Cortado vs Flat White: How Are They Different?

As espresso drinks are becoming even more popular throughout the world, the options you have at the coffee shop are quickly increasing to the point where it’s hard to keep up. Cappuccinos aren’t the only thing that comes to mind when you think about a coffee shop anymore, and drinks such as cortado and flat white gained a big surge of popularity due to how available they are now.

If you’re looking to learn what these drinks are and how they differentiate from each other, you came to the right place.

What is the Difference Between a Cortado and a Flat White?

While these two drinks are identical in terms of ingredients used (steamed milk and espresso), there are a few small differences in the milk content and texture. In a cortado, the milk isn’t foamed, and the ratio of milk to coffee is 1:1. On the other hand, a flat white contains microfoam on top and has milk to coffee ratio of roughly 2:1.

Considering these differences, you’ll find that a cortado is stronger than a flat white due to its milk to coffee ratio being lower, while a flat white has a creamier mouthfeel as it contains textured milk.

Cortado

Cortado is an espresso drink that originated in Spain, consisting of very simple ingredients which are espresso and steamed milk, similar to a lot of the Italian coffee drinks we are familiar with nowadays.

While many espresso drinks share the exact same ingredients such as latte and cappuccino, what separates a cortado from the rest is that it doesn’t contain any milk foam at all.

Traditionally, a cortado is served in a glass (rather than a cup) which contains equal parts of espresso and steamed milk. Compared to most other espresso drinks, a cortado is considered to be stronger as it has a high ratio of coffee to other ingredients (such as milk or water).

How to Make a Cortado

The process is pretty straightforward when it comes to making a cortado, so nothing is stopping you from enjoying one at home.

  1. Pull a shot (or a double-shot) of espresso into your glass.
  2. Steam your milk. A cortado contains equal parts of milk and espresso, so make sure that the amount of milk you use is of equal volume to the amount of espresso.
  3. Pour the steamed milk into the glass.

Just like that, your cortado is ready to drink!

Flat White

The origins of flat white are controversial as both Australia and New Zealand claim that they are the ones to invent the drink. Regardless of who invented it, it’s a pretty good drink which is enjoyed by many people throughout the world.

Once again, a flat white also consists of ingredients shared by many different espresso drinks, which are espresso, and steamed milk. In the case of flat white, a coffee to milk ratio of 1:2 is usually preferred, and a thin layer of microfoam is added on the top of the cup.

You’ll find that flat white is one of the lighter coffee drinks with the high amount of milk taking away the acidity and bitterness which comes from the espresso, as well as providing a creamy mouthfeel through the existence of microfoam.

How to Make a Flat White

Making a flat white is simple for the most part, but getting the correct type and amount of foam may require some experience.

Don’t worry though, as your flat white will be perfectly good to drink even if you don’t get the foam part completely right.

  1. Pull a shot (or a double-shot) of espresso into your glass.
  2. Steam and froth your milk. A flat white contains twice as much milk as espresso, as well as a layer of microfoam. You can make microfoam by immersing only the tip of your steam wand in the milk rather than immersing all of it. This process will only take a few seconds, so make sure that you immerse the rest of the wand after you get enough microfoam to complete the steaming process.
  3. Pour the steamed milk into the cup while keeping the foam in the pitcher until all of the milk is in the cup. The microfoam is the final layer of your drink, so you should only add it to your cup after all the milk has been poured.

In three simple steps, your flat white is ready!

Choosing Between a Cortado and a Flat White

Now that we have gone over both drinks, it’s easy to see that while they are quite similar, there are a few subtle differences between them that can affect your decision.

The biggest factor to choose one drink over the other is the strength of the drink. With an equal coffee to milk ratio, a cortado is one of the strongest coffee drinks you can find. While the milk helps to reduce the acidity of the espresso, the amount of coffee in a cortado is very high. If you enjoy the raw taste of espresso and the kick of a strong cup of coffee, you’ll surely enjoy a cortado. On the other hand, a flat white consists of mostly milk, making for a lighter coffee experience. You will still be mostly tasting espresso, but the extra milk will help to bring the bitterness down a notch. Flat white is a friendlier option for most people since the taste of strong coffee can often prove to be way too bitter.

The second factor which separates these two drinks is the mouthfeel. Since a cortado doesn’t contain any milk foam at all, it has a smooth texture, very similar to how an espresso shot by itself would. As opposed to a cortado, a flat white has a creamy and thick texture due to there being a layer of milk foam that rests on top of the cup. A cortado will please those who are looking for the raw espresso experience in terms of mouthfeel, with milk acting as a way to dilute the acidity of the coffee more than anything else. The creamy mouthfeel of a flat white will be more appealing to most people, mainly because many of the popular coffee drinks also have a layer of foam that provides the same experience.

If you haven’t tried either of these drinks yet, it goes without saying that the best thing to do is to eventually give both of them a shot and see which one you prefer.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Does a cortado have more caffeine than a flat white?

Since the amount of caffeine is tied to the amount of espresso, the only thing that would change the amount of caffeine is the number of espresso shots used.

As both drinks could either contain a single or a double shot of espresso, it’s impossible to say that one drink has more caffeine than the other.

Is a flat white different than a latte?

Yes, but the difference between these two drinks is actually quite small.

Simply put, the layer of milk foam which rests on top of a latte is considerably thicker than the very thin layer of microfoam which accompanies a flat white.

Is a cortado different than a macchiato?

Yes.

The first difference comes from the amount of milk used. A cortado has equal parts of milk and espresso, whereas a macchiato contains a very thin layer of foamed milk.

The second difference is the texture of the milk. A cortado doesn’t contain any milk foam, whereas the milk layer of a macchiato entirely consists of milk foam.

Conclusion

Even with the exact same ingredients, we have seen that two coffee drinks can separate from each other in many ways, and cater to completely different preferences.

Now that you know the subtle differences between these two drinks, give both of them a spin and see which one you really like the most.

Enjoy!