Cortado vs. Flat White: The Difference

The Different Coffee Types

There are plenty of choices for coffee, each with its unique taste and characteristics. Nonetheless, the cortado vs flat white debate has been long-standing for years.

These two popular coffee beverages often cause confusion among coffee enthusiasts. In this article, we will explore the key differences between these two delightful coffee options, helping you make an informed choice next time you visit your favorite café. Let’s dive in.

Different types of coffee drinks

What is a Cortado?

A cortado is a coffee beverage with its roots in Spain. It’s a delightful and simple coffee drink with equal parts of espresso and steamed milk. So, what does cortado mean? The term “cortado” originates from the Spanish word for “cut,” which describes how to make this coffee.

Therefore, from the meaning of cortado, its preparation involves “cutting” or diluting a shot of espresso with an equal part of steamed milk. This blend creates a harmonious balance between the rich, bold flavor of espresso and the creamy sweetness of milk.

Cortados typically get served in a small glass or cup, which allows you to enjoy the contrast between the layers of espresso and milk. The result is a coffee beverage that provides a strong coffee flavor with a touch of sweetness and creaminess from the milk.

It’s a favorite among coffee enthusiasts who love a balanced, less intense coffee experience. It’s also perfect for those who enjoy a smaller yet flavor-packed coffee drink.

Cortado Variations

With its simple yet distinctive combination of espresso and steamed milk, the cortado is a foundation for creativity in the coffee world. While the classic cortado remains a favorite, some variations add exciting twists to this Spanish delight.

Here are some to try:

1. Caramel Cortado: Sweet Indulgence

Ingredients: Espresso, steamed milk, caramel syrup

Adding caramel syrup elevates the cortado, introducing a delightful sweetness that complements the boldness of the espresso. This variation suits those with a sweet tooth who want to experience a harmonious blend of rich coffee and caramel goodness.

2. Cinnamon Spiced Cortado: Warming Experience

Ingredients: Espresso, steamed milk, cinnamon

For a cozy and aromatic twist, the cinnamon-spiced cortado combines the warmth of cinnamon with the robustness of espresso. The subtle spice enhances the flavor profile, creating a comforting and refreshing coffee experience.

3. Vanilla Infused Cortado: Subtle Sweetness

Ingredients: Espresso, steamed milk, vanilla extract

Infusing a hint of vanilla into the cortado adds a taste of sweetness without overpowering the coffee’s inherent boldness. This variation appeals to those seeking a nuanced and fragrant coffee experience.

4. Iced Cortado: Cool and Refreshing

Ingredients: Espresso, cold milk, ice

The iced cortado is perfect for warmer days and maintains the classic espresso and milk combination but is well-served over ice. The result is a cool and refreshing beverage that retains the cortado’s strong coffee foundation while providing a chill factor.

5. Hazelnut Twist Cortado: Nutty Elegance

Ingredients: Espresso, steamed milk, hazelnut syrup

Adding a splash of hazelnut syrup introduces a nutty elegance to the cortado. This variation balances the rich espresso with the sweet and aromatic hazelnut notes, creating a sophisticated and flavorful drink.

Tips for Brewing the Perfect Cortado

Brewing a perfect cortado is an art that involves precision and attention to detail. Here are some tips to help you achieve the ideal balance between bold espresso and creamy steamed milk:

  • Freshness matters: Use freshly ground coffee beans for the espresso to ensure a robust and aromatic base for your cortado.
  • Temperature control: Steaming the milk to the right temperature is crucial. Aim for around 150° Fahrenheit (65 to 70° Celcius) to balance sweetness and boldness perfectly.
  • Equal parts: Maintain an equal ratio of espresso to steamed milk to capture the essence of a classic cortado.
  • Layered presentation: Serve the cortado in a small glass to highlight the beautiful layers of espresso and milk.
  • Experiment with flavors: Add a dash of your favorite flavored syrup or spice to create a personalized cortado experience.
Cafe Cortado

What is a Flat White?

A flat white coffee drink originated in Australia. This delightful coffee beverage is popular worldwide for its smooth and creamy texture. You can make a flat white by pouring velvety microfoam milk over a shot of espresso.

Here’s a breakdown of what makes a flat white unique:

  • Espresso base: Like many coffee drinks, a flat white starts with a base of espresso, which provides the coffee’s robust flavor.
  • Microfoam milk: What sets a flat white apart is the milk used. It’s not just any milk; it’s microfoam milk. This milk gets heated and frothed to create a creamy, velvety texture. The microfoam is then poured over the espresso, giving the drink its signature smoothness.
  • Creamy texture: The microfoam milk imparts a silky, creamy texture to the flat white, making it a delight for those who enjoy a more velvety coffee experience.
  • Serving size: A flat white is well-served in a larger cup, unlike other coffee drinks. This allows for more milk and creates a consistent, creamy texture throughout the drink.
  • Milder flavor: While a flat white contains espresso, the presence of microfoam milk dilutes the intensity of the coffee flavor. As a result, the flat white is well-known for its balanced and milder coffee taste, making it more accessible to those who prefer a smoother and less bold coffee experience.

What is the Recommended Flat White Ratio?

A flat white ratio refers to the proportion of ingredients used in making the beverage. A traditional flat white contains a specific percentage of espresso to microfoam milk, contributing to its unique taste and texture.

The standard flat white ratio typically involves equal parts espresso and microfoam milk. This means that if you have a single shot of espresso, you will use an equal amount of microfoam milk to create the perfect balance of strong coffee flavor and creamy texture.

Microfoam milk is a crucial element in a flat white, responsible for the drink’s smooth and velvety consistency. Achieving the right balance between the espresso and microfoam is vital in delivering the distinctive characteristics of a flat white.

Remember that variations in the flat white ratio can occur based on personal preferences and regional differences. Some coffee enthusiasts prefer a slightly more robust coffee flavor, while others enjoy a creamier texture with more microfoam.

Experimenting with the ratio allows you to tailor the flat white to your liking, creating a customized experience that suits your taste preferences. Whether you enjoy it with the traditional equal parts ratio or a slight adjustment, the flat white remains the most preferred coffee choice for those seeking a harmonious blend of espresso and creamy microfoam.

Flat White Variations

While the classic flat white is popular for its simplicity and elegance, coffee enthusiasts and baristas have embraced the opportunity to experiment with variations, adding exciting flavors to this iconic beverage. 

Here are some creative flat white variations that take the experience to new heights:

1. Mocha Flat White: Chocolate Infusion

Ingredients: Espresso, microfoam milk, chocolate syrup

Indulge your sweet tooth with a mocha flat white. You elevate the drink by incorporating rich chocolate syrup into the mix, creating a delightful fusion of coffee and velvety chocolate goodness. The result is a decadent yet balanced flavor experience.

2. Coconut Flat White: Tropical Vibes

Ingredients: Espresso, coconut milk, microfoam

For a tropical escape, try a coconut flat white. Replace regular milk with coconut milk to infuse a subtle coconut flavor into the coffee. The creaminess of coconut milk complements the espresso, offering a refreshing and exotic twist to the traditional flat white.

3. Honey Almond Flat White: Nutty Sweetness

Ingredients: Espresso, almond milk, honey

Bring a taste of natural sweetness to your flat white by adding honey and almond milk. The nutty undertones of almond milk paired with the floral sweetness of honey create a unique and comforting flavor profile that enhances the overall richness of the coffee.

4. Caramel Macchiato Flat White: Caramel Indulgence

Ingredients: Espresso, microfoam milk, caramel drizzle

Combine the sophistication of a flat white with the indulgent sweetness of caramel in a caramel macchiato flat white. The caramel drizzle adds a luxurious touch, providing a delightful contrast to the smooth coffee and microfoam combination.

5. Spiced Vanilla Flat White: Aromatic Elegance

Ingredients: Espresso, vanilla extract, microfoam milk, cinnamon

Elevate your flat white with aromatic spices by incorporating vanilla and cinnamon. The vanilla adds a sweet and fragrant note, while the hint of cinnamon provides a warm and inviting element. This variation is perfect for those seeking a subtly spiced coffee experience.

6. Iced Flat White: Cool and Refreshing

Ingredients: Espresso, microfoam milk, ice

Embrace a refreshing twist with an iced flat white. The classic combination of espresso and microfoam is better served over ice, forming a cool and refreshing beverage. Ideal for warmer days, the iced flat white maintains the signature velvety texture while offering a chilled sensation.

Tips for Brewing the Perfect Flat White

Creating the perfect flat white requires attention to detail and mastering the art of coffee brewing. Here are some tips to help you craft the ideal flat white, ensuring a harmonious blend of rich espresso and creamy microfoam:

  • Quality espresso shots: Start with a strong foundation by adding quality espresso shots with fresh coffee grounds.
  • Master the microfoam: Achieve velvety microfoam by steaming the milk to the right temperature,140° Fahrenheit (60° Celcius), and pouring it slowly over the espresso.
  • Balanced ratio: Aim for an equal ratio of espresso to microfoam for the ideal balance of flavor and texture.
  • Temperature consistency: Maintain the temperature of the milk and espresso to ensure a harmonious blend in every sip.
  • Experiment with milk options: Explore different milk options to find the one that complements your taste preferences, whether whole milk, almond milk, or another alternative.
  • Serve immediately: Flat whites are best enjoyed fresh. Serve the drink immediately after preparation to capture the optimal flavor and temperature.
Flat white coffee on the table

The Difference Between Flat White vs. Cortado

Cortado and Flat White are both espresso-based coffee beverages that have their origins in different parts of the world and vary in preparation and flavor.

Here’s how they differ:


Cortado often contains a single espresso shot, typically about 1 ounce (30 milliliters) of concentrated coffee. Flat white also includes a single shot of espresso, but it may have a slightly larger volume than a cortado.


The distinguishing feature of a cortado is the way it’s cut or “shortened” with a small amount of warm milk. The milk gets heated and poured into the espresso to “cut” the bitterness, producing a balanced coffee-to-milk ratio.

A flat white also contains steamed milk but typically has a microfoam texture. The milk in flat white stretches, creating a velvety texture, and it’s poured over the espresso.

Milk-to-Espresso Ratio

The cortado has a more even balance between espresso and milk, with a 1:1 ratio or slightly more milk than espresso.

On the other hand, the flat white has a higher ratio of milk to espresso, resulting in a creamier and more velvety texture. The milk can be approximately 2:1 or even more in favor of the milk.

Flavor and Texture

Cortado offers a bolder coffee flavor due to the 1:1 or slightly milk-heavy ratio. The milk in a cortado mellows the espresso’s intensity without overpowering it.

Conversely, flat white has a smoother and creamier texture, thanks to the micro-foamed milk. It provides a well-integrated coffee flavor with a silkier mouthfeel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Cortado the Same as a Macchiato?

While both contain espresso and milk, a cortado has equal parts espresso and steamed milk, offering a more balanced flavor than the marked or “stained” milk in a macchiato.

Can I Enjoy a Cortado With Alternative Milk Options?

Yes! Embracing the versatility of this classic coffee beverage with a modern twist opens up a world of flavors and experiences. Whether you opt for almond, soy, oat, or coconut milk, each alternative adds its unique touch, allowing you to tailor your cortado to your liking. 

So, feel free to explore and savor the delightful fusion of espresso and alternative milk in your next cortado adventure.

What Makes a Flat White Different From a Latte?

The flat white uses microfoam milk, creating a smoother texture than the frothy milk in a latte. It also has a higher coffee-to-milk ratio.

Is There a Difference Between an Iced Flat White and a Regular One?

The critical distinction is the serving temperature; an iced flat white is well-served over ice for a refreshing experience while maintaining the classic flavor balance.

Final Verdict

Deciding on the flat white vs. cortado case ultimately boils down to personal preference. The cortado celebrates the purity of espresso, providing an even balance between coffee and milk to enhance the coffee’s flavor without diluting it. 

On the other hand, the flat white offers a more indulgent experience, with a creamy texture that elevates the coffee to a new level of comfort.

The next time you step into a coffee shop or fire up your espresso machine at home, consider your preference for the coffee-to-milk ratio and the texture of the milk when deciding between a cortado and a flat white. 

Whichever you choose, you’re sure to experience the unique charm and deliciousness of these two exceptional coffee creations.