Monday Morning Jolt: Cappuccino & the Art of Steamed Milk
A Cappuccino is my absolute favorite espresso drink. I’m not talking about your Venti half-caff skim-milk extra-hot caramel cappuccino from Starbucks. I’m talking about a real, smooth, foamy, delicious Italian Cappuccino.
A Cappuccino starts with the cup. I know this sounds weird but it really is very important. Five to eight ounces is best. The cup will be ⅓ espresso, ⅓ steamed milk and ⅓ foam. Note that there is no flavor added. If your cup is too big you’re not going to get the correct distribution.
Next is the espresso. A smooth, less acidic espresso is best. It will mix well with the milk and create a soothing flavor that I can’t get enough of. Many chain coffee shops will use a more bitter espresso, so the best place to look is a small hole-in-the-wall café. The espresso – one or two shots – is poured into the cup while the milk is steamed.
I consider the milk to be the most important step. You should use 2% milk because it will give you the best foam and nice rich flavor. If you want really creamy you can use whole milk which is delicious as long as you don’t get grossed out by all the fat. Skim milk is okay to use but you will be missing out on a lot of flavor. Rice and Soy milk are right out because nothing is harder than trying to get decent foam from non-dairy milk.
The milk should be hand steamed. When steamed by hand the Barista will be able to move the pitcher as the milk steams giving you the best foam possible. The best foam is actually not foam at all until it sits. When steamed properly the foam mixes with the milk evenly and should look like meringue because it is very smooth and has no bubbles. When milk is steamed by setting down the pitcher on the bar you just get hot milk with big bubbles on top. In this video you get a good sense of the milk expanding and creating the need for the steam pitcher to be moved down. You want the most air possible in the milk for a good cappuccino.
The milk should be about 140º or 160º at most. You will probably want to tell a barista if you want your drink below 160º. For some reason most Americans think their drink needs to be at least 180º! I can only assume this is because of years of bad coffee creating the need to burn your taste buds so you can’t actually taste how bad your drink is.
Finally, the milk is poured into the cup. The milk should not be stirred at any point nor should it be held back with a spoon. The milk will mix itself with the espresso and after sitting for a few seconds you can see the foam and milk start to separate. A sprinkling of shaved chocolate or cinnamon is always a good touch. Europeans will actually enjoy their Cappuccino by using a teaspoon instead of drinking from the cup. No matter how you drink it, you’re going to enjoy it.
There is a documentary about a woman’s journey to find the perfect Cappuccino in America and how difficult the journey is. She is definitely extreme, but I have to say I agree with her for the most part. Don’t worry, I’ll save my Starbucks rant for another day. Here is a trailer for the documentary. It is called The Perfect Cappuccino.
Amanda is the Team Barista Extraordinaire for EDR. Perk up your week with her every Monday right here on Eat.Drink.Repeat.