What is a Cappuccino? (And How to Make One)
A cappuccino is one of the most popular espresso based drinks out there. The creamy, frothy milk offsets the dark, rich, bitter espresso nicely to make a delicious contrast of textures and flavors.
Whilst there is actually a lot more to a cappuccino than meets the eye, making one from the comfort of your own home can be done quite easily! So, let’s dive into what a cappuccino is, where it came from and how you can make one for yourself!
What is a Cappuccino?
A cappuccino is a coffee drink consisting of a double shot of espresso (typically made from dark roasted beans), hot, steamed milk and milk foam. Traditionally, a cappuccino is made from ⅓ espresso, ⅓ steamed milk, and ⅓ milk foam.
Whilst the traditional cappuccino recipe calls for equal measurements of espresso, steamed milk and foam, the ratios and ingredients can be altered to suit the drinker. Some people prefer a single shot of espresso as opposed to a double, some prefer less foam and some prefer using milk alternatives.
Why is it Called Cappuccino?
The cappuccino originated in the early 1700s in Vienna, and was later adopted and popularised in the early 1900s in Italy.
The origin of the word ‘cappuccino’ comes from the expression “little cap”. This resembles the foam top of the cappuccino, which is also usually dusted with chocolate. Originally, the Viennan Monachy named the cappuccino “kapuziner”, but the name cappuccino was only adopted later in the early 1900s, as the drink became more popular throughout Northern Italy.
According to Serious Eats “Coffee Jargon: How the Cappuccino Got Its Name”, (August 2018), the name for a cappuccino also has religious connotations, dating back to the early 1500s. It is thought that the foam and coffee crema represented the coffee coloured garments worn by the Capuchin Monks.
How to Make a Cappuccino (Step by Step)
There are a few steps to follow if you want to make the perfect, barista style cappuccino from the comfort of your own home.
Finely ground, dark roasted espresso coffee beans
⅔ Cup of milk
Hot Chocolate powder
Milk steaming wand
(Alternatives): Aeropress/French Press/Milk Frother/Moka Pot/Percolator
Here is a simple step by step method to help you make a credible cappuccino for yourself!
Step 1: Choose Your Coffee Beans
The first step in making a great cappuccino from the comfort of your own home is to pick the perfect coffee beans.
Traditionally, cappuccinos are made using dark roasted coffee beans. The reason for this is that there is a distinct tartness and bitterness that dark roasted coffee beans possess. This offsets the creamy, rich, velvety milk really well, so you can still taste that earthy espresso flavor clearly.
Step 2: Brew Your Espresso
Next, you’ll need to brew your double espresso.
To do this, grind your coffee beans finely if you have a grinder at home. Alternatively, look out for ground coffee that is labelled as espresso grind, as this will be fine enough to use in your espresso machine.
Simply add your ground coffee to your portafilter, distribute evenly, tamp and away you go!
If you don’t have an espresso machine at home, you could also use a moka pot, percolator or aeropress to brew strong espresso.
Step 3: Prepare Your Steamed Milk
Once your espresso is brewed, it’s time to steam your milk.
If you are using an espresso machine with a built-in milk steaming wand, simply turn the setting on to activate this and your steaming water will automatically heat up through your coffee machine itself.
Simply pour your ⅔ cup of milk into a metal steaming pitcher, place the wand into the pitcher and slowly rotate the pitcher around for 20 seconds or so.
Place the steaming wand into the pitcher and let it sit just below the surface for a few seconds, to incorporate some air.
Allow the milk to grow in size and create plenty of foam in the process.
Once there is a thick fluffy layer of foam, gently bring your pitcher upwards so your steam wand is fully submerged, and a small whirlpool or vortex is formed.
When you can feel that the sides of your milk pitcher are too hot to touch, this is when the milk is frothed and ready.
If you need to create the foam, simply aerate the top of your frothy milk. Bring the steaming wand to the surface of your milk and you will create more foam this way.
Top Tip: The milk used for a cappuccino is up to you. Typically, whole milk is used as it gives the most velvety and smooth texture when filled with micro air bubbles. However, if you want to reduce the calories, go for a skimmed or semi skimmed milk. If you are lactose intolerant, then using a milk alternative also works well. Just make sure it is a ‘barista’ style milk alternative, so there is enough creaminess to replicate the fat content of whole milk.
Step 4: Pour and Dust with Chocolate
To finish this off, simply pour your steamed milk on top of your espresso and some of the foam will naturally follow to top it off.
To make sure you get all that foam into the cup, pour your steamed milk from a height to begin with, then, lower your pitcher to the height of the cup and allow the thick foam to fill up the rest of the space.
Dust the top with cocoa powder and there you go!
Then, spoon over your milk foam, top with hot chocolate powder and enjoy!
Cappuccino Compared to Other Coffee Drinks
Whilst cappuccinos are incredibly popular espresso based coffee drinks, there are also a number of other coffees that use frothy milk to create a smooth, silky texture.
On the face of it, a latte and a cappuccino seem like quite similar drinks.
However, where a cappuccino is made up from even proportions of steamed milk, espresso and foam, a latte mixes the espresso and steamed milk together, and just has a light layer of foam on top.
A macchiato is actually very different from a cappuccino. A cappuccino is made using a lot of steamed milk and froth, whereas a macchiato is simply an espresso shot, topped with a splash of steamed milk.
This makes a macchiato much stronger and more intense than a cappuccino.
A flat white is generally considered as a stronger version of a latte. This is because it uses a double espresso and equal parts steamed milk, compared to a latte’s greater volume of milk.
Compared to a cappuccino, a flat white uses no foam and a lot less milk, so is more intense and stronger to drink.
A cortado differs from a cappuccino due to its much lower volume of steamed milk, as well as the less frothy texture. Cortados use milk that is steamed for a much shorter time. A cortado is also made up of a double espresso and an equal volume of lightly steamed milk, giving it a stronger flavor and a less silky smooth texture compared to a cappuccino.
Different Cappuccino Types
Whilst the step by step recipe above gives you an idea of how to make a traditional cappuccino, below are a number of variations on the classic!
Bone Dry Cappuccino
A bone dry cappuccino skips the stemmed milk and simply tops the shot of espresso with a layer of foam.
This is an extension of the ‘dry’ cappuccino, which uses less steamed milk and more foam than the traditional ratios.
An Iced Cappuccino uses a similar process to making a hot one, but instead of steaming the milk, cold milk and ice cubes are added to the shot of espresso, before topping it all off with foam.
For more information on iced coffee drinks, check out this article on 39 Iced Coffee Drinks (And How to Make Them).
A wet cappuccino is relatively similar to a latte, in that it uses more steamed milk and less foam than a regular cappuccino.
Flavored cappuccinos tend to use flavored syrups and chocolate toppings to enhance their taste. Commonly used flavorings in cappuccinos include:
Overall, a cappuccino is one of the most iconic and popular espresso based drinks for good reason. Its silks smooth texture, combined with the classic foamy top gives it a delicious taste and texture to match.
There are a number of variations on a regular cappuccino that coffee lovers can try, and making a cappuccino from the comfort of your own home doesn’t have to be challenging either!
Is Cappuccino Stronger than Coffee?
A cappuccino is usually made using dark roasted coffee beans, which are stronger and more bitter than regular light or medium roasted beans. However, the addition of steamed milk and foam makes the drink overall less potent than a regular white or black coffee.
What Makes a Real Cappuccino?
A real cappuccino is made from a third espresso, a third steamed milk and a third foam on top. A cappuccino has 3 distinct layers and is either made from a single or double espresso shot.