What is cappuccino?
In this article, you’ll learn everything you want and need to know about this evergreen, espresso-based coffee shop favourite.
Whether you already have some level of familiarity with cappuccino or have never tried it before doesn’t matter – we guarantee that you will have learned something new about this popular coffee drink by the time you reach the end of this article. We’ll be looking at everything from the history of cappuccino to how to prepare one at home in three easy-to-follow steps. At the end you’ll find a FAQ that, hopefully, gives you the answer to any last questions you might have on the topic of cappuccino.
Without further ado, let us dive right in.
Anatomy of a coffee shop favorite
Many mistakenly think that cappuccino is interchangeable with a latte, but this isn’t true. The reason why some confuse latte and cappuccino is their surface similarities – they are both espresso-based, milky drinks, and both might be served with elaborate milk foam art. But while both drinks involve espresso and hot milk, there are just as many differences as there are similarities between them. The sizes, ratios and origins of latte and cappuccino are, in fact, very different.
The latte originated in the US, and is actually a variation over the classic cappuccino. It has won worldwide popularity because of its utter drinkability – for those who might consider the much shorter cappuccino too intense, the latte is a great choice as it simply uses more milk and foam.
The typical latte consists of a double shot of espresso, 170-225 ml hot, steamed milk, and a roughly 1 cm thick layer of milk froth. Proportion wise, a latte is roughly 1/3 espresso and 2/3 hot and foamed milk. In a latte, the espresso and the hot milk are blended together rather than layered one on top of the other as the case is with cappuccino. When you order a latte at a coffe shop, it’ll usually get served in a 240 ml cup or glass.
Cappuccino is a much more compact coffee drink and is usually served in a 150-180 ml cup. Its smaller size is one of the tell-tale signs that distinguishes it from a latte. The fact that it is often served with a fine dusting of cocoa or cinnamon powder on top also helps.
Taste-wise, the cappuccino distinguishes itself from latte by merging the intense flavor and caffeine hit of a double espresso with the dense, velvety texture and mouthfeel created by the milk or the cream, depending on which was used.
A cappuccino comprises a different espresso-to-milk ratio than a latte. It essentially involves the same two espresso shots, but significantly less milk. The typical cappuccino consists of espresso, steamed milk and milk foam in a 1:1:1 ratio. This ratio is the consensus, but some baristas might switch things up slightly, offering both ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ cappuccinos that use either more or less steamed milk than the original recipe.
Even a wet cappuccino involves less steamed and foamed milk than a latte, so the flavor of the espresso shot is bound to shine through much stronger. What this means is that using great quality coffee beans is a vital for brewing a great cappuccino.
There are many variations over the classic cappuccino (The latte could be said to be one of them), some that involve using cream instead of milk, and others that substitute milk for one of the many vegan alternatives such as oat milk or soy milk.
A brief cappuccino history
The cappuccino drink originated in Austria in the 1700s, under the name Kapuziner. The Kapuziner drink wasn’t exactly the same as a modern day cappuccino. Back then, the espresso machine hadn’t yet been invented, and the only way to brew coffee was to steep ground coffee beans in hot water. Unfortunately, most of the coffee beans that were widely available weren’t of the highest quality, so people would add milk as well as sugar and any other sweetness they had to hand in order to mask the sometimes bitter and discordant flavor notes of their coffee.
Everything changed with the espresso machine
Despite being born in Austria, it was in Italy that the Kapuziner drink took wing and grew into mass popularity. It was also here that, with the invention of the first espresso machines in the early 1800s that the Cappuccino came of age.
Today, cappuccino is enjoyed throughout the world. And although, thanks to the accessibility of high-quality coffee beans and espresso machines, milk or cream and sweeteners are no longer needed to mask the taste of low-quality coffee, these indulgent additions are still what define the cappuccino.
Coffee shops aren’t the only places that make cappuccino: How to make a cappuccino step by step
Do you feel inspired to try ordering a cappuccino next time you visit your favorite coffe shop? We hope so, but why wait? Preparing and enjoying your own cappuccino at home is easy, provided that you are in possession of an espresso machine and the ability to steam and froth milk.
If you don’t already own an espressos machine with a built-in steam wand or an internal cappuccino brewing system, here are some of the best machines on the market that we can recommend: Nespresso Lattissima Touch by Delonghi (available from 1st in Coffee), La Pavoni Europiccola is (available from 1st in Coffee, and Delonghi Dedica Espresso Machine (also available from 1st in Coffee).
All right, assuming that you own an espresso machine – one that doesn’t spit out cappuccinos fully formed – this is how to use it to make a perfect cappuccino, step by step.
Add 1st layer: Doppio (double espresso)
The first thing to understand when preparing to brew cappuccino at home is that this is a layered drink – you do not want to blend or throw the three components (espresso, steamed milk and milk foam) all together, but rather layer them, one on top of the other.
A cappuccino starts with the same basic building block as lattes and many other coffee drinks: A perfectly pulled double shot of espresso coffee. The need for espresso is the reason why you aren’t able to prepare a cappuccino if you don’t have an espresso machine.
A double espresso, also called a doppio, measures between 50 and 70 ml, and is essentially twice the amount of espresso as a single shot, which typically measures 30 ml. In American measurements, a single shot of espresso is 1 ounce while a double is 2.
Brewing a double espresso coffee shot requires 14 to 16 mg of ground coffee, and the espresso itself is extracted from two filter baskets rather than one. To get it right, measure your coffe grounds, then add to the filter basket and use the tamp to smooth and even out, before clicking the filter basket into place.
Let your doppio run for the same amount of time that you would a single shot, which is to say 2o to 30 seconds. This timeframe ensures the optimal extraction of aroma, flavor notes and nutrients from the ground coffee beans.
Once you have pulled your double shot of espresso, add it to the bottom of a small cup (a small, 150-180 ml cappuccino cup if you can manage it).
Of course, if you prefer a milder coffee drink, it is perfectly acceptable for you to brew and use only one shot of espresso.
Add 2nd layer: Hot milk
Now that you have your double shot of espresso, the next step is adding the next layer to your cappuccino: Hot, steamed milk. You can use any milk you like, although it is easier to get great results with traditional cow milk, or if you want to be extra indulgent, cream.
If your coffee maker has a built-in steam wand, use this to carefully heat up the milk. Before using the steam wand to heat up your milk, make sure that it is clean by purging it and wiping it down with a damp cloth.
Pull the steam wand up and to the right while placing your pitcher of milk carefully underneath it, making sure the nozzle fluctuates with the direction of the steam wand. Move the steam wand back down, making sure it is pointing straight down and is centred in the middle of the pitcher before you begin. The end of the steam wand should be just below the surface of the milk.
Tilt the pitcher slightly before turning on the steam wand. This is to create the perfect whirlpool motion of the wand as it heats up the milk.
Steaming milk is a delicate process. Start by creating froth for a few seconds, or until the milk has reached a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius, then as the volume of the milk expands, elevate the pitcher slightly with your hand so that the tip of the steam wand reaches deeper into the milk – but be careful, as you want to avoid the nozzle touching the bottom of the pitcher.
Keep heating up the milk until it reaches a temperature of approximately 60 degrees (a few degrees more or less is perfectly fine, but as a rule of thumb you do not want to break off at a temperature below 55, and you do not want the temperature to climb any higher than 62 degrees Celsius either, or you run the risk of burning the milk).
Once you are done steaming milk and creating foam for your cappuccino, swirl both around in your pitcher for a moment. The texture should be visibly smooth and shiny.
Add 3rd layer: Steamed milk foam
The next step is to pour your cappuccino. You want to do this very slowly, so as to layer your cappuccino properly with the steamed milk on top of the double espresso, followed by the final layer of foam.
Place the pitcher spout as close to the surface of your espresso shot as possible, then pour slowly and carefully, so that the steamed milk and the milk foam don’t mix but rather layer themselves gently on top of each other.
Et voila! Your cappuccino is ready to serve and enjoy.
A fourth optional step is to add a sprinkling of chocolate or cinnamon powder for the traditional cappuccino aesthetic, as well as for an extra bit of sweetness and flavor.
The result is a short, intense, but milky and utterly amazing coffee drink with a hint of sweetness created by the cinnamon or cocoa powder added on top. Latte art optional.
What exactly is a cappuccino?
A cappuccino is a popular espresso-based drink, combining a harmonious balance of espresso, hot milk and milk foam in an approximately 1:1:1 ratio.
True Italian cappuccinos tend to use a double shot of espresso, while many places in the world brew it with just one shot, unless you specifically request that the barista use two.
Cappuccinos are usually served in small 150-180 ml cups, and might feature elaborate latte art and/or a fine sprinkling of either cocoa or cinnamon powder as a finishing touch. Cappuccinos are typically made with cow milk, but can also be made using cream (A fantastic option to have if you like your coffee drinks extra rich and indulgent) or one of the many vegan milk alternatives available, such as oak, soy or coconut milk.
What is the difference between coffee and cappuccino?
Coffee is an umbrella term, covering a multitude of different coffee-based drinks, and the word cappuccino refers to one specific coffee-based drink.
The term ‘coffee’ includes everything from instant coffee to coffee beans to coffee latte, espresso macchiato, latte macchiato and many other drinks that are brewed using coffee beans as one of their primary ingredients.
Cappuccino is a drink that involves espresso (brewed from ground coffee beans), as well as milk and sometimes cocoa or cinnamon powder.
What is the difference between instant coffee and cappuccino?
Instant coffee and cappuccino are like night and day when it comes to coffee.
Instant coffee is freeze-dried coffee and other ingredients, and while it is possible to prepare a passable cup of coffee using instant coffee (And there are definitely some instant cappuccino mixes out there, if you’d like to try them), a true cappuccino is an artisan, espresso based drink requiring ground coffee beans and fresh milk or cream.
Essentially, instant coffee is to cappuccino what a TV dinner is to a meal that is prepared on the spot with fresh ingredients.
What is the difference between latte and cappuccino?
When it comes to latte and cappuccino, it is easy to get the two confused. Both are milky espresso-based coffee drinks with foam on top – both might even get served with intricate latte art. However, this is where the similarities end.
Visually, a latte can be distinguished from a cappuccino because of its size. Latte tends to be served in 240 ml cups or glasses, while the much shorter cappuccino tends to be served in a 150-170 ml cup. Cappuccinos may also get served with a sprinkling of cocoa or cinnamon powder on top.
Latte and cappuccino both start with a double espresso (Some baristas might use a single shot of espresso instead), but the proportions of milk and milk foam are different. A latte is a larger drink, simply because it has much more steamed milk, which is mixed in with the espresso, and is topped off with a thin layer of microfoam.
A cappuccino, by contrast, uses much less steamed milk, added as a separate layer on top of the espresso, followed by a third layer of milky foam.
Is cappuccino stronger than coffee?
Whether cappuccino is stronger than coffee depends on which coffee you are comparing it to.
Cappuccino is a coffee-based drink, typically made using a double shot of espresso. Its caffeine content is equal to that of any other coffee-based drink that involves a double shot of espresso.
Is cappuccino stronger than latte?
In one word, yes.
A standard cappuccino and a standard latte both contain a double shot of espresso, but the cappuccino tastes much stronger because of its much smaller size and the fact that it involves much less milk that could mask the flavor of the coffee.
Is a cappuccino sweet?
Cappuccino is, in and of itself, an unsweetened coffee drink.
However, the milk that goes into making it has a natural sweetness to it, and sometimes a dusting of cocoa or cinnamon powder is added on top of the milk foam for a bit of added sweetness.
Are you a cappuccino fan yet?
In many ways, the cappuccino is the perfect espresso-based drink for those of us who love the indulgent richness of milky coffees, but still want to be able to very clearly taste the espresso, too. While a latte is sweet and pleasant, the sheer proportions mean that the milk overpowers the espresso.
If you have not yet tried cappuccino, we urge you to. Who knows, you might just fall in love – particularly if it is an early morning and you want to be able to really taste your caffeine hit as well as feel its effects.