Vegan Coffee vs Cortado: Understanding the Differences

Couple drinking coffee at a table, illustration

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Understanding Vegan Coffee and Cortado

When exploring the realms of vegan coffee and cortado, it’s essential to understand their origins, ingredients, and how they cater to different dietary preferences.

Origins and Definitions of Cortado and Vegan Coffee

Cortado is a Spanish coffee drink that traditionally combines espresso with an equal amount of warm milk to reduce its acidity. The name “cortado” comes from the Spanish verb “cortar,” meaning to cut, as the milk cuts through the espresso’s strength. In contrast, vegan coffee refers to any coffee drink that is made without animal-derived products. This includes but is not limited to coffee often paired with dairy-free milk like almond, oat, or soy to accommodate a vegan diet.

  • Espresso: A concentrated coffee brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water through finely-ground coffee beans.
  • Vegan Cortado: An adaptation of the classic cortado using plant-based milk instead of dairy milk to fit vegan preferences.

Comparing Ingredients: Plant-Based Options Versus Dairy

The primary divergence between a cortado and a vegan coffee manifests in their choice of milk. A cortado uses dairy milk, which is valued for its creamy texture and rich flavor, complementing the intensity of the espresso. Vegan coffee leverages dairy-free milk options, which vary widely in taste and consistency.

Dairy Milk:

  • Creamy texture
  • Rich flavor

Plant-Based Milk Options:

  • Almond Milk: Nutty flavor, lighter texture
  • Oat Milk: Creaminess close to dairy, slightly sweet

A vegan cortado would replace the dairy milk with a plant-based alternative like almond milk, which offers a lighter drink, or oat milk, which provides a creaminess akin to the traditional cortado but with a subtle sweetness. The espresso component remains unchanged in both drinks, providing that robust coffee foundation.

Brewing Techniques and Coffee Culture

The crafting of cortado and vegan coffee requires distinct techniques and tools, and their popularity reflects diverse customer preferences within the coffee shop scene.

Baristas’ Approach to Brewing Cortado and Vegan Coffee

Baristas utilize an espresso machine equipped with a steam wand to create the base for a cortado, carefully extracting rich and bold espresso shots. Cortado is then crafted by adding equal parts of steamed milk, creating a balance that reduces the espresso’s acidity and enhances its creamy texture. Vegan coffee, often taking the form of a latte or flat white, demands alternative milk options, such as soy, almond, or oat milk. These alternatives require a skilled approach to achieve the right froth and temperature, and often involve the use of a milk frother that caters to the different properties of plant-based milks.

  • Cortado: Espresso (1:1) + Steamed Milk
  • Vegan Coffee (e.g., Latte): Espresso + Steamed Plant-Based Milk

Coffee Shop Trends and the Popularity of Coffee Variants

Coffee shops are a hub of cultural trends, with patrons frequently seeking both traditional and innovative coffee drinks. The cortado, with its roots in Spanish-speaking countries, and its Cuban cousin, the cortadito, have gained traction alongside Italian staples like the latte. The move towards vegan lifestyles has made plant-based milk options in coffee shops not a novelty, but a standard. Whether brewing a robust Italian coffee drink using a stovetop espresso maker, or crafting a French press coffee for a gentler flavor profile, coffee shop culture supports a diversity of methods and tastes.

Coffee Variant Primary Brewing Tool
Cortado Espresso Maker
Latte Espresso Machine with Steam Wand
French Press French Press
Italian Coffee Drink Stovetop Espresso Maker

Nutritional Considerations and Personal Preferences

When choosing between vegan coffee options and cortado, consumers weigh nutritional content, particularly calories and sweeteners, as well as the distinct flavor profiles associated with strength, texture, and aroma.

Dietary Choices: Calories and Sweeteners in Coffee Drinks

Vegan coffee often consists of plant-based milks, which can alter the caloric intake compared to traditional dairy. Almond milk, for instance, might provide significantly fewer calories than whole milk. A cortado, typically made with equal parts espresso and steamed milk, would generally contain more calories if whole milk is used compared to a vegan coffee with almond milk.

Coffee Drink Milk Type Approx. Calories
Vegan Coffee Unsweetened Almond 30-50
Vegan Coffee Oat 120-170
Cortado Whole 70-100
Cortado Skim 50-80

Sweeteners add another layer to the nutritional profile. Regular syrups and sugar increase the calorie count, whereas sugar-free substitutes or natural sweeteners like stevia may offer sweetness without the caloric surplus.

  • Vegan Coffee Sweeteners:
    • Sugar (16 calories per teaspoon)
    • Agave (20 calories per teaspoon)
    • Stevia (0 calories)
  • Cortado Sweeteners:
    • Sugar (16 calories per teaspoon)
    • Honey (22 calories per teaspoon)

Choosing the type and amount of sweetener used can make a significant difference to the overall calorie content of the drink.

Flavor Profiles: Strength, Texture, and Aroma

The strength and depth of coffee flavor in a vegan coffee or cortado hinge on the base espresso and its interplay with the chosen milk or milk alternative. A cortado is known for its strong coffee taste with a balanced touch of cream, often presenting a harmony between bitterness and the natural sweetness of the milk.

Strength and Texture:

  • Vegan Coffee: Lighter texture; dependent on milk alternative used
  • Cortado: Creamy texture; strong coffee presence

For those who enjoy a bolder coffee flavor and creamier texture, the cortado is a natural choice. Conversely, vegan coffee allows for a variety of textures, from light to creamy, influenced by the type of plant-based milkā€”oat milk creates a creamier consistency, while almond milk gives a lighter feel.


  • Vegan Coffee: Can vary widely based on additives such as cocoa for a mocha flavor
  • Cortado: Often described as having a rich and inviting aroma

When personal preference for flavor comes into play, individual palates will guide the choice. The sweetness level can also vary; some might prefer the unadulterated bitterness of a cortado while others might opt for an added sweetness in vegan coffees, which can be adjusted with different sweeteners to achieve a balanced profile.

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