29 Jul 2014

What is a Cortado? A Coffee Exploration in Barcelona

A cortado. It is similar to the, most often better known, espresso macchiato. Both being an espresso with a bit of (frothed) milk. When I started as a barista I was taught that the difference between a cortado and an espresso macchiato is the following.

An espresso macchiato is an espresso with a bit of frothed milk.  A cortado was to be made with only a little bit of warm non frothed milk. The explanation being that the Italian macchiato, meaning 'spotted', was about spotting your espresso with a bit of frothed milk, whereas the Spanish cortado was all about 'cutting' through the espresso with a bit of warm milk. 
Now although this sounds logical, bear in mind that this was way back in the day, when we called our porta filters pistons (was this a typical Dutch thing to do, or are there other languages where this strange custom occurred?), threw ice in our frothed milk to cool it down faster so we could reheat it again more quickly and filter coffee was nowhere to be found outside the cheap pre ground coffee lane in the supermarket. 
And so naturally, not to long ago the discussion started. Is a macchiato really as dry and the cortado really as wet as we have always assumed them to be?

Most websites and blogs agree that a cortado is somewhere between an espresso macchiato and a cappuccino. However, there is no agreement on whether or not to allow some foam and what the ratio milk to coffee should be (most agree it should be between 1:1 and 1:2, which seems reasonable, but also quite a large margin on such a small drink). 
When we look and analyse what a cortado actually is, this is what we know. The cortado is a drink that originated in the Basque area of Spain, but can now not only be found everywhere in Spain, but also in most places around the world. 
The name comes from the Spanish verb cortar, which means to cut. In essence it is about cutting through the espresso, making a more mellow drink, while still allowing the flavour of the coffee to shine through. 

And although the discussion got a little fiery and heated, in the end, when deciding what to serve the barista has to balance two things. Quality and taste being up to par and in line with the vision of the coffeebar. And what the customer wants. 

In July I went to Spain. No, I did not go to the Basque area, I went to Barcelona. Anywho, they have some spectacular coffeehouses. With the more traditional Cafés El Magnifico. The very, very new and colourfully decorated Slice of Life, which is still building up the brand. The more hipster Satan's Coffee Corner, with amazing atmosphere, food and coffee. Also Satan's Coffee Corner is coffee supplier to many a coffeehouse in Barcelona, such as Caravelle. Where you can also enjoy craft beer and a good meal. And last but certainly not least, the relatively new Cøffee Lab, by Nomad Coffee Productions. This last one is mainly build as a learning and training facility, but during the day you can enjoy the most tasteful coffees sitting at their small bar decorated with all things coffee flavour related.

You can get some amazing pour over coffees as well, which I did, but in all shops I also got me some cortado. Just to see what I would get. Overall I have to say it fit with the norm of a ratio between 1:1 and 1:2. And in all cases I got some foam, with most poured into some latte art. 

Now, I forgot to write down the pricing, just enjoying my cortado too much (and other coffees, because who can order just one coffee and then leave?). Below the cortados I got served, together with the information I did get on paper.


address: C/Pintor Fortuny 31
espresso machine: La Marzocco
Coffee: Satan's Coffee Corner

The cortado was very smooth and soft to drink. A bit too bitter, as if the machine needed some rinsing. Coffee used was roasted by Satan's Coffee Corner and was a Colombian Tamana.

Satan's Coffee Corner

address: Carrer de l'Arc de Sant Ramon del Call 11
espresso machine: La Marzocco
serves filter coffee: yes
coffee: own roastery 

I think this was my personal favourite, but it´s hard to choose between this and Cøffee Lab. The coffee was freshly roasted, making it a bit toasty, and it was oh sooo sweet. And what´s not to love about a heart poured into your cortado?

Cafés El Magnifico

address: Argenteria 64
espresso machine: La Marzocco
serves filter coffee: yes
coffee: own roastery

A very, very sweet and caramelly clean cortado. Perhaps a little bit too sweet. But I did get a cookie, so bonus points. Because I was a little peckish.

Slice of Life

address: Carrer dels Assaonadors 19
espresso machine: Dalla Corte
serves filter coffee: yes
coffee: Satan's Coffee Corner 

To be honest I did not love this cortado. Not sure why, the coffee again being the Tamana roasted by Satan's Coffee Corner tasted very good. Perhaps the paper cup and the plonked in milk kind of threw me off.

Cøffee Lab

address: Pasaje de Sert 12
espresso machine: Dalla Corte
serves filter coffee: yes
coffee: own roastery

Again a very good cortado. A little less milky than the others I had, but with the beautiful Brazil and El Salvador blend, this was not a punishment. Very sweet and balanced, and well presented. A real treat.

Want to see more Barcelona photo's? Check out the album on Coffee Strides Facebook page.

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