Cortado vs Ristretto

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Coffee and croissants on a table in front of a window, featuring cortado.
Table of Contents
Coffee and croissants on a table in front of a window, featuring cortado.

Feeling overwhelmed by the multitude of coffee options on your local cafe’s menu? You’re not alone – it can be tricky to decipher the difference between drinks like ‘cortado’ and ‘ristretto’.

This article will offer a simplified guide, breaking down these two espresso-based beverages and their unique characteristics. Stay tuned as we dive into an exciting world of flavor profiles, brewing methods, and cultural origins that are sure to enhance your next coffee indulgence.

Cortado vs Ristretto

The difference between a Cortado and a Ristretto is in their milk-to-espresso ratio and the texture of the beverage. A Cortado is essentially a balanced blend of equal parts espresso and steamed milk, designed to cut the acidity and intensity of the coffee.

The result is a harmonious, smooth drink that’s less intense than an espresso but more potent than a latte.

Conversely, a Ristretto is a highly concentrated shot of espresso, created by using less water during the extraction process. It offers an intense, robust flavor with no milk to temper it.

Your choice between a Cortado and a Ristretto will depend on your preference for a more balanced, milk-infused experience or a concentrated, intense shot of coffee.

Key Takeaways

  • A cortado is a coffee drink from Spain made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk, while a ristretto is an intense shot of espresso made with less water.
  • The cortado has a smooth and balanced flavor, while the ristretto has a bolder and more concentrated taste.
  • The brewing process for the cortado involves using high-pressure methods for both espresso and milk, while the ristretto uses the same high-pressure method as espresso but with less water.


The cortado is a type of espresso-based coffee drink that originated in Spain. It is made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk.

The ristretto, on the other hand, is an intense and concentrated shot of espresso. It is made by extracting a smaller amount of water through the same amount of coffee grounds.

Both the cortado and ristretto are popular choices for coffee enthusiasts who prefer strong flavors and a balanced ratio between espresso and milk. Let’s explore their differences in more detail below.

Cortado Definition

A cortado is a coffee drink that comes from Spain. The word “cortado” means “to cut” in Spanish. This is because the warm milk in a cortado cuts or softens the strong taste of espresso.

In this coffee, you mix equal parts of espresso and warm milk. The end result is a smooth and balanced flavor. People can also use other kinds of milk like almond or oat milk to make a cortado if they want to.

Ristretto Definition

Ristretto is a type of coffee drink. It comes from Italy. The name “ristretto” means “restricted”. This points to how it is made. You make ristretto with less hot water than an espresso.

This short shot of espresso packs a punch! It has more taste and is sweeter and sharper than long shots. Its body is full, thanks to the shorter amount of water used in brewing. People who love strong coffee often prefer ristretto because of its rich flavor.

Historical Origins

The origins of the cortado can be traced back to Spain, where it was traditionally served as a mid-morning pick-me-up. On the other hand, the ristretto has its roots in Italy and is known for its strong flavor and concentrated taste.

Cortado Origins

The cortado comes from Spain’s Basque Country. This drink got its name from the Spanish verb “cortar.” Cortar means to cut in English. The cortado is a mix of espresso and warm milk in equal parts.

People liked it because it cuts down the bitter taste of coffee with sweet, creamy milk. They also used double espresso shots when making the drink for more flavor.

Ristretto Origins

Ristretto originated in Italy, but it gained popularity in the United States in the early 1980s. This espresso-based drink is made by brewing a small amount of water with the same amount of ground coffee as regular espresso.

The result is a concentrated and strong black coffee that has a shorter extraction time than traditional espresso. Ristretto has its roots in European coffee culture and has since become a favorite among coffee drinkers worldwide.

Brewing Process

The brewing process for Cortado and Ristretto involves a specific water and coffee ratio, extraction times, and temperature and pressure settings.

Water and Coffee Ratio

Water and coffee ratio is a critical aspect of the coffee brewing process, significantly impacting the flavor and strength of the coffee. The ratios differ for various coffee types, particularly when comparing the cortado and ristretto.

Coffee TypeWater and Coffee Ratio
RistrettoThe water and coffee ratio for a ristretto commonly falls between 1:1 to 1:1.5. Despite using the same amount of grounds as an espresso, only half the amount of water is used, leading to a stronger, more concentrated coffee flavor.
CortadoThe standard ratio for a cortado is between 1:1 and 1:2. The milk is added after the espresso is brewed, resulting in a stronger coffee taste compared to drinks with a higher milk-to-espresso ratio, like lattes.

Understanding these ratios can help in brewing the perfect cup of coffee, aligned with personal preference and the desired strength of flavor. For a more intense, concentrated taste, the ristretto’s lower water-to-coffee ratio is ideal.

Conversely, for a more balanced flavor where the coffee and milk share center stage, the cortado’s equal-ratio approach may be more appealing.

Extraction Time

Extraction time varies significantly between a cortado and a ristretto and plays a crucial role in determining the final flavor profile of each coffee drink.

Type of CoffeeExtraction Time
CortadoExtraction time information not provided for cortado.
RistrettoRistretto shots are typically pulled for about 15 to 20 seconds. Some coffee shops even stop the ristretto shot after just 15 seconds to account for the use of less water.

Ristretto shots have a shorter extraction time than long shots and are brewed for half the time of an espresso. This shorter extraction time contributes to a bolder taste with more mellow flavors in a ristretto shot.

Pressure and Temperature

The brewing process of cortado and ristretto puts a significant emphasis on pressure and temperature, each contributing to the unique taste of the coffee. Maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the brewing process is especially important for ristretto shots.

PressureEspresso shots, like those used in cortado, are brewed using a high-pressure method. This contributes to the unique taste of the coffee.Ristretto shots are brewed with the same high-pressure method as espresso. However, the amount of water used is less, resulting in a more concentrated and bold flavor.
TemperatureThe temperature of a cortado can vary. The extraction temperature plays a significant role in the taste of the coffee, with cooler brewing temperatures potentially resulting in a weak taste.The extraction temperature of a ristretto shot needs to be maintained consistently throughout the brewing process. This helps to fully extract the flavors from the coffee beans, resulting in a richer and bolder taste.

Flavor and Aroma Differences

The flavor of a cortado is smooth and balanced, with the rich taste of espresso complemented by the creamy texture of steamed milk. In contrast, a ristretto has a bolder and more intense flavor, as it is made with less water than a traditional shot of espresso.

The aroma of a cortado tends to be milder, while the aroma of a ristretto is often described as stronger and more concentrated.


A cortado is a coffee drink that has a balanced flavor, with reduced bitterness and acidity. It is smaller in size compared to a latte, making it perfect for those who prefer a milder and less milky taste.

A cortado consists of equal parts coffee and steamed milk, creating a smooth and creamy texture. It contains around 150 mg of caffeine, which provides a moderate energy boost without overwhelming jitters.

The unique flavor profile of the cortado comes from using a ristretto shot, which extracts fewer caffeine compounds compared to a regular espresso shot. This results in a rich but less intense flavor that appeals to many coffee enthusiasts looking for something different from their usual cup of joe.


Ristretto is a type of coffee that is brewed with a shorter extraction time. This means that less water is used to make the coffee, resulting in a concentrated and intense flavor. Ristretto shots are known for their sweeter and richer taste compared to other types of coffee.

The brewing process of ristretto allows for fewer caffeine compounds to be extracted from the beans, which leads to lower bitterness. Instead, ristretto has a higher percentage of chocolate-like bitterness, giving it a unique and satisfying taste.

When you drink ristretto, you can expect robust aromas and flavors similar to espresso but presented in different ways throughout your drinking experience.

Caffeine Content

Cortado Caffeine Content

A cortado is a coffee drink that contains about 64mg of caffeine in a 4 oz cup. It has less caffeine compared to a Starbucks Flat White made with ristretto double shots. Cortados have similar caffeine levels as Americanos, which have around 120-130 mg of caffeine per serving.

If you’re looking for a coffee with a moderate amount of caffeine, the cortado could be a great choice for you.

Ristretto Caffeine Content

Ristretto shots have slightly less caffeine than regular espresso shots. A typical serving of ristretto, which is around 20ml in size, contains approximately 33mg of caffeine. Compared to other coffee drinks, ristretto has a lower caffeine content.

Traditional espresso machines that brew ristretto shots have the highest amount of caffeine per fluid ounce. However, it’s worth noting that long shots, which have more water content, contain slightly more caffeine than ristretto shots.

If you’re looking for a strong and concentrated coffee with a slightly lower caffeine kick compared to regular espresso, ristretto is a great option to consider.

Uses in Popular Drinks

Cortado in Popular Drinks

Cortado is a popular coffee drink that is enjoyed by many people. It is made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk, which gives it a smooth and balanced taste. Here are some popular drinks that feature cortado:

  1. Cortadito: This is a Cuban drink that is similar to cortado, but with the addition of sugar. It is often served in a small cup and enjoyed as an afternoon pick-me-up.
  2. Gibraltar: This drink originated in San Francisco and is made with a double shot of espresso topped with steamed milk. It gets its name from the glass it is traditionally served in, which resembles the shape of the Rock of Gibraltar.
  3. Galão: This Portuguese variation of cortado consists of a ratio of 1:3 espresso to milk. It is typically served in a tall glass and enjoyed as a breakfast beverage.
  4. Misto: In Italy, cortado is known as “misto.” It is made by mixing equal parts espresso and steamed milk, creating a creamy and delicious drink that can be enjoyed at any time of day.
  5. Cortado con Leche Condensada: This Spanish twist on cortado includes the addition of sweetened condensed milk. It adds a rich sweetness to the drink and makes it even more indulgent.

Ristretto in Popular Drinks

Ristretto is often used as a key ingredient in popular coffee drinks. Here are some examples:

  1. Cappuccino: A traditional cappuccino is made with equal parts of ristretto, steamed milk, and foam on top.
  2. Macchiato: A macchiato is typically made with a shot of ristretto topped with a small amount of foamed milk.
  3. Latte: Some coffee shops offer a “ristretto latte” which uses ristretto instead of a regular espresso shot for a stronger flavor.
  4. Flat White: In some variations, the flat white may be made with ristretto instead of a regular espresso shot, resulting in a bolder taste.
  5. Piccolo Latte: This drink combines ristretto with steamed milk served in an espresso cup, creating a smaller and stronger version of a latte.

Choosing Between Cortado and Ristretto

When deciding between a cortado and a ristretto, it is important to consider your personal preferences and the appropriate occasion for each drink.

Considering personal preferences

When deciding between a cortado and a ristretto, it is important to consider your personal preferences. The cortado has a balanced ratio of espresso and milk, resulting in a smooth taste with less milk than the flat white.

If you enjoy a stronger coffee flavor, the cortado might be the right choice for you. On the other hand, if you prefer an even bolder and more concentrated espresso experience, the ristretto could be perfect.

Ultimately, your preference for strength of flavor and milk-to-espresso ratio will guide your decision between these two delicious coffee options.

Determine the appropriate occasion

To determine the appropriate occasion for enjoying cortado or ristretto, you need to consider your personal preferences and the unique characteristics of each drink. If you prefer a smaller, stronger coffee with a balanced flavor and texture, cortado is a great choice.

It’s usually served in smaller quantities and is perfect for those who enjoy savoring every sip. On the other hand, if you’re looking for an intense espresso experience with concentrated flavors, ristretto is the way to go.

Its shorter extraction time results in a bolder taste that can awaken your senses. Whether it’s a leisurely morning at home or a quick pick-me-up during work hours, selecting between cortado and ristretto depends on what you’re craving and how you want to enjoy your coffee moment.


The cortado and ristretto are two distinct coffee drinks with their own unique flavors and characteristics. The cortado offers a balanced ratio of coffee to milk, resulting in a smooth taste.

The ristretto provides a more intense and concentrated coffee flavor. Choosing between the two ultimately comes down to personal preference and the occasion you’re enjoying your coffee.

So next time you visit your favorite coffee shop, consider trying both the cortado and ristretto to see which one suits your taste buds best!


What are Cortado and Ristretto?

Cortado is a type of coffee made with espresso and a small amount of milk, usually served in a glass. A Ristretto is an espresso made using less water which results in a strong coffee flavor.

How does the taste of Cortado differ from that of Ristretto?

Cortado has a balanced ratio of milk to coffee, softening the strong espresso flavor. On the other hand, Ristretto has more concentrated and intense coffee flavor due to its brewing method.

Can you do latte art on top of both these beverages?

Yes! Baristas can create latte art on most milky coffees including Cortados where creamy froth sits on top of the espresso shot.

Is there more caffeine in a Ristretto than in filter or drip coffee?

No, even though it tastes stronger because it’s finely ground and brewed quickly, an Espresso or ristretto doesn’t have as much caffeine as longer-brewed coffees like drip or filter.

Do you need speciality types of ground coffee beans for both drinks?

While any kind could work well if prepared right; quality beans will surely make your café experience better whether we’re talking about making Espresso first for cortados or going straight with quick short shots used for double ristrettos.

Where did these two different types come from?

Both originated from European countries known well for their café culture: Spain blessed us with elegant cortados while Italy gave birth to powerful ristrettos!

About the Author:
Emily Thompson is an enthusiastic guide in the world of coffee, sharing her expertise in flavors, brewing techniques, and cultural significance. Her journey, fueled by a deep love for coffee, involves educating coffee enthusiasts of all levels to enhance their coffee experiences. Emily's content spans from brewing guides to the cultural importance of coffee, emphasizing ethical sourcing and sustainability.