Today we’re going to take a look at two lesser known espresso coffees. The piccolo latte and the cortado – two teeny sized drinks that are no larger than 4 oz. Perfect for those who want a sweet hit of caffeine, but don’t want to be filled up by too much milk. What are they exactly? What’s the difference between a piccolo latte vs cortado?
What is a Piccolo Latte
Piccolo is the Italian word for “small”. So, a small latte. It really is that simple.
“A piccolo latte is an espresso shot, topped with smooth, steamed milk; served in a small 3-4 oz glass.”
This varies from cafe to cafe. Some cafes use a doppio or double shot of espresso, others use a ristretto shot. Traditionally, it is a single espresso shot of about 30 ml (1 oz).
A piccolo’s milk has a silky, velvety smooth texture. It won’t be anywhere near as frothy as a cappuccino. The milk will be steamed exactly the same as that of a latte – smooth with a small layer of microfoam on the top.
3-4 oz Glass
It’s served in a small glass about half the size of a latte glass, which gives it a stronger taste. The flavours of the espresso can cut through more because less milk is used, so it is an ideal choice for people who want to taste the notes of that particular coffee.
Simple and easy. Hardly any confusion as to what a piccolo latte is!
What Is a Cortado?
Okay, now this is where the confusion creeps in. If you ask 5 baristas, you may get 5 different answers. If you ask 5 baristas from 5 different countries, I can almost guarantee you’ll get 5 different answers! The simplest, and most generic definition I can give you is this:
“A cortado is an espresso topped up with a little bit of hot, steamed milk.”
Well that’s not very helpful, is it? I mean, a piccolo latte would fit that description too. But that’s just it – there really isn’t a clear cut answer. In Australia and New Zealand, a piccolo would sometimes be the same thing as a cortado, save for a different vessel, maybe.
Cortado is the Spanish word for “cut”. As in, the milk cutting through the bold, intense espresso flavours. It’s said to have been invented in Spain (this is debated).
Traditionally, it’s a coffee with a 1:1 espresso-to-milk ratio. Meaning if you use a single shot of espresso (30 ml), you top it up with 30 ml of hot milk. The exact same volume of milk to balance out the espresso shot. So, if we use this explanation, we can redefine our cortado as such:
“A cortado is an espresso shot topped up with the same volume of hot, steamed milk in a 1:1 espresso-to-milk ratio.”
But over the years, as the drink spread, it’s definition and understanding has evolved drastically. Different cultures interpret this drink differently. Some use a double shot of espresso, some serve the hot milk on the side, others serve it as a dollop of milk atop an espresso shot, akin to a macchiato.
Have a look at this article by Perfect Daily Grind: What Is A Cortado? 6 coffee experts from 6 countries all give different definitions. It’s wild!
My Definition of a Cortado
I’ve worked at a number of coffee shops, and I’ve been taught different things when I asked about a piccolo latte vs cortado. But, across the board, there have been 2 main similarities:
- A cortado is usually served in a small cup, sometimes even in a demitasse if it’s a single shot, whereas piccolos are more often served in glasses. Alternatively, it can be served in a normal cup if it’s a double shot, but it won’t be filled all the way up to the brim. Just enough milk to match the volume of espresso.
- The foam level of a cortado’s steamed milk is very thin – less than that of a piccolo. It’s similar to the foam level of a flat white.
Again, this has been my interpretation of the cortado, based on my experience in the industry.
When you pop by your local cafe, it’s always best to ask the barista at the helm of the espresso machine how they define their cortado. You want to be surprised, but in a good way – not caught off guard!
These two coffees are amazing for anyone who wants to taste the various espresso origins and blends out there, but don’t feel like wrestling against the intensity of a straight-up espresso shot. The milk mellows it down slightly whilst still giving respect to the actual taste of the coffee.
A piccolo is quite well-understood and a staple across many specialty coffee shops. The only thing you might want to ask the barista is if they use a single shot or a double shot of espresso.
There is a lot more wiggle room for debate when it comes to a cortado, and the definition as to “what is a cortado” will keep changing as you try out different places. But hey, that’s the beauty of coffee!