Cappuccinos, What Even Are They?
It seems like there are countless definitions of what a cappuccino is. We’re bringing clarity to the question that seems to always be on people’s minds in any café setting. Have you ever ordered a cappuccino and received a drink you weren’t expecting? If so then you are not alone! Even as coffee professionals, when we order cappuccinos in different places, we always get a different drink.
A cappuccino is a thick creamy milk on top of a double espresso shot. This statement may be debated, and that’s fine - you can’t please everyone, but you can be correct.
When the steamed milk is properly poured into the cup, it pushes the espresso up around the milk causing a perfect circle of dark coffee around the white milk. The top of the cup looks like a “monk's head”, the reference for this is linked back to the history of the cappuccino and yes, we will get into that.
Does size matter?
Yes, size matters. The amount of milk to espresso ratio is very important in regards to a cappuccino. You may have seen all sorts of sizes of these beverages, even as big as 16oz, but traditionally the cappuccino is ⅓ espresso and ⅔ steamed milk. Making this drink classically 5-6oz.
What’s the difference between a latte and a cappuccino?
To be honest, the cappuccino is far different from the latte. The latter is less demanding to do. The biggest differences are the latte is a larger beverage, consisting of more milk, usually 6-10oz. The micro foam is thinner than the cappuccino, making it a different drink altogether.
What does the word “cappuccino” actually mean?
Cappuccino is an Italian word for a hood. Remember Dante's Inferno? It references that, describing doomed hypocrites trailing their heavy robes, with low hoods, or "Cappucci bassi," over their eyes. Think of the robed men in the Davinci Code, you’ll know what I mean.
Believe it or not, the Cappuccini or Capuchin friars started in the 16th century as a reform movement against Franciscans, calling for a return to their founder's hard and simple life. Friars are roughly dressed and bearded. They got their name from children who shouted "scappuccini" at them in the streets, which means without hoods. The reformers were named Cappuccini in 1535, and they do have hoods.
Today, there are still around 11,000 Capuchins worldwide. Their brown tunics can be where Capuchin monkeys got their name, wherein some of them have brown coats translated to cups of brown instead of black coffee. It was lightened using milk, cream, or even egg. Maybe this is the OG Eggnog Latte? Anyway...
In the 1930s, Italians used cappuccino to refer to coffee. At the same time, Germans called their coffee "Kapuziner." Other references to the origin of the term are Marco d'Aviano, a Capuchin and known confidant of Austrian Emperor Leopold I, during the 1680s.
Although Italians accepted the idea of Germans applying the word to their coffee, they insist that cappuccino is an Italian drink, and we happen to agree. Modern cappuccino is the result of the development of 20th-century machines that make espresso. It heats and foam milk, and for that most Italians are to thank for.
In Italy, Cappuccini is mostly served to children due to the amount of milk it contains. Cappuccino is more milk than espresso; similarly, milky tea is served to children in some parts of Europe and India.
When do people drink cappuccinos?
The cappuccino has spread in Europe, Australia, and North America in recent years. Today, cappuccinos are also commonly found around the world from Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and even in many other unexpected countries.
In Italy, cappuccinos are still incredibly popular. Italians drink it early in the day as a beverage to enjoy with breakfast or mid-morning. Whereas Americans usually drink cappuccinos any time of the day and relish them as an after-meal drink.
How to make a cappuccino?
We recommend using Road Coffee’s Mixtape Espresso or our Ignition blend! If you have an espresso machine that is awesome! You can also make espresso on a stovetop brewer or by Aeropress or French Press. Pour espresso into a small 6 -8 oz cup.
Road Tip: If you use an Aeropress or French Press, increase your coffee to water ratio to create a stronger tasting coffee simlar to espresso!
2. Steam Milk
If you have an espresso machine, steam the milk to a thicker viscosity to a latte. The steamed milk should have a micro foam layer, but not overly frothy and not bubbly. The micro foam texture is what gives cappuccinos and lattes their delicious creamy taste.
Road Tip: If you don’t have a frother or steamer at home, you can use a french press to create the same texture as a steam wand. Heat milk on stove top then put in french press and gently move the plunger up and down till you hit desired milk texture.
3. Gently pour milk into your cup with espresso. Try to pour steady and consistently to push the espresso up around the milk.
Road Tip: If you pour the milk slowly you will have more control over how it looks. If you get the brown circle around the milk, you are at a professional barista standard!
A Twist on the Classic
We love innovation and creativity, where would the world be without it! There are many versions of the classic cappuccino. Some of those variations include:
If someone asks you what a cappuccino is you may still be a bit foggy on your answer. So to sum it up: it’s a warm espresso-based drink, with a defined layer of thicker, steamed milk. The thicker milk and the coffee to milk ratio provides a naturally sweet profile and allows you to taste the espresso in a gentle and approachable way. It is more challenging than some of the other brewing methods, but it’s worth the challenge, especially if you can master the golden brown circle!
We recommend trying a cappuccino with our Mixtape Espresso, it’s a Costa Rica/Laos blend that is well balanced and delicious. With tasting notes of chocolate, caramel, and vanilla, it will not disapoint. Other great options include Ignition Blend, Costa Rica or for a lighter toast try out Ethiopa Coffee!
Give it a try for yourself and reach out to us if you have any questions! firstname.lastname@example.org or send your pictures to IG and Facebook @roadcoffee!
Author Alisha Esmail