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Cortado Vs Flat White: Do You Know The Difference?

Two of the smallest espresso-based drinks on a coffee shop’s menu are the cortado and the flat white.

But what’s the difference between these two drinks?

In this article, I’ll give you a full rundown of cortado vs flat white. 

From the brewing process to their origins, I’ll cover what separates these two tiny drinks.

Let’s jump in!

What is a Cortado?

cortado vs flat white

A cortado is a small coffee beverage made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk.

Originally from Spain, the cortado is traditionally considered an afternoon drink because of its small size.

The cortado coffee is around 4 oz and has a ratio of 1:1 espresso to milk. They are perfect for people who like the taste of espresso but want to add a little milk to their drinks.

They are traditionally served in 4 oz Gibraltar glasses and sometimes are served with sparkling water.

What is a Flat White?

flat white coffee

The flat white is a relative newcomer to coffee shop menus around the world. They came from Australia in the 1980s, just as third-wave coffee was starting around the world.

You can now find them in most coffee shops. And if they aren’t on the menu, chances are your barista will know how to make one.

Cortado is an espresso based drink, about the size of a traditional cappuccino or around 6 oz. They are made with espresso and steamed milk. But the milk is thinner than most other drinks.

They are served usually in cappuccino glasses with a spoon.

Cortado vs Flat White: The Difference

These are two of the smaller drinks on a coffee shop’s menu. But they have very significant differences between them.

Brewing Process

espresso machine brewing coffee

The brewing process for these two drinks is almost identical.

You start with pulling a single or double espresso shot on an espresso machine.

Then you steam the milk. I’ll get to that later because it’s the biggest difference between these drinks.

Finally, you add the steamed milk to the espresso and serve.

The biggest difference in the process is how much milk is added to each drink.

In a cortado, the end ratio of milk to espresso is around 1:1. So for a double shot of espresso at 2 oz, you’ll add 2 oz of frothed milk for a total drink of around 4 oz.

A flat white is a little bigger. If you start with the same double shot of espresso at 2 oz, you’ll add anywhere from 3-4 oz of steamed milk. You’ll end up with a coffee drink that’s about the same size as a traditional cappuccino, or around 6 oz.

Just be careful! If you add too much milk, you will end up with a latte instead of a flat white.

Steamed Milk

The milk is one of the biggest differences between the cortado and flat white.

In a cortado, the milk is frothed as it would be for a latte. The barista adds texture and heats the milk up to around 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

This frothed milk gives a cortado a tiny bit of foam on the top. With finely textured milk, the barista can create latte art with a nice sheen, texture, and clarity.

In a flat white, on the other hand, the milk is not frothed at all and is instead only steamed. It will be much thinner than in a cortado and have a small amount or no milk foam.

It’s still possible for good baristas to create latte art in a flat white. The result, however, is usually less crisp and runnier than art in a cortado.

Taste

espresso machine brewing coffee

The best way I can describe the taste of these two drinks is to compare them to a latte. Chances are if you’re a coffee lover, you’ve had a latte before.

Think about the first few sips of a latte. You get a nice taste of micro foamed milk mixed with the espresso. It has balance and structure and texture in your mouth.

That’s a cortado. Cortados have the same taste and texture as the first few sips from a latte.

Now think about the final few sips of a latte. The milk is less foamy, a little thinner, but still with a nice milk and coffee flavor.

That’s a flat white. The milk is thinner in a flat white to let the mix of milk and espresso shine instead of being clouded by foam.

Serving

The traditional way to serve a cortado is in a Gibraltar glass. A Gibraltar is a 4 oz glass that has almost a diamond pattern on the sides and a hexagon base. 

While that is the traditional way to serve this espresso drink, shops can use anything to serve cortados as long as the drink itself is only around 4 oz.

A flat white, on the other hand, can be served in anything from standard cappuccino mugs to 6 oz Gibraltars.

There isn’t as much tradition surrounding the flat white. This is why there isn’t as strong a preference for presenting flat whites.

FAQ

There are a few more questions you might still have. I listed here some of the most common concerns a coffee drinker could have.

What’s stronger a cortado or flat white?

Cortados and flat whites have the same amount of caffeine because they both are made with one or two shots of espresso.

The cortado will taste stronger because it has an espresso to milk ratio of 1:1 while a flat white has a ratio of 2:1. The cortado is slightly smaller, so you will get more coffee taste.

Does Starbucks have a cortado?

Starbucks does serve a cortado. However, a Starbucks cortado is slightly larger than a traditional cortado.

A Starbucks cortado is two ristretto shots with foamed milk. It is about 6 oz.

Which has more calories, the Cortado or the Flat White?

A flat white will have more calories for two reasons.

First, it uses a little more milk than a cortado. And second, because the milk doesn’t have as much foam. Foam is air added to milk, so less foam means less air and more milk.

Bottom Line

Cortados and flat whites are very similar. They are both on the smaller end of espresso-based coffee drinks.

But they are very different. The cortado is a 1:1 ratio of espresso to frothed milk similar to a latte. The flat white is a 1:2-3 ratio of espresso to steamed milk that has little to no foam.

They are both great, and both serve different palettes.

Try them both to see which one you like more!

Wondering how a cortado is different from a macchiato? Check out our article on macchiato vs cortado!

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Craig Carey
Craig spent a year as a barista in Denver's specialty coffee world. He spends his days rock climbing, cycling, drinking espresso, and hanging around the Rocky Mountains. He still lives in Colorado.