What Is Cappuccino ? A Beginner’s Guide To Cappuccino, Start To Finish

A cappuccino seems to everyone’s favorite, or second favorite coffee drink from the menu. Very understandable, since it’s such a milk and delicious way to have your morning coffee.

But most of us go about our lives without really knowing what goes into our favorite drink.

So let’s talk cappuccino. What it is, how to make one, and a few important details to really understand it.

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So what is cappuccino ?

A cappuccino is the specific blend between a shot of espresso and steamed/frothed milk.

Usually you’ll find cappuccinos served in 5 or 6 oz/150-180 ml cups, and they respect a very specific ratio of espresso to milk.

That ratio is 1:5 espresso to milk, so there’s still plenty of espresso flavor shining through the milk.

Now, you’ll find cappuccinos in pretty much every coffee shop, ever. On every restaurant menu, and most probably in fast food joints as well.

The quality of the cappuccino will vary wildly from establishment to establishment, but one thing is constant: lots of milk in your coffee.

Now, you may find some places that offer brewed coffee with just lots of milk added to it, and call it an espresso. In truth, that’s a cafe au lait (literally milk coffee in French).

It’s just that some folks really don’t get the point that cappuccino is made one way only, and anything else that maybe resembles it is only that: a resemblance.

So be careful where and how you get your cappuccino. Otherwise you may get one like I did a few days ago: a shot of espresso with just some cold milk added. 

Drinkable, but not an espresso.

Is cappuccino coffee ?

Yes, cappuccino is coffee since it’s made from the same beans that you’d normally brew drip coffee or French press or any other regular coffee.

However it’s made with espresso, and espresso only. 

Some folks think of espresso as being different from coffee.

This is probably because in their minds ‘coffee’ is brewed coffee like drip, French press, Moka, Aeropress, Chemex, and so on.

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Can you make cappuccino with any coffee ?

No, making a cappuccino with anything other than a shot of espresso is really not going to end up as a cappuccino.

This is because of a couple of reasons, and I’ll explain.

First, the proportions will be off. Even if you use the exact measurements in the recipe, you’d still end up with something different.

The flavor concentration and difference of texture in an espresso versus literally any other coffee is going to change the final taste of your drink.

And second, the overall texture of your cappuccino will be too watery/thin. Even if you manage to foam the milk just right, the important coffee solids that are present in espresso will not be there in other versions.

There may be ways to brew regular coffee very strong, but there won’t really be any crema, and you need that.

Do yourself a favor and go to a coffee shop and get a shot of real espresso to work with.

What does a cappuccino taste like ?

Seeing as cappuccino is really a milky drink, I’ll say that it’s definitely muting a good portion of the espresso.

Now, it’s true that espresso is a strong flavor. It’s a small but powerful cup of coffee.

Especially if you get a double shot of espresso, then you’re really going to feel it through the milk.

All that being said, a cappuccino is going to taste more like coffee than a latte would.

But it’s the frothed and steamed milk that’s really going to tone down the harshness a little, and bring you a nice, caramelized milk flavor.

Not enough to really mute the espresso, but enough to tone it down just enough to enjoy without sugar.

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How to get the perfect cappuccino

Getting the perfect cappuccino isn’t easy.

One way is to simply order it from a competent barista, and learn by studying its composition and how it was poured.

You could order one and take it home, and use it as a benchmark to judge your own skill and see where you may need some improvement.

We’re going to try and make our own, so let’s see how well we can manage.

1. Remember to respect the ratio of espresso to milk

Remember that a cappuccino is mostly milk, and then a shot of espresso.

Wherever you go, there will be slight variations in the ratio of milk to espresso. You’ll find cappuccinos ranging from 1:3 espresso to milk, all the way to 1:5 espresso to milk.

No one is wrong, or right. The most common version is 1:4 espresso to milk, and it also seems to be the most well balanced flavor profile.

So when gathering everything you need, keep in mind that for one shot of espresso (1 oz/33 ml, crema included) you will need 4 times more steamed/frothed milk.

So we’re calculating the milk after it’s been processed. Keep in mind that when frothing the milk, it’ll nearly double in size.

Essentially, 2 oz/66 ml of cold milk should produce 4 oz/120 ml of steamed and frothed milk. Not by weight, but by volume.

2. Pull your espresso shot

Start by pulling your espresso shot, any way you like it. 

Pull a standard shot.

If you pull a ristretto or lungo, you’ll need to adjust the milk accordingly.

If your espresso machine’s grouphead allows a lot of space underneath, brew the shot right into the cup you’re going to drink from.

Seeing as we’re making a 5 oz/150 ml drink, this should be fairly easy. 

Make sure the cup is already warm before the espresso touches it.

Set the espresso aside, and work on the milk.

3. Froth and steam the milk

In a pitcher or cup that’s large enough to accommodate up to 8 oz/236 ml of, pour in your two oz/66 ml of cold milk.

Turn on the wand on the espresso machine, and insert the tip into the milk, as close to the bottom as you can get it.

The closer you’re to the bottom, the creamier the milk will become, because you’re getting more microfoam.

As the wand releases steam into the milk, it will heat and aerate it. It’s your job to move the pitcher up and down, so both the top and bottom of the milk are heated and aerated.

Once you’ve got the milk doubled turn the wand off and wipe it down with a damp, clean cloth.

If your espresso machine has no such wand, there’s other ways to steam and froth milk at home. Less efficient, but definitely worth a try.

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4. Take care when combining them

Now you have your milk and your espresso.

If everything went well, heating the milk should’ve been done in about one minute, and the espresso would still be hot.

Slowly and carefully pour the steamed milk into the espresso. 

Hold the espresso cup at an angle, so the hot milk will run right under the crema, without disturbing it.

Once you get to the frothy part of the milk, start to tilt the cup back to its original position.

From here you can start practicing your latte art.

You can simply pour all the frothed milk and microfoam into the crema, and obtain a simple white cap.

Or, you can play around with the milk and shake the cappuccino cup a little as the milk pours in. You’ll notice it creates little patterns. 

Experiment with this and see what you come up with, it might be something really pretty.

Dry and wet cappuccino (short explanation)

You may or may not have heard of dry and wet cappuccinos.

When you first hear this, it might sound a little foreign. Cappuccinos are wet by default, they’re liquid, right ?

Well, as weird as it might sound at first, the explanation actually makes (some) sense.

A wet cappuccino is the one we all know, and have most of the time. 

The one with steamed milk and microfoam and a whole lot of milk.

Whereas a dry cappuccino is one made without the steamed milk, and you only get frothed milk. But not just any frothed milk, the kind that’s got big bubbles and has lots of air throughout.

So, a kind of ‘dry’ version, compared to the ‘wet’ one.

If you’re going to be a skilled home barista, it might be worth knowing these details as well.

Conclusion

Making cappuccinos isn’t difficult, but you need to mind a few details to really get the best version possible.

It might take a little practice on your part, but you’re making coffee anyway. Why not learn how to make it the best you possibly can ?

If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?