The cappuccino is an iconic coffee beverage that combines espresso, steamed milk, and microfoam. It’s been around for centuries, and has evolved in a number of different ways over the years.
However, as it has evolved, we have started to see a number of notable regional differences. For instance, in Italy, the cappuccino recipe a barista uses may be slightly different to a cappuccino made in a coffee shop in Brazil.
To learn more about the different cappuccino variations around the world, and how baristas are experimenting with a tried-and-tested formula, I spoke to two coffee sector professionals. Read on to find out what they said.
You may also like our article on the cappuccino & how has it developed over time.
The cappuccino: A brief history
Although you might think the cappuccino can be traced back to the invention of espresso, it’s actually been around for a lot longer than that.
Its name supposedly comes from the order of the Capuchin monks, who wore muted brown robes which many likened to the colour of the beverage. Some records claim they gave their name to the beverage as far back as the early 1800s.
At this point in time, however, the cappuccino was made using brewed coffee. However, once espresso became more prominent in the early 20th century, this changed.
Today, the cappuccino is known to consist of three parts: espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. However, the ratios of these three components is often disputed.
Danilo Lodi is a WBC-certified judge, barista, and roasting consultant. “The macchiato is a short beverage with an intense flavour of espresso,” he says. “The latte, meanwhile, is soft on the espresso with a lot of milk.
“[The] cappuccino is probably the most balanced,” he concludes. “It’s also probably the most well-known milk-based coffee beverage. That’s why it’s such a classic.”
This balance of milk and espresso typically leads many to describe cappuccinos as being soft, silky, and smooth. Danilo says he thinks that this mouthfeel has long since been desirable, and that the texture is what makes the beverage so popular.
Keiko Sato is the Head of Coffee Quality and Training for Santo Grão in São Paulo and Curitiba, Brazil. She agrees with Danilo, noting that mouthfeel is a critical part of any beverage – especially the cappuccino.
“People recognise it,” she says. “[When they order it], they know it’s going to be a drink with a creamy texture.”
How do cappuccino recipes change?
There will be some degree of variation from coffee shop to coffee shop with any beverage you order, no matter where you are in the world. This will depend on a number of factors, from the freshness and quality of the coffee to how well it is extracted.
The flavour and texture of a cappuccino will also depend on the milk that each coffee shop chooses to use. Whole milk, for instance, will provide a thicker, creamier texture and a more stable microfoam than semi-skimmed or skimmed milk.
Beyond that, however, there are also regional differences. Danilo says that the cappuccino recipe was standardised in the beginning in Italy.
“When the cappuccino was invented, it was made with a dark roast, with a heavy, thick, and strong espresso,” he says. “The milk [also] has a different profile from the rest of the world.”
Recipe variations may tweak the exact ratio of espresso to microfoam and steamed milk, however. As mentioned previously, this is not a universally-agreed point, and tweaks should be made to achieve a balanced, consistent flavour in the cup.
For instance, if you’re using a very dark roast (as is popular in many Mediterranean countries), adding slightly more steamed milk can create more balance in the cup and mask the bitterness. Similarly, using less milk will allow the flavour of a slightly lighter espresso to punch through.
Keiko tells me that the traditional recipe at Santo Grão’s doesn’t use latte art. Instead, she says, the baristas focus on making sure the milk foam is perfectly level with the rim of the cup.
“We want all of our staff to deliver the milk as perfect as it should be,” she explains. “This is why we set out these parameters.”
Regional cappuccino variations
These variations have evolved over the years purely because of the cappuccino’s age. Any 200-year old recipe will naturally change over time.
However, as well as tweaking the ratio of milk and foam to coffee, some regional variations have also come to add different ingredients or alter the specific method used to prepare the beverage.
For instance, in some parts of the world, coffee shops add spices to their cappuccinos. Cinnamon is a popular addition in many European countries, while adding cardamom and clove is popular in the Middle East.
It doesn’t stop there, either. In many Austrian coffeehouses – which are believed to be the true origin of the cappuccino – customers can order a “kapuziner”. This classic version of the cappuccino is made with coffee, sugar, whipped cream, and spices (including cinnamon).
Similarly, the Viennese “Wiener Melange” is a staple among classic coffeehouses in the country’s capital. Much like a cappuccino, it is made with steamed milk and foam, but either with less espresso or a slightly lighter roast.
There are also variations in coffee-producing countries, too. The “Brazilian cappuccino” can be found on menus all over the country. This recipe typically includes cacao powder or cinnamon, but there are even regional variations on the Brazilian cappuccino itself.
This includes the “cappuccino mineiro”, found often in the state of Minas Gerais. This beverage is made by adding dulce de leche (known in Portuguese as doce de leite) instead of milk – a sweet, caramelised milk product with a thick, jam-like consistency.
At Santo Grão, Keiko says customers can also find a “Cappuccino On The Rocks” – the original recipe, but served over ice.
Danilo says that tweaks like these should be expected, and believes that they don’t “compromise” the cappuccino.
He says: “Every time we make the drink outside the place of origin, it’s different already. I think every coffee shop or city brings a different flavour.”
Cappuccino variations & changing consumer tastes
Keiko says that some tweaks to the specific ratio of milk and foam to coffee allows for healthy variety. This means consumers can then choose a coffee shop that prepares a different cappuccino – one that they like, and one that suits their palate.
However, she believes that when coffee shops incorporate new ingredients (such as syrups, powders, or spices), they should clearly convey to each customer that the beverage is different. She even argues that the term “cappuccino” shouldn’t be used in these instances.
“Use another name,” she recommends. “Every time Santo Grão uses a different base for the cappuccino, we give it a specific name. This is fair to consumers, and more transparent.”
However, Danilo disagrees. He says that including the word “cappuccino” on menus – even if the drink differs from original definitions – offers familiarity to customers who are less accustomed to new or unusual beverages.
“There will always be people who feel alienated by the concept of quality coffee,” he says. “They want something hot or cold with the profile they know.”
Danilo says that using this basis of a familiar drink can be a pathway to improving awareness of specialty coffee. It can be used to start a discussion about extraction, coffee quality, and freshness.
“If you give people that familiarity, they may be willing to try something new and leave their comfort zone,” he explains. “Maybe they’re willing to try better coffee. Maybe that’s the opportunity they need.”
Creating a cappuccino: Some tips
So, in line with this trend of tweaking the classic cappuccino recipe, what should baristas do if they want to debut their own beverage?
Danilo says that it’s a good idea to consider what your customers want, but warns coffee shop owners not to lose sight of the balance and harmony of the classic cappuccino.
“Try to understand your customers, and think about what they would like in this new beverage,” he says. “Then try to add that to the drink, but without breaking the balance between milk and espresso.”
He adds that when including new ingredients, it’s crucial to maintain the flavour of the coffee and keep that as a focus.
“You might want to have a third flavour,” he says. “That’s fine. But it should not be a predominant flavour; make sure it doesn’t overwhelm everything else.”
Keiko, however, says that the components of milk (such as different milks’ fat content) also play a crucial role in creating the balance of a cappuccino.
“Think about interesting and harmonic bases,” she says. “Don’t just think about the coffee you use. Think about the milk you choose and how you steam it, too.”
Keiko also notes that changing the ratio of steamed milk to microfoam affects the flavour as well as the mouthfeel of the cappuccino.
For instance, “wetter” cappuccinos (those with more steamed milk and less microfoam) will have a more diluted coffee flavour – balancing out any bitterness or roasty flavours.
“Dryer” cappuccinos, on the other hand, are those with less steamed milk and more foam. This creates an airy, rigid texture, with a more pronounced coffee flavour – ideal for highlighting more delicate flavour notes in lighter roasts.
Danilo says that in some cases, customers might even request for baristas to specifically prepare wet or dry cappuccinos.
The cappuccino has a long and rich history, and remains a café staple to this day. Because it is so well-known and beloved by so many, its traditional roots have given rise to coffee shop owners developing their own signature versions of the beverage.
However, coffee shop owners should be wary when developing a variation of the cappuccino. Focusing on blending the flavours of delicious coffee with the smooth, creamy texture of steamed milk and microfoam will be a great place to start – no matter where the beverage ends up.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on what your cappuccino milk temperature should be.
Photo credits: Ana Paula Rosas, Danilo Lodi, Keiko Sato
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