Would you like to add a new and exotic beverage to your coffee-making repertoire? Do you enjoy a sweet and creamy drink?
If so, the cortadito might just be the coffee you’ve been waiting for.
This Cuban specialty fuses together rich, bold coffee with sugar and evaporated milk. The result is a distinctive beverage that’s almost a staple part of the diet in households across Cuba. Its fame has now spread to the United States, where it counts the Kardashians amongst its die-hard fans.
So are you ready to see what all the fuss is about? Join us as we take you step by step through how to make an authentic cortadito.
What you will need to follow this tutorial
If you don’t have one already, these are easy to come by and don’t cost a fortune. Amazon’s best-selling model is the Bialetti, which retails online for just under $35. If you enjoy strong coffee, they’re a worthwhile investment.
However, if you’re lucky enough to have an espresso maker, you can use this just as easily. There’s no need to splash out on a separate Moka pot. Just pull a shot of espresso per cup of cortadito. Then follow the recipe from step 6.
Alternatively, if you want to taste the results before deciding to buy new kitchen equipment, you can even use instant espresso. It won’t give you as rich or fresh a flavor, but it has the advantage of being super-quick and easy. And if you enjoy the results, invest in a Moka pot – it will make a huge difference to the quality of your coffee.
If you’re using instant espresso, just go straight to step 6.
Go for a Cuban brand for the most authentic experience, and make sure it’s dark roasted, as is traditional.
Café Cubita is the most popular brand in Cuba. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be buying it on holiday, though, beware of pale imitations. Some coffee sold online under this name isn’t grown or roasted in Cuba at all.
Indeed, a number of coffees available in the US are “Cuban-inspired” rather than actually Cuban. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth trying – but read the label carefully to see what you’re buying. And if you’re using an online retailer like Amazon, take a look at the reviews.
We would always recommend buying your coffee in whole bean form and grinding it when you’re ready to brew. Coffee loses flavors and aromatics within minutes of being ground, so if you’re able to grind it yourself you’ll really taste the difference.
Use a burr grinder if possible. It will produce more evenly sized grounds than metal bladed varieties. That in turn means the same brewing time should perfectly extract the flavors from all the grounds.
Assuming you’re using a Moka pot not an espresso maker, you want a fairly fine grind. Aim for about half-way between the consistency you’d want for an espresso and that for a French press or drip coffee. If you have the Krups model of burr grinder, use the setting marked 4.5.
You can use condensed milk if you prefer. However, you’re also going to be adding a lot of sugar. Condensed milk is sweetened, so you may find it’s a little too much unless you have a very sweet tooth.
Most people use white sugar. You can, though, try demerara. This is often used in Cuba and gives a slightly more treacly finish.
If there are any unpleasant flavors in your tap water, don’t use it – they’ll end up in your coffee. Use bottled or filtered water instead.
How to Make a Cortadito
Step by step instructions
Step 1: Add water to the Moka Pot
Start by unscrewing the top half of the pot and filling the bottom chamber with water to the fill line. If there’s no line, make sure the water comes up to the bottom of the pressure valve. That valve looks like a little golden bolt on the side of the pot.
Pro tip: For the best results, fill a kettle and switch it off just before it boils. Putting hot water inside the Moka pot to start with will extract the flavor from the coffee more quickly. That means you won’t have to keep the pot on the stovetop for ages, so avoiding scalding the grounds.
Use a little hot water from the kettle to warm the cups you’ll be using to serve the coffee. They will keep your drinks hotter for longer.
Step 2: Now add the coffee
If you’re using an electric stove top that takes a while to heat up, now is the time to switch it on. Put the burner on a low to medium heat.
Now add the ground coffee on top of the metal filter. Flatten the top gently with the back of a spoon or your finger, but don’t press down on it. You want the grounds to be even but loosely packed. That will help ensure the flavors and aromas are evenly extracted.
Screw the top chamber tightly back on the pot.
Pro tip: Add the coffee to the basket before you replace it in the bottom chamber of the Moka pot. That will avoid coffee grounds spilling into the thread on the outside of the pot as you spoon them in. Besides making a mess, trapped grounds can prevent the pot from being screwed together tightly.
Step 3: Brew the coffee and begin warming the evaporated milk
Place the Moka pot on the stove. Keep the lid open to avoid it getting too hot and over-extracting the coffee. It also means you can keep an eye on what’s going on!
Open the can of evaporated milk and pour into a saucepan. Put it on the stovetop on a low heat.
While your coffee is brewing, put the sugar into a small jug.
Step 4: Mix some of the brewed coffee with sugar
After about five minutes, the first one to two ounces of coffee will have oozed into the top chamber. Take the pot off the stove. Pour the coffee into the jug with the sugar and replace the pot on the stove to continue brewing.
Pro tip: You want a slow, gentle brewing process. If your coffee is spitting or spluttering, turn the heat down.
Now take a spoon and mix the sugar and coffee together. You need to do this pretty vigorously! After a couple of minutes or so, you should have a light brown, frothy mixture.
Step 5: Add the rest of the coffee to the sugar mixture
When the rest of the coffee has finished brewing, add it to the sugar mixture in the jug. Stir it so that the sugar completely dissolves and froth appears on top. This froth is known as “espuma”.
Now pour the coffee from the jug into your serving cups and savor that delicious aroma. It’s almost ready!
If you’re using an espresso maker instead, simply pull a single shot into each cup. And if you’re using instant espresso, just make it up according to the instructions on the pack.
Step 6: Stretch the evaporated milk (optional)
By now, your evaporated milk will have gently warmed. Pour it carefully into the carafe of the French press until it’s half full. Make sure the lid is tightly in place.
Now press down gently on the lid with one hand and raise and lower the plunger rapidly with the other. This will add air, creating a lighter texture.
Take care as you’re doing this! If the top comes off, you may end up with evaporated milk on you instead of in your cup.
Step 7: Add the evaporated milk and a dash of cinnamon
Pour the evaporated milk on top of the coffee in each cup. You can vary the ratio according to taste, but try the same amount of milk as coffee to start with.
If you like cinnamon, dust the top of each cup with half a teaspoon to add a warm hint of spice.
Your cortadito is ready! Put on some Latin music and pretend you’re in Havana.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our step by step guide to making the perfect cortadito. We think that stretching the evaporated milk and adding a dash of cinnamon make this recipe something special. If you try it, please comment and let us know if you agree.
This is such a rich, creamy drink you could even serve it in place of dessert. Why not make it at your next dinner party? We’re sure your guests will be impressed.
And if you’ve enjoyed this tutorial, please share it with your friends. You never know – perhaps you’ll be lucky enough for them to make a cortadito for you!
My name is Kathy Gallo, Editor of Ag Ferrari, a Coffee buff. The guide you find here is designed exactly for you, and it is our hope that you find it not only interesting but also actionable.