The Cappuccino

The Cappuccino

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Few coffees share the worldwide popularity of the cappuccino. The perfect drink for coffee lovers, it’s both creamy and robust, making it a great option to start your morning with.

In fact, this iconic coffee is enjoyed all over Italy for breakfast. Although when they exported the cappuccino, the rest of the world seemed to ignore that rule, much to the dismay of the Italians. 

Italians traditionally never have a cappuccino after the morning has passed, but nowadays, cappuccinos are had in coffee shops all over Europe and much of the world at all hours.

We drink it iced, decorated with chocolate syrups, whipped cream, in plastic glasses, and all sorts of ways. But the authentic Italian cappuccino is a lot more simple and elegant than that. 

The only problem with the cappuccino? Not everyone knows how to make one! This blog post will take you through what you need and all of the steps you need to know in order to create the perfect cappuccino.

The origins of the cappuccino

The name cappuccino comes from the color of the robes of the Capuchin friars, which have a brownish tone similar to the color of coffee mixed with frothed milk. Records show that the name was used to describe a type of coffee as far back as the 17th or 18th Century when they served a “Kapuziner” coffee in the cafes of Vienna. 

Although that is the first time that the name appeared, the Kapuziner served in Vienna was very different from the drink we know and love today. Made with the traditional Turkish coffee brewing method, the Kapuziner had added milk, honey, and spices to sweeten the flavor. 

But the cappuccino that we know, with its shot of espresso and delicately frothed milk, did not appear until a few hundred years later.

It was the beginning of the 20th Century that brought the invention of the espresso machine, and it opened a whole world of opportunities for coffee drinkers. The Italian coffee culture grew around the cafés that owned the bulky, specialized espresso makers. And new coffee-based beverages started popping up. 

The first records of the Italian cappuccino come from the 1930s. Although it’s thought that at the time, the cappuccino was still topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, as they would have done in Vienna. 

But it was after the Second World War, when espresso machines started being more widely available and their popularity spread, that the cappuccino took its current form. It is a precise combination of an espresso shot topped with steamed milk and milk foam. 

What do you need to make a Cappuccino? 

Espresso machine

The first component of your cappuccino is the espresso shot, so to make it, you’ll need an espresso machine. The type of machine you use to create your cappuccino can make or break this drink - so it’s essential to know which one will work for you and what features you need to produce high-quality results.

You’ll need to make sure that your machine has steam pressure and a milk frothing wand. It’s also convenient if your espresso machine comes with a thermometer so that you can measure the temperature of the milk while frothing. But if it doesn’t, a standard kitchen thermometer will do. 

Note: Not necessarily required. Check out our post on getting a similar brew to an espresso machine with a Moka Pot.

A cappuccino cup

An authentic cappuccino cup should have around 150-160 ml capacity, be wider at the top than at the base, and have a handle. Cappuccino cups come with a matching saucer too. 

Milk

Ideally, you want to use whole milk for your cappuccino. It has a richer taste and helps to bring out the robust flavors of your coffee beans. Whole milk also makes a more consistent, creamier foam. If you use skim milk to reduce the calories of your cappuccino, bear in mind that the foam will tend to dissolve quicker.

And coffee beans, of course!

Steps to making a Cappuccino

The cappuccino is generally made with a ratio of one-third espresso, one-third milk, and one-third foam. 

1. Espresso.

Make the perfect espresso shot how you usually would.

  1. Grind your beans and pour the grounds into the portafilter.
  2. Make sure that the distribution of the grounds is even and tamp them down well to ensure that they are packed tightly.
  3. Insert your portafilter into your espresso machine’s group head and start brewing immediately.
  4. Place an espresso cup under the group head and pull the shot.

2. Foam the milk

  1. While the espresso is brewing, turn on the steamer so that it can start warming up.
  2. You want to start with cold milk and pour it into a stainless steel pitcher. Be careful not to fill it up too much, no more than about a third full, as when it starts frothing, the milk will rise. 
  3. Once the steam wand is warm, let out a bit of steam to purge it of any drops of water it might have, then insert it into your pitcher. Submerge the tip into the milk, just underneath the surface. 
  4. The steam wand will need to draw air from the surface in order to form the foam. If the wand is too high, it will get too much air, and it will form large air bubbles, which is not what we want. If the wand is too far submerged, then the milk will be steamed instead of frothed. That’s great for a latte, but not what we want for a cappuccino. Experiment with the wand placement until you can get a nice microfoam so typical of the cappuccino. 
  5. Turn on the steam switch. You want to position the wand close to the side of the pitcher, tipping it slightly so that it creates a spinning effect in the milk. This will give you a nice, even foam. 
  6. Keep frothing until you get the desired texture, which should be when the milk has doubled in volume. With practice, you’ll get the trick of doing it quickly, as you want to keep the milk below 65ºC so that the heat doesn’t spoil it. 

3. Pour and serve.

Once your milk has been adequately heated up and frothed, you’re ready to put it all together! First, pour the espresso into the cappuccino cup. Then add the milk, pouring it from a low height.

At first, it will be all foam, but the liquid milk will settle quickly, giving you the ratio of espresso to milk and to foam that you want. 

After pouring, serve immediately because if you allow it to sit, the coffee will lose its foam, get cold, and lose its delicious flavor.

You know you have the perfect cappuccino when it has that espresso taste, low acidity, and rich foam. If you don’t taste any of these in your cup, it’s likely that the ratio is off. Oftentimes a cappuccino has too much milk, which tends to overpower the espresso.

That’s where you can have fun practicing your frothing and seeing how you can get the ratio right to give you that authentic Italian cappuccino taste! 

The controversy of toppings.

It’s relatively common in many cafes and restaurants worldwide to serve a cappuccino topped with chocolate powder or cinnamon. Or, in some places, you’ll find people add flavored syrups or vanilla extract, which take away from the original cappuccino taste.

This is, of course, a question of preferences, and everyone can make a drink of their own. But for an authentic cappuccino, no toppings are needed. 

Good Fika’s Final Thoughts

So have you tried your hand at making the perfect cappuccino at home? Or have you found a favorite cafe that serves it just right?

A cappuccino is indeed a thing of beauty. Sip it slowly to enjoy the rich, creamy flavors while taking in that gorgeous foam on top. And maybe close your eyes and imagine you’re in an Italian piazza watching the world go by with your coffee in your hand!