What is a Cappuccino?

A Cappuccino is a wonderful frothy drink with a light creamy top, a milky middle and a full-bodied coffee at the bottom.

You can stir the cup, but that would be defeating its purpose. Just because it can be served with a double espresso does not mean that it should be served in a large mug.

The beauty of cappuccino is the interleave of the flavors, providing a backdrop for and support for the strong espresso coffee flavor.

What is a Cappuccino

The 1990s saw an explosion of number of coffee shops in the United States. This is not just in the companies which started offering coffees, but also in the number of coffees on the menu.

However, in the hopes of attracting a market, coffee shops have been guilty of a shotgun approach where new flavors are offered, in the hope that these stick, and become a hit. At the same time, coffee shops have been guilty of creating a brand name cult and putting up new terms and definitions for established coffees. These were done to create an upscale image of coffee and differentiate their brew from those offered at diners and donut shops.

In all the confusion of names and offerings, coffee has become muddled. There are shops which offer espresso in small, medium and large servings. There are also those which serve cappuccino in large mugs. And there are coffee shops where the customers cannot differentiate between a cappuccino and a latte.

This state of affairs is embarrassing because it makes the customer believe that the coffee they are drinking are served in the old way. There is also the mistaken belief that since the coffee comes from a popular coffee shop, then they must be doing it in the proper manner. Unfortunately, there are a lot of compromises between how coffee is served and how it should be served in the first place.

The concept of Cappuccino is simple, but it can also be a pain to do. It takes a barista some time before he can make the perfect cappuccino. At its core, a cappuccino is one-third espresso, one-third hot milk and one-third frothy foam.

​The Ingredients

A cappuccino has only three ingredients. It is relatively easy to make, as long as espresso is properly made. The ingredients are:

  1. 1
    ​​A shot of espresso
  2. 2
    ​Equal part steamed milk
  3. 3
    ​​Equal part of frothed milk.

That's it!  Cappuccino requires one-to-one-to-one ratio of the above ingredients to make. It also requires a warm bowl-shaped cup or mug.

How to Make a Cappuccino

The Fundamentals

Before making the cappuccino, it is necessary to ​make a shot of espresso.

The invention of the espresso machine has made it possible to easily create this short, tight and flavorful shot of coffee.

  • Finely ground grains are tamped down on a holder. 
  • Water is forced through the coffee grounds with high pressure.
  • This results in an even penetration of the coffee grounds.
  • The resulting extraction is a coffee syrup with  a fair amount of solids.
  • The extracted fluid is thick with the dissolved which adds an extra layer of complexity to the flavor.

Espresso is a brewing method which results in the very concentrated beverage of the same name. It has a bold flavor, and a strong aroma. However, contrary to popular belief, it does not have a higher caffeine content than regular brewed coffee. A regular espresso serving has between 120 to 170 mg of caffeine, compared to 150 to 200 mg of caffeine for regular mug of drip coffee.

There is also the mistaken belief that espresso burns the coffee flavor because it has very hot water passing through the coffee grounds. The hot water passing through the grounds has a temperature fo around 86 to 90 degrees Celsius, with the temperature in the cup at 64 to 70 degrees Celsius. The water percolates for about 20 to 30 seconds, which is not enough time to burn the grounds. A serving of espresso is between 22 to 27 ml.

After the espresso is extracted, hot or steamed milk is added on top of the espresso, which is followed by a frothed milk of the same volume. 

Steamed Milk

The cappuccino is served on a 120 to 180 ml preheated wide-mouthed or bowl-shaped cup. The hot foamed milk tops the cappuccino, which forms a thick layer of foam about 2 cm. or three-fourths of an inch in thickness. Creating the right foam ratio makes the cappuccino one of the hardest coffee-based drink to prepare. In addition, baristas are noted for latte art made by forming patterns on top of the drink.

The cappuccino is topped with milk and foam. This is the basic description of cappuccino. However, there are variances to cappuccino depending on where you are in world. Due to cultural differences and preferences, the way a cappuccino looks varies from one country or region to another.

In Italy, cappuccino is not served after 11:00 am because it uses milk and would be heavy to drink past the morning. Instead espresso is served after meals.

Cappuccino is different from latte and less demanding to make. It is a larger drink, and starts with a single shot of espresso, with more milk than a cappuccino. The foam does not follow the standards of cappuccino, and can be more or less than the equal portions. A latte is served in a large cup.

Other drinks similar to a cappuccino include:

  • ​Latte. Larger than a cappuccino, made with a single shot of espresso but with more milk. The amount of foam also varies.
  • ​Macchiato. A shorter drink than a cappuccino, made with a single shot of espresso and less milk.
  • ​Cortado. From Spain, this is a slightly shorter drink than the cappuccino. The milk varies from an equal one-to-one ratio with the espresso, or up to two-to-one. It does not have any foam on top. Today’s cortados use fresh milk, while the traditional cortado uses condensed milk.
  • Flat white is a hybrid between a cappuccino and a latte, but with no foam. This is a popular drink in Australia and New Zealand.

Different Common Cup Sizes

Traditionally, cappuccino is served in 120 ml to 180 ml cups. In the United States, and wherever American coffee shops are located, they would have different serving sizes of up to 600 ml.

Conclusion

The cappuccino is an espresso-based coffee drink with a defined, crisp layering of steamed milk and frothy milk. This provides the espresso a backdrop to differentiate its flavor profile. The perfect cappuccino is very much dependent on the barista and his skill in achieving the perfect one-to-one-to-one balance of espresso to steamed milk to frothy foam.

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