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Coffee break: why you need to make your next order a ‘Cortado’

All you need to know about this sexy style of drinking your coffee.

by: Dax Villanueva | 30 May 2016

South Africa has come a long way in its appreciation of good coffee. In little over a decade we’ve progressed from instant coffee to percolated coffee to espresso-based coffee. We even know now that it’s spelt and pronounced espresso, not ‘expresso’. Well, let’s just say most people know that now.

Flat mountain, flat white
Cape Town has been the epicentre of this coffee revolution and was without a doubt the first city where people started eschewing the foam-tower cappuccino and asking for a flat white instead. These days even in Port Elizabeth one can order a flat white without having to explain what it is. That’s progress!

But the next step is where we are currently stalled. Many purveyors of coffee, whether restaurants or coffee shops, are serving flat whites in a cup which is too large. Which means too much milk when the cup is filled to the top. I asked the opinion of Jono Le Feuvre, the proprietor of Rosetta Roastery, in this regard and he agreed, saying, “a flat white should be no more diluted than 1 part coffee to 3 parts milk”.

Assuming a 30ml espresso shot, that means 90ml of milk, for a total of about 120ml. That’s not a very big coffee. More discerning coffee houses like Rosetta Roastery are avoiding this problem by using smaller cups or they are serving their flat white with a double shot.

The problem with too much milk is that you are diluting the flavour of the fine coffee for which you are paying a premium. But if you’re not keen for the strength of a double shot coffee, how can you ensure you’re getting a decent coffee to milk ratio when you visit your local coffee spot?

Enter the cortado. Known as a noisette in France and a garoto in Portugal and various other names around the world, this style of serving coffee originated in Spain. The name derives from ‘cortar’ which means ‘to cut’ and in this instance the milk is used to cut or dilute the coffee only slightly.

The ratio for a cortado is 1 part espresso to 1 part milk, but it can go as high as 2 parts milk to 1 part espresso. Either way you are assured of getting a coffee that is not diluted too much. If you find it too bitter for your taste, you can try ordering it with a ristretto shot, which is an espresso shot extracted for half the time, making it flavourful but less bitter. A cortado is usually served in a smaller cup, or the cup will not be full to the top.

Let’s leave it there because the coffee experts will probably already be having an argument in the comments below.

Where to find a decent cortado
Not all cortados are created equal. The following coffee shops serve a good cortado, go try one of those and let us know what you think.

Espresso Lab
Rosetta Roastery
Loading Bay
Tribe Coffee
Dear Me
Kamili Coffee

Better yet, share a pic of your cortado on social media and tag #Food_24 #CTcortado so we can see it. Be aware that not every coffee spot advertises the cortado on their menu, but they might make you one if you ask for it.

Where have you had a great cortado? Tell us in the comments below.

- Dax Villanueva


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