Lets call the whole thing coffee. Or not.
I had a recent experience at a coffee shop with the cortado. The cortado is a drink, with Spanish roots. Cortado means to cut. What is cut in the cortado is espresso by the might drink that’s called milk. While at this coffee shop, I asked for it iced, for my brother-in-law and was told that there was no such thing. Now, I must prefaced this by saying that up until a couple of months ago, I thought the same thing – iced cortados weren’t done – because a cortado is a warm drink cut with milk, served in a specific glass with precise dimensions and I’ve always had it that way. I thought, how would one be able to make an iced cortado? However, upon visiting a local coffee shop hearing him ask, ‘Can I get that iced?’ and he was obliged I began to not only rethink the drink idea, but started asking for one when with him.
Fast-forward to two months later, which was about two weeks go when I was a coffee shop, and was told that it didn’t exist and couldn’t be done. It of course initiated a conversation, one that was kind but with measured passion and doggedness that I haven’t experienced in a while. It was a conversation that held me at the counter for a good ten minutes ,while near the shops closing time, talking about what is and what isn’t in coffee; the polarity of simple items like coffee and milk and the negation of the need to call a drink by any name since the barista narrowed it down to all drinks being just ounces of espresso and coffee. Additionally, my barista said that proportions – in the grand coffee scheme – were really irrelevant, since coffee and milk combinations were about quality espresso and quality milk – steaming and or foaming. While I agreed about the quality of both ingredients, I disagreed with the simplicity of his position and the tone in which he dominated the conversation.
If I order a latte, I’m expecting a higher milk ratio to espresso in my drink. I know and understand by virtue of science that the standard ration of a latte – 240 mL (8 US fl oz) glass or cup with one standard shot of espresso (either single, 30 mL or 1 US fl oz, or double, 60 mL or 2 US fl oz) and filled with steamed milk, with a layer of foamed milk approximately 12 mm (1⁄2 in) thick on the top – thanks Wikipedia for the exact measurement show its entirely different than a cortado. I’m ready to experience less espresso flavor and more milk in a latte than what I would experience in a cortado.
However, if I want something unmitigated by a lot of milk, but just a touch of it, not even a touch heavy enough to cut the milk, then I’m looking for a drink far from a milky latte or even an espresso forward cortado. Ultimately that means this drinks’ science, its proportions would lend toward an equation where the espresso is dominant and any milk at all, is minimal in its presence. For this, I tend to ask for a con panna to satisfy the need for less acidity and a measure of sweetness or at times a pac nor which always provides me with the feeling of equal espresso and milk.
All in all, an experience of a drink, can’t feel the same if the science to make it have the proportions is does impacts its reception on my palate. Given that, how could one throw out the naming of coffee drinks – not saying that all are relevant or even necessary – but could a few combinations of espresso and milk delineated by graduating ounces, cover all the variations one could experience? Could every possible combination of texture and taste created, be experienced by different proportions and drink recipes?
The barista mentioned how Handsome Coffee Roasters – now defunct – held such a menu. But, I also remembered how given certain drink pulls, a customer would get a one and one, the drink they ordered and the resulting espresso on the side because they felt that extra espresso, puled in the standard shot, didn’t compliment the recipe for the coffee + milk – size it was pulled for.
However, I mentioned how Ninth Street Espresso, which still holds to such a standard and did so before Handsome was born. If I’m correct, there isn’t a one and one for the extra espresso pulled that doesn’t align with a ratio of coffee and milk. Does this indicate that just because the pulling of espresso occurs and that all of it wasn’t used, mean something about the strict coffee and milk combination? Is all the espresso and all the milk always used in any drink recipe? And, if not, could one suggest that if it was used then well, that would be a different drink experience than what the coffee program wanted to offer? I’d like to think so.
When I choose to go to Ninth Street Espresso, I’m not seeking a drink beyond the menu; I’m ordering with the knowledge of the philosophy behind their menu knowing that how they do espresso plus milk has always held up for me as profoundly beautiful.
This became some of our exchange. Feeling a little perturbed that all that I wanted to communicate wasn’t being communicated, and that I couldn’t get that much of a word in edgewise, while still waiting for a flight of chai’s and an “espresso with milk” a.k.a cortado – or not, I was at a conundrum. Here’s what it was: if, one I understood espresso and milk as a conscious coupling well enough, if two, I knew what a cortado really was, and three, if I the customer could ever ask for a cortado, iced and truly get it or something else,?I reached out to a few baristas to weigh in on the matter. Most responded, I share their thoughts with you here, as we conversed upon the same prompt, which is followed by my conclusions.
Prompt: How would you define a cortado? Can a cortado be iced? And, still be a cortado? Lastly, do drink names matter, or can it all be boiled down to espresso and milk?
A cortado interchangeable as a Gibraltar is a 4-5 oz. hot beverage including a double sot and 2-3oz of milk foam steamed to about 100-110 F to maintain the sweetness of the milk. I f were asked to make a cortado iced, my instinct would be to make an iced latte, but with less milk and I’d obvious explain that to the customer.) With the double shot, about 3-4 oz. of milk mixed in, and then filled to the top with ice, you’d taste the espresso at the same strength it would be in a traditional cortado, but cold.
I personally consider the sought after by most specialty coffee shops, velvety textured milk, a milk foam. It’s the all-inclusive product that’s free-poured into the cup, if that makes sense.
Conclusion: The cortado becomes a shortened latte because its ice. But, was I to walk into her shop, I would experience the shortened latte as a cut latte, mimicking the proportions and palette sensation of the cortado because of her knowledge of the drinks ounce ratio
Note: Steaming milk and dolloping it on top iced drink doesn’t sit well with her, nor me So, a shake and the idea of micro-foam is created. There is also a think as milk foam.
“A cortado or more commonly known in our coffee end of the world as a Gibraltar or a gibby is I like to call it, is served in a Gibraltar glass, with cooler milk in order to make it a faster consumed drink. Making it iced, I think takes away the purpose of calling it a cortado, the cooler milk makes it what it is and adding ice really just makes it an iced macchiato of sorts. I think drink names do matter definitely! In terms of temperature, texture and size difference it gets extremely specific and drink names do help.”
But cortado means to cut with milk. Is that more of a European usage then but the temperature it seems makes the cortado what it is which is why a person would say in iced cortado is a short latte, right?
“Definitely more of a European usage, American usage is just more of a temporary thing. Icing it would make it more of a shorter latte.”
Conclusion: A drink has purpose. There is specificity in a drink having a names. A cortado’s purpose is to be served warm, in a glass. All milks are steam to equal texture. So milk texture is a key factor in delineating one drink from another. An iced cortado is a short latte.
“My impression has come from growing up Puerto Rican and my experiences as a Barista who watches and asks how my customers drink their coffee. Cortado from the word cortar in Spanish, which depending upon the exact context means “to cut” . When in reference to coffee, it typically means some coffee “cut” with milk. Most popular in Spain. I have not been to Spain yet, but I tend to be coached by discerning clientele from there for a small beverage. The most popular version I make is espresso based. When folks ask me to cut “regular” or brewed coffee with milk, this tends to flirt with what I feel is a caffe au lait or café con leche. The precise amount of milk feels like it varies from Spanish speaking country to Spanish cooking country and home to home. It usually is a small bevi though, not very common over ice.
The terminology may be applied by some to an iced beverage if their discerning from their customer that they are looking for a small iced beverage which they aren’t entirely wrong because you are “cutting” the coffee with some milk. Almost every cortado I’ve seen made growing up and served to customers, ends up having sugar in it More often than not before tasting. This beverage or style of consuming it has made the process of ordering pretty tricky over the years because so many café have sought to differentiate somehow from one another and may have a drink impression of what the drink is supposed to be. For the difference in preparation, and ratios see this great video from HYPEBEAST on a Gibraltar vs cortado. A traditional cortado would come in a glass about an once smaller than a 4.5 oz. libbey gibraltar glass, the vessel can change, the overall prep ought to be constant.”
Conclusion: The cortado has a cultural origin in Spain. Its name comes from the culture in which it originated, so it has a historical basis. There are small beverages. There’s a “cutting” that can be applied to brewed coffee and espresso. Drink names mean different things from shop to shop, country to country sometimes because of culture and sometimes because of a local shops need to differentiate themselves.
In the not-so-end, because this conversation will continue as cafes and coffee shops yearn to distinguish themselves but hopefully more importantly understand what the customer is asking, which I didn’t feel the barista whom I had this exchange with was trying to discern from me. Please don’t tell me that something can’t be done. Anything can be done ,or at least make a customer feel like they can have what they want, even if they’re calling it wrong.
I would have a drink in each of these baristas café, because each of them while having an understand of what the drink is supposed to be or mean in the customers eyes, is aiming to understand and serve what the customer is asking even if the customer is asking for something that isn’t traditionally created. What I have ultimately concluded about the iced cortado, is that I need a standard for a shortened latte, for when I don’t want my espresso toppled with triple its base. After all, espresso and milk is all about that base… first.