Cognoscenti Coffee at Proof Bakery in Atwater Village calls a spade a spade. That is, the coffee station inside the bakery, run by Yeekai Lim, lists a generally off-menu item — the cortado — as a cortado. To really appreciate the novelty of this listing, let's take a step back.
With apologies to Wallace Stevens, there are some 13 ways at looking at this small, four ounce coffee drink with roughly equal parts espresso and warm milk. It's commonly known by its Spanish name, a cortado, because the milk helps “cut” the acidity of the espresso. For similar reasons, the drink is called a tallat in the Catalan parts of Spain. The French call it a noisette, presumably on account of the drink's hazelnut color. Cuba, too, has its version, the cordito, often made with condensed milk. And stateside?
The New York specialty coffee shops by and large appear to have adopted the drink by its traditional name, cortado. Got it? Good, because the real confusion begins once you head west.
Some time ago, San Francisco's Blue Bottle Coffee decided to call its version of a cortado a Gibraltar, after the name of glass it was served in. Other Bay Area coffee shops followed suit. Courier Coffee in Portland serves it in a small mason jar and — ha ha — calls it a “Jarbraltar.” Here in LA, Intelligentsia continues the Blue Bottle legacy and adamantly calls it a Gibraltar as well, though it's a drink that dare not speak its name: it's strictly an off-the-menu item.
In fact, while a local well-versed barista probably can make the drink for you if you ask nicely, it's still not a common listing on the menu at most coffee shops in the city. Until now. For the benefit of those of us who can't remember what to order even if it's on the menu, much less if it's off of it (how many times have I forgotten to order my In-N-Out fries animal-style?), Cognoscenti Coffee has no compunction in explicitly listing the cortado as a cortado on its menu.
Yeekai makes his cortado with 1.5 to 2 ounces of espresso and fills the remainder of the four ounce glass with milk. This is perhaps the most diplomatic espresso drink on Cognoscenti's chalkboard menu, as it's a perfect compromise between a macchiato (which may not have enough milk for some) and a cappucino (which may have too much). As with all the coffee at Cognoscenti, the beans are direct from San Francisco's Four Barrel Coffee.
The cortado is finished with the barista's version of engraving your name on a grain of rice: working with very little surface area, Yeekai manages to eke out a bit of latte art on top. The result is a delicious pick-me-up for the morning or afternoon or morning and afternoon. That, along with a fresh croissant or chocolate chip cookie from Proof Bakery's display case, will make your day.
By any other name (tallat, noisette, cordito, Gibraltar, Jarbraltar, etc), would Cognoscenti's taste just as refined? The answer is yes, probably. But for simplifying, rather than complicating, matters, let's all be grateful that Cognoscenti doesn't give us yet another way at looking at the drink and calls it exactly what it is: a cortado.