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What Is A Cappuccino? – A Comprehensive Guide To This Beloved Coffee Staple

A cappuccino is an espresso-based beverage with equal parts coffee, milk, and milk foam. And it's about as famous as pizza (the other Italian mega star)—but what is it made of? Where did it come from? I'm here to answer that and more!
what is a cappuccino

You’ve probably come across this classic Italian coffee beverage if you’re a coffee lover. But what is a cappuccino exactly, and how is it made? 

As a barista with years of experience around the omnipotent cappuccino, I can give you the textbook definition. But as a coffee devotee, I did hours of research to put together a comprehensive picture of this famous espresso-milk-foam staple just for you. 🫶

I also drew from my own experience behind the bar making many-a-cappuccino to share my go-to steps for crafting the perfect cap.

By the end of this article, you’ll understand what goes into making a delicious cappuccino, from the type of beans to the equipment required.

So are you ready to get your cap on? Let’s take a foamy dive right in.

What is a Cappuccino?

what is a cappuccino

A cappuccino is a traditional Italian coffee beverage made of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam served in a small cup to showcase its beautiful layered effect.

History of the Cappuccino

The cappuccino is a popular coffee drink that originated in Italy. The history of the cappuccino dates back to the 17th century when traders brought coffee from the Middle East to Italy. Venice opened the first coffee houses in Italy in the 17th century, and intellectuals, artists, and other members of society quickly made them popular gathering places.

Italy likely developed the cappuccino as we know it today in the early 20th century. The name “cappuccino” derives from the Capuchin friars, a Catholic religious order founded in the 16th century. The Capuchin friars wore brown robes with hoods resembling the foam’s color and shape on top of the coffee drink.

The cappuccino became popular in Italy after World War II, quickly spreading to other parts of Europe and the world. In the 1950s, espresso machines became more widely available, making cappuccino and other espresso-based drinks easier.

what is a cappuccino

The cappuccino has become one of the most popular coffee drinks in the world today, with baristas typically making it by combining a double shot of espresso with steamed milk and topping it off with a layer of frothed milk. People can enjoy cappuccinos any time of day and often pair them with food like pastries or other sweet treats.

How to Make a Cappuccino

To make a cappuccino, you’ll need an espresso machine, whole milk, and a milk frother. Start by pulling a shot of espresso, then steam the milk until it reaches around 150-160°F. Pour the steamed milk over the espresso shot, then spoon a layer of foam on top.

how to make a cappuccino step by step

You need the same amount of milk, foam, and coffee, making this one of the easiest coffee drinks to make in that regard. 

In my case, I was fixated on this drink for a long time because of this. You see, I am allergic to measuring and/or following recipes.

I wing it, even if I have a measuring scoop or a coffee scale right next to me. The cappuccino is simple because it’s the same amount of everything. It’s hard to mess that up (but possible, in my experience).

Here I left you a short guide for you to keep in mind. The most important thing is to stay focused on the foam. This will determine whether you made a wet vs dry cappuccino. If you don’t have an espresso machine, it won’t come out perfect on the first try. Accept it, and enjoy your drink; you’ll get better at it. 

Step-by-step guide:

  1. Grind the coffee beans to a fine consistency.
  2. Preheat your espresso machine by running water through it.
  3. Tamp the coffee grounds in the portafilter and lock it into the espresso machine.
  4. Place an espresso cup under the portafilter and start brewing the espresso shot. The ideal espresso shot is 1.5 ounces, brewed in 25-30 seconds.
  5. Pour cold milk into the milk pitcher while brewing the espresso shot, filling it up to one-third of its capacity.
  6. Steam the milk with the steam wand of the frother until the temperature reaches 140°F. The milk should have a velvety texture and a glossy shine.
  7. Remove the milk pitcher from the steam wand and tap it on the counter to remove any large bubbles.
  8. Pour the steamed milk into the espresso shot circularly, starting from the center and moving outward. The foam should be about one-third of the drink.
  9. Serve immediately and enjoy your scrumptious cappuccino.

Tips for Making the Perfect Cappuccino

Making the perfect cappuccino requires a combination of art and science. Here are some tips that can help you achieve the perfect cappuccino:

  1. Start with fresh, high-quality beans: Good beans are essential for a great cappuccino. Choose high-quality beans that are freshly roasted and have a strong flavor profile.
  2. Grind the beans correctly: To ensure optimal flavor, grind the beans to a fine consistency resembling table salt. Grinding too coarse will result in weak coffee while grinding too fine will make the coffee bitter.
  3. Use the right amount of coffee: The ideal ratio for a cappuccino is 1:2, meaning one part espresso to two parts milk. Use a scale to measure the correct amount of coffee.
  4. Brew the espresso properly: The water temperature should be between 195°F and 205°F. Brew the espresso for 25-30 seconds until you have extracted about 1.5 ounces.
  5. Steam the milk correctly: The milk should be fresh and cold. Once the espresso has finished brewing, start steaming the milk. Hold the steam wand just below the surface of the milk and tilt the pitcher slightly to create a whirlpool. Stop steaming when the milk reaches 140°F.
  6. Texture the milk: The milk should have a velvety texture and a glossy shine. Tap the pitcher on the counter to remove large bubbles, and swirl the milk to create a smooth texture.
  7. Pour the milk: Pour the milk into the espresso in a circular motion, starting from the center and moving outward. The foam should be about one-third of the drink.
what is a cappuccino

And serve immediately: Serving a cappuccino immediately after making it is crucial for preserving the quality of the drink.

12 Fun Facts About the Cappuccino

what is a cappuccino
Behold! The only non-creepy friar hood picture I could find. Yes, these are wine bottle clothes.
  1. The Capuchin friars, who wore brown hoods, inspired the name of the cappuccino, which comes from the Italian word “cappuccio,” meaning “hood” or “cape.”
  2. The barista should serve a cappuccino in a cup between 150 and 180 milliliters (5 and 6 fluid ounces).
  3. The ideal temperature for a cappuccino is between 65°C and 70°C (149°F to 158°F).
  4. The foam on top of a cappuccino should be firm and velvety, with tiny bubbles.
  5. In Italy, cappuccinos are traditionally consumed only in the morning and never after a meal.
  6. The perfect cappuccino has a ratio of 1:1:1, meaning equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foam.
  7. Cappuccino art, or latte art, is a popular way to decorate the foam on top of a cappuccino with intricate designs, such as hearts or flowers.
  8. In theory, you can use different types of milk, including whole, skim, almond, and soy milk, to make cappuccinos. In practice, no non-dairy milk foams as perfectly as whole milk. But some brands create vegetable milk specifically for making coffee, adding ingredients that help. 
  9. In some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, a “flat white” is similar to a cappuccino but has less foam and more steamed milk.
  10. Coffee shops often serve cappuccinos with a small biscuit or piece of chocolate on the side.
  11. The amount of foam on a cappuccino can vary depending on the country or region. For example, cappuccinos in Italy have less foam than in the United States.
  12. The cappuccino is one of the most popular espresso-based drinks, alongside the latte, macchiato, and Americano.

TL;DR – What Is A Cappuccino?

In summary, a cappuccino is a classic Italian coffee beverage that consists of espresso, steamed milk, and milk. It is that simple—and so is making it at home. Try it, as this drink may better suit your tastes than the all-present latte.

FAQs

What Is The Difference Between A Cappuccino And A Latte? 

A cappuccino is made with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk, while a latte has more and less frothed milk. A latte is also typically served in a larger cup than a cappuccino.

Can I Make A Cappuccino Without An Espresso Machine? 

Making a cappuccino without an espresso machine is possible, but the results may not be as good as those made with an espresso machine. You can use a stovetop espresso maker or a French press to make a strong coffee and then froth the milk separately using a milk frother or whisk.

What Type Of Milk Is Best For A Cappuccino? 

Whole milk is traditionally used for cappuccinos, as it produces the best texture and flavor. However, you can also use non-dairy milk such as soy, almond, or oat milk.

How Many Calories Are In A Cappuccino? 

Calories in a cappuccino depend on its size and the type of milk used. On average, a small cappuccino made with whole milk contains around 80-100 calories.

Can I Add Flavorings To A Cappuccino? 

Yes, you can add flavorings such as vanilla, caramel, or chocolate to a cappuccino. Simply add the flavoring syrup to the steamed milk before pouring it into the espresso.

How Is A Cappuccino Prepared At Starbucks?

If you’re a fan of Starbucks, you might be wondering what a cappuccino looks like at the popular coffee chain. At Starbucks, a cappuccino is made with espresso and steamed milk, then topped with a layer of foam. Pretty standard. 

What Is A Lefty Cappuccino Or Left-Handed Cappuccino?

A “lefty cappuccino” or “left-handed cappuccino” is a regular cappuccino prepared by pulling the espresso shot on the left side of the machine instead of the right. Some baristas use this technique to create a smoother shot of espresso.

What Is An Iced Cappuccino?

Iced cappuccinos are your classic drink, but made with cold ingredients. The espresso is usually pulled directly over ice, while the milk remains cold. Baristas usually foam cold milk and scoop it on top to keep the 1-1-1 ratio even.

What Is A Freddo Cappuccino?

Think of a cappuccino, but blended with ice. That’s a freddo cappuccino!

What Size Is A Cappuccino Cup?

The recommended size is 5-6 oz and it is usually served in a ceramic cup or small mug.
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