Sometimes, even baristas like me see Gibraltar and Cortado (or one of them) on a cafe menu and can’t remember the difference. Gibraltar vs Cortado? They sound like basically the same beverage.
Indeed, they have the exact same ingredients. However, if I tease the details out more, I can show you that the big difference is their origin story.
There are subtle differences in the way these two espresso-based drinks are typically made and served.
Gibraltar Vs Cortado: Similarities & Differences Explained
1. Ingredients List
It is the same for both, and it truly is this simple:
The Blue Bottle Coffee Company developed the Gibraltar at one of its San Francisco shops in 2005; it became a trend and quickly spread to other coffee shops across the nation.
Blue Bottle Coffee invented it, rather whimsically, to fit a very specific type of glass cup, the Libbey Gibraltar Rock glass–basically a 4.5-oz. tumbler with a tapered bottom and characteristic decorative surround cut.
In contrast, the Cortado is a traditional Spanish coffee drink, with Cortado being the word for the English past participle “cut.”
Here, it probably refers to the steamed milk, in a manner of speaking, cutting or diluting the espresso.
Alternatively, it might describe how Cortados are cut down the middle, ingredient-wise, being equal parts espresso and milk.
3. Taste Experience
Both have a relatively strong coffee taste and less milk compared to other popular espresso preparations.
Therefore, the leisurely connoisseur can sip and enjoy the flavor shades of the espresso itself.
On the flip side, both are perfect for someone who wants a fast espresso. They cool fairly quickly, there is enough milk to soften any bitterness, and they are small enough to gulp down within a few seconds.
At first glance, the Gibraltar and Cortado look like little flat whites or lattes, except that they are served in clear glass tumblers.
Most versions appear nearly homogenous, while others have some layering, with a darker coffee layer towards the bottom and a lighter milk layer on top.
Some coffee shops might dot a little milk foam on top of either–just due to personal preference or a need to decorate.
(Alternatively, this top layer might happen incidentally, as steamed milk tends to form light foam or microfoam.)
5. Caffeine Levels
There can be some variation with the coffee beans and grind or brew methods, but a normal espresso shot will have between 50 and 70 mg of caffeine, so most Cortados and Gibraltars give you about 120 mg, somewhat more than in an average cup of drip coffee.
6. Cup Size & Type
If you search for 4.5-oz. Libbey Gibraltar Rock Glasses, you will sometimes see them called Cortado glasses.
This is understandable, considering both drinks are typically served in clear glass tumblers without handles, a rather unique presentation in the hot coffee world.
Moreover, the two beverages are very similar in size, so the same cup will generally work for both.
(For reference, a normal coffee mug is 8 - 10 ounces; espresso mugs are 3 ounces, and cappuccino mugs are 4.75 ounces.)
What Is A Gibraltar?
Because of the 4.5-ounce size of the glass, the Gibraltar is, at least in theory, slightly greater in volume and has a little bit more milk for the same amount of espresso.
However, this is such a subtle difference that many coffee shops and individual makers do not distinguish the two.
To confuse matters further, some sources describe Gibraltar as having more espresso by proportion.
Others describe it as milkier than the Cortado–with a single shot of espresso and enough milk to complete the Gibraltar glass volume, effectively making it a cappuccino-sized latte.
Ultimately, both should be taller than a macchiato but shorter than a latte.
Some people mistakenly claim that Gibraltar is also a Spanish coffee preparation because they associate the name with this region in Spain (though it is actually a British territory).
In this way, the name perpetuates the confusion between Cortado and Gibraltar.
What Is A Cortado?
A Cortado coffee normally has a double shot of espresso and an equal volume of warm milk: This ratio is definitive. So, it is traditionally served as a 4-ounce beverage.
Therefore, if you prefer the elegant, full-cup effect, you should serve it in a slightly smaller cup than a Gibraltar.
It is also not uncommon to see posters, recipes, and write-ups of espresso-based drinks explained, suggesting that the milk in the Cortado (or Gibraltar) should be foamed.
However, especially in the case of the Cortado, this is inaccurate–it is not the traditional way of making this beverage.
A confusable with the Cortado is the cafe con leche, another Spanish espresso-based drink that is identical except that it is made with scalded milk.
A cool thing about the Gibraltar and Cortado is their suitableness for the keto diet, as they are both just coffee and milk.
In fact, they are suitable for any type of diet: for vegetarians and vegans, you can change the milk type; for those trying to cut calories–even if you use whole milk–the volume of milk is so small that you still have a low-cal beverage.
How To Order These Delicious Drinks At Your Coffee Shop
Neither drink is always on a given coffee shop menu, but, effectively, you should be able to order them anywhere.
Yes, a barista might understandably bristle at outlandish customizations, but that is hardly what these are.
The barista at your local coffee shop should have no trouble taking your request for a double shot of espresso with two (or two and a half) ounces of steamed milk.
In such a case, the cafe Gibraltar might come in a cup different from its namesake, but you will get the taste experience (and the caffeine) of the original.
For instance, Starbucks has neither the Cortado nor Gibraltar on its menu. The flat white, cafe con panna, macchiato, or latte are arguably as close as you can get by default.
It is no problem, though, as you can readily customize an espresso order–just ask for a generous splash of milk, or if you have the chance, tell the barista the exact ratio or volume you want.
To confuse matters a bit, Starbucks offers solo, doppio, triple, and quad sizes of espresso, which are apparently smaller in volume than normal shots– .75, 1.5, 2.25, and 3 oz. respectively–but most find that the doppio's flavor strength is on par with a normal double shot.
Of course, originally, these drinks were made with dairy milk, but order them with alternatives if you like!
Internet sources give the impression that there is no official universal Gibraltar coffee recipe; thankfully, cortado recipes tend to be more consistent.
So, even if you see one or both explicitly listed on a menu, you should check with the barista before you order (especially if you are a Sheldon Cooper-like person who insists on absolute adherence to definition).
How To Make These Coffee Drinks at Home
Both Gibraltar And Cortado
- 1First, definitely use whole or 2% milk for a smooth, creamy taste. (Please let yourself indulge: It is only two ounces.)
- 2Grind your coffee beans finely. Many coffee grinders have a setting appropriate for espresso (finer than for drip coffee).
- 3Pull two shots of espresso using your method of choice. Most connoisseurs already have some kind of espresso machine–manual, semi-automatic, or automatic. However, you also can make espresso with a French press.
Most espresso machines have some sort of steam wand or milk frothing apparatus, but you can purchase separate steamers/frother apparatuses–a good investment if you love a variety of coffee preparations.
However, for the drinks featured here, there is nothing wrong with just using a moka pot and warming milk on the stove or in the microwave.
You definitely do not need a full coffee bar to get them right.
In fact, both the Gibraltar and the Cortado are great starts for espresso-making novices.
On the other hand, by comparison, these do not have many other ingredients and textures to distract from the coffee itself, so it is really important to start with the best espresso shots.
Yes, espresso should have a more robust coffee flavor than drip coffee, but it should not be bitter–good espresso shots have a characteristic luscious smoothness with an almost-sweet flavor.
In fact, really good espresso by itself contributes a soft mouthfeel, generally referred to as crema.
Cortado Vs Gibraltar
Again, they have the same ingredients and essentially no difference in steps; the only difference is in quantity (and even that seems to be debatable).
It comes down to the slightly greater volume of the Gibraltar glass, but you could use any similarly sized rock glass or any glass cup you like that can hold the same volume.
Getting espresso drinks technically correct is gratifying, but such prowess can be a jumping-off point to new ideals.
Maybe after trying these drinks by the book, you could adjust them into intermediates, creating your own perfect balance.
In a similar vein, you could research espresso recipes from around the world and get a specialized glimpse into what different cultures have done with this special coffee brewing method.
Common Questions About Gibraltar & Cortado Coffees
Is a cortado the same as a macchiato?
No, a cortado is not the same as a macchiato; the macchiato is made with milk foam instead of steamed milk.
Is flat white the same as Cortado?
No, the flat white is not the same drink as the Cortado, but they are very similar: the flat white's steamed milk intentionally incorporates more foam.
Where did the Gibraltar coffee drink originate?
The Gibraltar coffee drink originated in San Francisco at a Blue Bottle Coffee cafe.
What is a Gibraltar Americano?
A Gibraltar Americano would be an Americano with a generous splash of milk added. This is not a formally recognized drink, so you would have to order it by customization.
How is a piccolo latte different from a cortado?
A piccolo latte is a latte with ristretto shots instead of regular espresso shots. This makes it closer in size to the Cortado than a normal latte would be.
Can I use condensed milk in a Gibraltar or Cortado?
Yes, you can use condensed milk in both Gibraltar and Cortado, but then they would be different drinks; they would be more like another Spanish espresso drink, the Cafe Bombon.
Summary – Which Is Your Choice?
As more of a big-picture thinker, I understand anyone who still thinks these drinks are, for all practical purposes, the same.
Objectively speaking, they are more alike than different. You just have to appreciate that slight variation you get when you change the proportions to fit a Gibraltar glass.
I think serious espresso lovers would enjoy the higher coffee proportion of the Cortado–and appreciate its history. Californians might understandably champion the Gibraltar.
Realistically, though–if you enjoy one, you will almost certainly enjoy the other.