I drank my first Cortado late in 2016 at Royal Coffee Bar in Phoenix, AZ. I had never seen or heard of it before. I saw it on the menu, asked the engaging barista what it was, and decided to try it. I loved it then and I love it now. But at the time, I asked myself if this wasn’t a Gibraltar coffee drink that I had heard and read about on podcasts and blog posts. Well, it turns out it was. It’s the same thing with a different name.
The Cortado, like most espresso beverages, originated in Europe. The word is the past participle of the verb cortar. Which in Spanish means to cut, or to dilute. Espresso is cut, or diluted, with milk at a ratio of one part espresso and 2 parts milk. The drink in the United States originated on the East Coast and migrated its way West. But on the West Coast, it’s known as a Gibraltar. Some Gibraltar recipes use a little more milk than their Cortado cousins.
Instead of the 1-2 ratio from the Cortado, the Gibraltar can be up to two parts espresso and 3 parts milk. Still, the Gibraltar is known to be a drink made first by James Freeman from Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco. They also started the trend of using that name to describe what is basically, a Cortado. Here’s a quote from the man himself, out of his 2012 book The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee:
“At Blue Bottle, we serve a drink in a 4.5 ounce rocks glass with an octagonal beveled base made by the Libbey Glass company. The proportion is usually 1.25 fluid ounces of espresso to 2.5 fluid ounces of steamed milk, which fits nicely between the macchiato and the cappuccino. The milk is steamed thinly and elegantly and isn’t very hot– it’s a drink built for immediate quaffing.” (p.124)
A macchiato is espresso with a dab of milk foam on it. It literally means ‘stained with milk.’. A cappuccino is espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Quaffing means to drink, swallow, or gulp heartily. His given ratio is 1-2.
James goes on to say that they were just trying to make a ‘mini latte’ that wasn’t quite so strong in glasses that were purchased by mistake for cupping coffee. He credits a previous employee for naming the drink on the spot when a customer asked what the name of the strange drink was. (p.125)
Why the hate? I’ve run in to a lot of hate for this little drink, both online and in coffee podcasts. I wonder sometimes if something gets popular and then the initial trend setters dislike the thing now that “everyone” likes it. This happens a lot with new rock bands, who are told they’ve “sold out” once their music takes off and they start to make a little bit of money to go with their new found popularity. Some older fans inevitably turn on them for becoming popular and “mainstream.”
I’m not sure if I’m too old or too stubborn to care what popular trends are, but I love the Cortado and highly recommend you try it for yourself. I haven’t found many cafes that serve it, but depending on where you live they might be everywhere. Anyhow, keep drinking what you love.