The cappuccino is one of the most popular and well-known drinks in the world. The winning combination of milk foam and espresso is a favourite of many, and it has inspired a number of other milk-based coffee beverages.
While the drink dates back to the 1800s, the traditional Italian cappuccino emerged in the 1930s. This was before the invention of the modern espresso machine – meaning that you don’t need one to create a classic cappuccino at home.
To explore how it was possible to prepare this delicious drink outside your local coffee shop, I spoke with three cappuccino experts. They are Tosca Cesaretti and Misha Bussemey, the co-owners of Texas-based Springtown Roasters, and Chiara Bergonzi, a three-time Italian latte art champion, an SCA trainer, and an international judge.
Lee este artículo en español Cómo Recrear en Casa un Cappuccino de la Tienda de Café
How Is A Cappuccino Made?
A cappuccino consists of three basic parts: measured proportions of milk, coffee, and milk foam. In the classic Italian recipe, the foamed milk does mix with the coffee, instead just sitting on top. While variations on the foam and the ratios exist, these three parts always remain the same.
Tosca and Misha say: “While the ratio is one part coffee to two parts milk, the milk is broken down to one part steamed milk and one part foam.” However, according to them, variations are acceptable, as long as the final result suits the drinker.
In her book, Latte Art, Chiara states: “The creamy effect of the [cappuccino’s] foam must create a round and comforting beverage, which caresses the palate, with a pleasant temperature between 60 and 65ºC.”
For Tosca and Misha, it is much more than the proportions and ratios that set the cappuccino apart from other milky coffees. They believe that drinking a good cappuccino is a truly sensory experience; it combines the visual effect of good-looking foam with the sweet aroma of foamed whole milk in contact with the coffee.
In Italy, a cappuccino is a morning beverage, prepared to be enjoyed quickly so it doesn’t lose its creamy and bubble free consistency. Traditionally, it is prepared with less steamed milk and more foam, which gives it a more intense flavour. The trademark of a traditional Italian cappuccino, according to Chiara, is “the white crown on top, surrounded by a ring of coffee”.
Choosing the right mug for your cappuccino is also important. Pick the wrong cup, and your cappuccino may lose heat too quickly. According to the Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano (INEI), a cappuccino mug should have a wide rim and a narrow base.
However, for a homemade cappuccino, Chiara believes that size is not a real issue. “Many people use cups that are either too big or small,” She says. “This is OK – it’s keeping the right proportion that is really important.”
Home Brewing Methods For Cappuccinos
In coffee shops, cappuccinos are prepared with specific, professional-grade equipment. However, you don’t necessarily need these tools to prepare a cappuccino at home.
If you don’t have a home barista or espresso machine, you may want to use a stove-top coffee maker, such as a moka or Neapolitan flip pot. These alternatives are more affordable, and can also be used to produce concentrated, espresso-like shots of coffee.
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For a homemade cappuccino, Tosca and Misha recommend a moka pot. “The coffee should be really strong because we’re adding the milk. The moka pot is excellent for that, as you get all the oils and the natural fats, all the good stuff that exists in the coffee.”
According to Tosca and Misha, a French press is also a suitable alternative. However, when brewing for a cappuccino with a French press, the ratio for the coffee and the water should be adjusted. Tosca and Misha’s advice is to decrease the amount of water until you reach a concentration that you are happy with.
It’s worth noting that you may have to adjust other variables, such as the coffee variety, grind size, and extraction time, to find a recipe that works for you. It’s important that you’re prepared to experiment and refine your recipe over a number of different attempts.
If you do decide to invest in a machine, there is a wide range to choose from with a variety of different features. Chiara says that the right machine for a cappuccino will have good, stable pressure for the coffee, as well as a milk steaming vapour wand.
No matter which method you choose, what’s important for a cappuccino is that you produce a highly concentrated coffee. When using some brewing methods, like the pour over, this can be more difficult to achieve. “Filters take away the body of the coffee, which is precisely what we want for a cappuccino,” Tosca and Misha add.
Choosing Your Coffee
Before you even start making a quality cappuccino, you will have to carefully choose the right coffee. You should try to buy freshly roasted beans, and if possible, get recommendations on which to choose from a local roaster. Tosca and Misha recommend choosing a medium roast, and grinding your beans finely – as if you were making an espresso. This is the ideal size for the moka pot.
Your grind size will ultimately vary depending on how you are brewing your coffee. Chiara says that trial and error is key. Even with lower quality grinders, you can experiment with different grind sizes and brewing methods until you find something that works for you.
She also says that pre-ground coffee can be suitable, as long as it’s of very good quality and reasonably fresh. Those who don’t own or use a grinder can often ask a roaster to grind coffee to a size of their choice. And while fine coffee is ideal for the moka pot, French press coffee should be more coarse. If you have any questions, it may be worth speaking to a roaster.
The Right Kind Of Milk
Creating perfect cappuccino foam is all about chemistry. There are a number of different factors that influence it – from the quality of the milk through to the heating temperature. While a thermometer will help, Tosca and Misha explain that choosing the right type of milk is an important first step.
“Essentially, good organic whole milk is the best. It has the most fats, and that’s what you really need to get the bubbles and the foam.” However, you need to make sure that you don’t overheat your milk, as this can kill the proteins and leave your foam too thin.
For those who want to create a perfect, barista-quality cappuccino at home, the Specialty Coffee Association provides temperature guidelines. The SCA recommends that milk is heated somewhere between 50°C (122°F) and 70°C (158°F).
When it comes to non-dairy milk options, soy and almond milk also produce a good foam. Tosca and Misha don’t recommend coconut or cashew milk, however, as “they are very thin and watery”.
Getting That Magic Foam
The simplest way of frothing your milk is to use a saucepan and a whisk. Just heat up your milk on the stove and when it starts to bubble, turn off the stove and start whisking. If you have a thermometer, you should take the milk off the heat at around 70ºC, as the SCA recommends. Keep whisking until your milk starts to froth and thicken, and you will soon have your foam.
Your other options are to heat up the milk on the stove and then use a blender until it gets frothy. Just be careful that the milk is not too hot, as too much pressure could cause your blender some damage.
Believe it or not, the French press can also be used to steam and foam your milk. This is the method that Chiara recommends. She says using very cold milk before heating it up in a pan helps produce a good foam. Once heated, you simply pour the milk into your French press, and then pull and push the plunger until you create your foam.
To separate the steamed milk from the foam, all you need to do is pour it very slowly into a separate container, and swirl gently to remove any air bubbles. Baristas often remove the air bubbles and separate the foam by banging the jug against the counter, but this can be messy if you’re not careful.
Another “semi-pro” option is to buy a milk frothing machine, of which there are a wide variety of options available. However, if you want something more compact and affordable, you can invest in a handheld foam wand. Tosca and Misha even describe it as “great to take on vacations”.
Following a strict recipe with set ratios means you have more freedom to experiment with your cappuccino in other ways. For example, you can add the traditional pinch of cocoa powder or ground cinnamon, which date back to the early 20th century. In some European countries today, cappuccinos are even made with cream and sugar, rather than steamed milk and foam.
Misha adds cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg, but says the exact recipe “depends on [her] mood in the morning. Tosca has an even more detailed recipe that she calls “The Mini Miel”: “I make the cappuccino with really strong coffee, and I’ll take one tablespoon of honey to sweeten it, and I add a dash of salt. That’s my little secret!”
No matter how you choose to brew your coffee or froth your milk, it’s important that you create a cappuccino that you love. Your recipe will need to be adjusted and tweaked no matter which method you choose, and trying and making mistakes will help you to develop a perfect recipe in the long run.
Most importantly? Remember to enjoy the process. As Misha and Tosca say: “Try to have a lot of fun with it. Experiment with it all.”
Enjoyed this? Then try How To Make A Cappuccino With A French Press
Photo credits: Tosca Cesaretti, Cris Flores, Gaia Schirru, Carlos Henrique
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