What’s a Cappuccino?

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Cappuccino is a well-known coffee drink that you come across in cafes and coffee shops everywhere.

Most of us would define it as a coffee with lots of foam on top.

But how exactly does it differ from other milky coffees? And how do these differences affect the taste?

Below, we cover everything you need to know about the world-famous cappuccino.

History of the Cappuccino

A cappuccino is a coffee drink that originated in Austria in the early 1800s. It was originally called a ‘Kapuziner’ and included coffee, cream, sugar, and sometimes spices.

Later popularised, and further refined, in Italy. When the cappuccino drink was first introduced to the public in Italy, it was named after the Capuchin friars because of its colour.

The colour of espresso mixed with frothed milk reminded Italian coffee drinkers of the colour of the Capuchin robes.

The cappuccino as we know it today only started taking form in the early 1900s with the invention of the espresso machine.

Because early espresso machines were slow, expensive, and uncommon, espresso-based drinks were not widespread for some time.

As the manual espresso machines improved in the second half of the 1900s, espresso-based drinks, including cappuccino, became more popular.

After Austria and Italy, cappuccinos spread across England and Continental Europe. Later they appeared in the rest of Europe, Australia, and South America. They then spread to America in the 1980s.

So what exactly is a Cappuccino?

A cappuccino is a steamed milk drink with microfoam and froth, typically made from equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth, or foam.

It is served in a ceramic cup, with a nice thick layer of foam on top, approximately 2-3cm.

Cappuccinos are often decorated with either chocolate powder or shavings.

The volume of a cappuccino varies from country to country and cafe to cafe. In Australia, they will often be around 200-220ml in volume.

However, according to the World Barista Championship (WBC) Rules and Regulations “a cappuccino is a beverage between 150 ml and 180 ml in total volume”.

Cappuccino Variations

Wet Cappuccino

A wet cappuccino is made with less foam and more steamed milk than a classic cappuccino. The additional liquid in the form of steamed milk and the lesser amount of foam make it less dry/wetter than an ordinary cappuccino.

A wet cappuccino will be a little sweeter than a regular cappuccino because the steamed milk will dilute the bitterness of the espresso.

Dry Cappuccino

A dry cappuccino has less steamed milk and more dry milk foam. A dry cappuccino will emphasise the bitter notes in a shot of espresso because there is less steamed milk to dilute the espresso.

Bone Dry Cappuccino

The bone dry cappuccino is a variation of the traditional cappuccino that uses espresso as the base and has a layer of foamy frothed milk, but no steamed milk. This means that it serves up a more bitter taste than your regular cappuccino.

How do you make a Cappuccino?

Step 1: Froth your milk

Begin by steaming the milk for the beverage, using the steam wand on your espresso machine. Alternatively, you can heat the milk in a pan and use a handheld milk frother to froth it.

Whichever method you use, froth your milk until you have light, fluffy foam, but be sure not to burn it.

Step 2: Grind your coffee beans

Grind your freshly roasted coffee beans to a fine consistency. Ideally, use a high-quality burr grinder to ensure consistent grind sizes, which improves espresso extraction.

Step 3: Pull your espresso shot

Pull a single shot of espresso into a pre-heated coffee mug.

Step 4: Combine

Gently swirl your milk jug to pop any large bubbles. Tap the side of the jug against a counter to break up any stubborn ones, then pour into your espresso.

Remember that you’re aiming to get equal parts steamed milk and milk froth, so you may want to use a spoon to ensure you get these ratios correct.

It’s all in the milk

To steam milk for coffee, the tip of the steam wand (on an espresso machine) is set at a 45-degree angle on the surface of the milk. Once the steam is turned on, air bubbles are introduced that become incorporated into the milk. The steam wand creates a whirlpool in the milk jug, heating and frothing it at once.

When preparing a cappuccino, the barista will add more air bubbles than they would for drinks that have less milk froth, such as a latte or flat white. To get a frothier cappuccino foam, the barista will keep the tip of the steam wand at the surface of the milk as they lower the milk jug to introduce more air.

Cappuccino vs Latte

Both Lattes and Cappuccinos are made with a single shot of espresso. The difference between the two drinks is the serving vessel, the preparation of the milk, and the ratio of steamed milk to frothed milk.

For a latte, the milk is steamed so that it has fewer large air bubbles i.e. less froth. It consists mostly of steamed milk, with just a small 1-2cm layer of milk foam on top. It is also traditionally served in a glass.

Cappuccino vs Flat White

Similar to above, the difference between a cappuccino and a flat white relates to the preparation of the milk, and the ratio of steamed milk to frothed milk.

In fact, a flat white is identical to a latte aside from the serving vessel and volume. Because a flat white is served in a flatter cup, the layer of milk froth on top is thinner, typically around 0.5cm.