage. 

As a result, there are a ton of different ways to make coffee, and a lot of them seem pretty similar until you really get into the details of making them. 

Three popular drinks, all based on espresso, are the Cortado, Latte, and Flat White. All three are some combination of espresso and milk, 

CortadoLatteFlat White
OriginSpain, likely MadridItalyAustralia or New Zealand (debated)
Brew MethodEspressoEspressoRistretto
Ingredients1:2 espresso: milkDouble shot of espresso + 8-10 oz steamed milkDouble ristretto and steamed milk
TasteWell balanced, slightly sweet, less acidic than a standard espressoThinner, smooth texture, sweeter, typically made with whole milk (though plant alternatives work, but are less smooth). Less espresso taste, but a richer mouth feel and the same amount of caffeine as a Cortado

As a note here, sugar, syrups, and flavorings can be added to all three of these drinks, and often are. However, adding sweeteners or flavorings can change the texture, and might make it harder to taste the individual flavor notes of the coffee, so coffee lovers will often go without. 

What is a Cortado

Cortado drinks probably originate in Madrid, but that isn’t 100% certain. The only thing we know for sure is that the Cortado is from Spain, and that it’s one of the more popular ways to drink coffee there. 

Like a lot of other coffee drinks based on espresso, the Cortado balances the caffeine and taste benefits of a good espresso with whole milk or an alternative to help cut the bitterness and acidity of the drink. 

The goal of the steamed milk, as in other coffee drinks, isn’t just achieving the perfect flavor, but also getting the right texture. The creaminess of a cortado can help trick your brain, making the taste richer and sweeter.  

Cortado are typically mostly milk, but some people do prefer a different ratio of milk to espresso, or tweak their personal recipes to match the espresso beans they have available. 

At the same time, changing the ingredients of a cortado too much might mean you’re accidentally making a different drink! 

Different Types of Cortado

There are a couple of different types of Cortado you should know about. 

  • Vegetarian/Vegan: Typically, a cortado is made with whole cow’s milk, but it can be made with almond, oat, and other plant-based milks if you prefer. These versions do tend to have a less creamy mouth-feel. 
  • Cortado Bombon: Cortado Bombons are essentially the same as a regular Cortado, only you use condensed milk (or sweetened condensed) instead of whole milk. This version is significantly creamier and sweeter, but also comes with a higher caloric load. Steaming the condensed milk can also be trickier. 
  • Café Con Leche: there are a few different kinds of café con leche out there, but these drinks are typically made with more than one type of milk or cream, combined with espresso. This kind of cortado is often sweeter and thicker than the standard version. 

How Do You Make A Cortado? 

Making a cortado isn’t too difficult if you have a good espresso maker and milk steamer, but both are critical to making a good cortado. 

Typically a cortado is made with a 1:2 ratio of espresso to milk. You can make them larger or smaller depending on how much you want to drink, but that ratio is the key to the drink. A small amount of milk foam is added on top, which does help improve the texture and lightness of the drink. 

Delicious Cortado Mix In Ingredients

If you’re wanting to mix up your cortado a bit, there are a lot of options. Standard coffee syrups and flavorings all also work for a good Cortado. Or you could try mixing a different kind of milk in, or changing what kind of coffee you use. 

You can also mix spices into your espresso after it’s ground to experiment with different flavors and textures. Spice should used minimally, and should be high-heat tolerant if you want to get the best results. 

Great Cortado Recipes You Should Try

Ready for a step by step on how to make a Cortado, or order one from your favorite coffee shop? Coffee at Three has you covered

Looking for a variation to help you get started customizing your Cortado, Homegrounds has a fantastic Honey Bee variation on the classic drink. 

What Is A Latte?

Almost everyone has ordered a latte at some point, but not everyone knows how a latte is actually made. 

Especially if you think you’re getting a standard milky coffee when you order a latte, the truth is probably surprising! 

Lattes are made with espresso and milk, and typically has significantly more milk than espresso. Lattes are similar to a cortado in that the flavors are very similar, but lattes have 2-3 times as much milk on average. That means they taste sweeter, have fewer coffee flavors in front, and tend to taste a little thinner as well. 

You can thicken the texture of your latte by steaming the milk a little longer, or by using a thicker milk, like condensed milk or a whole-fat coconut milk. 

Different Styles Of Latte

There are a ton of different styles of latte, mostly defined by the different kinds of flavorings are added. Different milks also result in a different taste and texture, oat milk is one of the most popular. Adding mocha, or even changing what roast level you use for your espresso also change the flavor and type of latte you’re drinking.

How Do You Make A Delicious Latte? 

The key to a great latte is in properly steaming the milk. You want everything to be thick and frothy, but without creating an excess of foam. Too much steam and the espresso will just go down to the bottom, and you’ll lose all of the liquid volume when you stir. Too little, and the drink may taste thin and watery, without the sweetness or smoothness of a good latte. 

Latte Ingredients and Toppings To Experiment With

Consider playing with different syrups, whipped cream toppings, and even sprinkles or chocolate chips to customize your lattes. Anything that sounds like it would taste good in coffee will taste good in a latte. 

Want a more homogenous mix? Add your flavoring or sweeteners to the milk before steaming. That way everything will be mixed and heated at the same time, and steaming can bring out some delicious caramel-y flavors in the coffee. 

Top Latte Recipes You’re Sure To Love

First, for the classic, basic, un-customized latte, Allrecipes has a fantastic step by step process designed to give you café quality lattes at home

Looking to customize your latte a little more and have some fun with different flavors, BePlantWell has a delicious cinnamon dolce latte that will dazzle your tastebuds. 

What Is A Flat White?

A Flat White is a drink that a lot of people here in the States won’t have heard about yet. But, if you’re an espresso lover, want something a little different from a latte or a cappuccino, and are a lover of the taste of great coffee, this is the perfect coffee order for you. 

The good news? This is a drink you can order at Starbucks now, which is one of the benchmarks for whether a new coffee is going to be accepted and known in the States. 

A flat white is made with a single or double shot of espresso, with steamed milk poured over top. However, the best flat whites, the ones that bring coffee lovers back time and time again, are made with a specialty version of espresso. 

The trick to a great flat white is making it with ristretto. A ristretto is espresso, but half the volume of the standard espresso shot, made with the same amount of ground coffee. This creates a thicker, more syrupy, more concentrated coffee. You get all the caffeine of a standard shot, but with half the volume and twice the flavor. 

A great flat white is made with a double ristretto (caffeine equivalent to a double shot of espresso) or more. 

Are There Different Types of Flat Whites?

There are different types of flat whites, like the other drinks on this comparison, but they tend to be more based on the level of foam in the milk rather than the specific flavors. Part of that is because a good flat white is really about the flavor of the coffee, so many people don’t add any additional sweeteners or flavors to this drink. 

You can use sweetened milk or a condensed milk if you want a sweeter finish without obscuring the coffee flavor. Iced flat whites, are another variation. Caramel is a common exception to the flavoring rule. 

How Do You Make A Good Flat White? 

A good flat white requires care throughout the making, but the most important part is getting the ristretto right. Strong, perfectly balanced, unburnt espresso is the critical element. 

Flat White Ingredients and Topping Options

The core of a flat white is all about the coffee, so making the perfect flat white starts with figuring out the perfect coffee for making espresso to your taste. From there, experiment with different kinds of milk, levels of steaming, and other steps in the process to find the right balance for you. 

Great Flat White Recipes You’re Gonna Love

The Spruce Eats has a delicious Flat White recipe that is a good place to get started when you’re wanting to experiment with making a flat white at home. 

For a coffee-focused recipe Cafebarista has a good interpretation for folks who love coffee and want to get the best from their espresso. 

Wrapping Up: What are the key differences between Cortado, Lattes, and Flat Whites? 

The key differences between cortado, lattes, and flat whites are all about the proportions of the espresso, how much you steam the milk when you’re preparing the drink, and the kinds of milk you want to use. All three are milky, creamy thick and delicious coffee drinks. 

Chances are if you like one of these drinks, you’ll like all of them, but its worth playing with the variations to find the one you like the most! 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: Which Is Healthiest? 

All of these drinks are about equally healthy, though low fat milks and less sweeteners are generally better for you than the alternatives. 

Q2: Is a cortado just a small latte? 

No. While a cortado can seem like a small latte, the key differences are more about the ratios of coffee to milk rather than the size of the drink. You can make double and triple cortado or lattes to get a different sized drink if you want one. 

Q3: Why are cortado so popular? 

Cortado are widely popular because of their thicker mouthfeel and creamier texture, not to mention the stronger coffee taste compared with alterntiv3e espresso drinks. 

Q4: What is so special about the flat white? 

The most special thing about the flat white is the way the espresso is made. Technically called ristretto, this form of espresso is twice and strong and thick, in half the volume of standard espresso, and getting the right technique for making ristretto can take some practice. 

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Cortado vs Latte vs Flat White

cortado next to latte next to flat white coffee drink


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Kate founded DrizzleMeSkinny in 2014. Since then she has shared nearly 1000 weight watchers friendly recipes with DrizzleMeSkinny's over 500,000 social media followers.

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