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HOW TO MAKE CAPPUCCINO – A COMPLETE GUIDE

Introduction

An enduring favourite of cafe’s around the world; the Cappuccino can be made in different ways according to taste and style. In this article we aim to give you what you need to know to find the best way to make this legendary coffee, and perhaps discover some new and tasty alternatives.

We have assembled the most comprehensive guide to finding and making the best possible Cappuccino based on our experience at our cafe, from making it at home, and experiencing it (for good and bad) at many restaurants and coffee shops.

In this article, we’re going to tell you what a Cappuccino is, what different versions of Cappuccino you might encounter, and what the differences are between a Cappuccino and a Latte, Mocha, or Flat White.

Cappuccino. How to Make it!

If you just want to know the recommended way to make the best Cappuccino, then we summarise it right here in visual form below, or as a list of steps underneath that.

Quick Checklist

The checklist below provides a quick overview of what you need to know:

  • Use quality fresh roasted beans. Check your beans have a roasting date.
  • Brew a single shot of espresso.
  • Measure about 4-5oz of milk into your pitcher.
  • Steam the milk using our guide below.
  • Add pure cacao either directly into the espresso, or on top of the milk.

For many people the foam on a Cappuccino is what differentiates it; they might be hard-pressed to describe what else makes this drink unique. Many coffee shops have made their own variants to suit consumer demand, but a true Cappuccino is particularly delicious and it’s worth knowing how to make one of these according to the commonly accepted standard.

The diagram below shows the correct proportions of espresso, micro-foam and thicker foam.

What is a Cappuccino

Where Did Cappuccino Originate From?

This traditional beverage is said to have been derived from the Roman Catholic order of Capuchin monks because they made a coffee which when milk was added resembled the colour of the robes they wore.

Viennese Coffee Houses

1700’s

Viennese coffee houses started making coffee with and cream and sugar

Viennese Coffee Houses

Vienna

1850’s

Writings describe a coffee with cream and added spices and sugar

Vienna

Northern Italy

1930’s

Cappuccino appears in Northern Italy. Pictures show it with whipped cream and sprinkled with cinnamon or chocolate

Northern Italy

Italy

1950’s

Following the invention of the espresso machine, the Cappuccino get’s refined

Italy

The first Cappuccino’s arrive in America’s East and West coasts

1950’s

The Cappuccino comes to America

The first Cappuccino’s arrive in America’s East and West coasts

It was noted at the time, that monks liked to sprinkle spices on top of their coffee, a practice that has been replaced by cocoa today.

The name used at that time was ‘Kapuziner’, according to “The World Atlas of Coffee” by James Hoffman, but of course, espresso machines had not been invented at that time.

It was not until the 20th century after the invention of the espresso machine that the Italians created a milder milky coffee that was unlike anything else at the time, blending different textures of milk into what we consider today to be a Cappuccino.

In Italy, the drink is exclusively consumed in the morning. The Italians are aware that many people have an intolerance to lactose, which is a naturally occurring sugar found in milk. 

By drinking a milk-based coffee in the morning, a person is less likely to suffer sleep-related issues due to gut distress. 

Serving a Cappuccino

There is still a common perception that the original method to make a cappuccino is with a 1:1:1 ratio of coffee, milk, and foam. You may recognise the tall glass with three layers of coffee and milk inside. This presentation looked interesting, but does not make for the best experience, however.

Most cafe’s will not make your Cappuccino that way nowadays. Instead, a speciality coffee shop will serve it in a 5-6oz cup, containing about 1oz of espresso and – 5oz of milk and foam.

Large coffee chains will often serve it in larger cups depending on what you ask for, but this variation for ‘supersized’ coffees is driven more by general marketing principles than by creating the best tasting beverage.

The Speciality Coffee Association of America describes a Cappuccino

A cappuccino is a 5-6 oz. coffee and milk beverage that should produce a harmonious balance of rich, sweet milk, and espresso. Cappuccino is prepared with a single shot of espresso, textured milk, and a minimum of 1 centimetre of foam depth (assessed vertically).

The Italians like to go one step further by describing it down to the colour of the cup:

The Istituto Nazionale di Espresso Italiano (INEI) defines Certified Italian Cappuccino as follows: 

  • 25 ml of espresso (about 0.8 oz)
  • 100 ml of cold milk (35 degrees C) steamed to a volume of 125 ml (4.4 oz)
  • It should be served in a white porcelain cup with a volume of 150-160 ml 

Single or Double Shot of Espresso in the Cappuccino

A proper Cappuccino has a single shot of espresso for a 6oz (170ml) cup. Some people may tell you they want a double shot, and it’s up to the person’s preference. That is correct – although much depends on the beans used, but the original Cappuccino formula calls for a single shot.

The Dry Cappuccino

As the name suggests, a dry Cappuccino uses less milk and more foam. If you like scooping up chocolate covered foam from the top (who doesn’t), this might be one to try. The amount of foam to milk ratio is not uniformly agreed, so try options at home or suggest what you’d like to the Barista.

A Bone Dry Cappuccino has no milk at all, whereas a regular ‘Dry Cappuccino’ might have a couple of centimetres of milk with the rest of the cup filled with foam.

On occasion, you may find that your Barista makes a regular Cappuccino with too much milk, resembling a Latte more than a Cappuccino, so asking for your Cappuccino to be ‘Dry’ might elicit a result closer to what you intended.

The Wet Cappuccino

You can guess that a Wet Cappuccino has more milk and less foam. There comes a point where it just becomes a short Latte or a Flat White with a single shot of espresso. 

The popularity of latte art has moved into the Cappuccino world with less thick foam and more microfoam like a latte, but with a single shot in a smaller cup.

Or, if you find that you’re getting too much thick foam and not enough milk at your coffee shop, you can ask for a Wet Cappuccino to balance out the milk to foam ratio.

Iced Cappuccino

Of all the iced coffee’s, the Iced Cappuccino is my favourite. I prefer the lower amount of caffeine from the single shot in a milky iced Cappuccino, as opposed to the double shot found in an Iced Latte.

Usually my intention when consuming an ice coffee is to cool down while enjoying the taste, not necessarily to get a kick – especially if it’s in the afternoon.

Cappuccino with Almond Milk

A number of alternative non-dairy milks are easily accessible for a lot of people nowadays. Most of them, including almond milk, oat milk, and soya milk have ‘barista’ versions you can buy which allow the milk to foam better and have a little thicker texture.

The cappuccino is a challenging coffee to make with these non-dairy products, because of the thicker foam required to top it. I’ve had varying levels of success and when my customers tried it, they mostly liked it, but I did notice some of my team would struggle to get enough body out of the almond milk, if they weren’t getting enough practice.

All non-dairy ‘milks’ tend to be thinner and separate if left standing, so serving and drinking right away is more important when using a non dairy product.

If you don’t have access to the Barista versions, I’ve heard it’s possible to add nut-oil, which improves the texture and foam, although I’ve not tried this trick.

Cappuccino for Keurig Machines

Many of my US customers asked what I thought about Keurig machines for making Cappuccino. The K-Cup system is very popular and a lot of people like them because they are simple to use and relatively inexpensive.

As with many things, the simplicity comes at a cost. In this case, I would not say the Cappuccino made by the Keurig is a true Cappuccino. First, the coffee from the pod is not a real espresso, and there is no differentiation between the Latte versus the Cappuccino it makes except for the quantity of milk.

The Keurig K-Cup for example produces 2oz of coffee regardless of whether you choose Latte or Cappuccino. The milk frother makes the same texture of milk for both, it just makes more for a latte than the Cappuccino.

While the Keurig doesn’t make either a true Latte or Cappuccino, it might be perfectly suitable for someone who just wants a convenient way to make a frothy milk coffee. Certainly the people reviewing the machines seem to be very happy with their results.

How Much Caffeine is there in a Cappuccino

Some people are particularly caffeine sensitive, so you should be aware of the amount of typical caffeine in your coffee.

The Cappuccino was never designed as a strong coffee, which is why we recommend sticking with the single shot, rather than a double.

The actual amount of caffeine will vary depending on the type of beans used (see our section on beans below) and the way it’s extracted, but we can say that the average single espresso has about 60mg of caffeine per cup. 

Although there is a general perception that espresso is strong, the level of caffeine is significantly less than many other brewing methods, such as drip, french press, or cold brew. This is because the contact time of water with the coffee is much shorter than with those other brewing methods.

Best Coffee Beans for a Cappuccino

We want our Cappuccino to have a distinct but subtle and smooth coffee flavour. Pairing the right beans with your drink is an important step as it will change the character overall of the coffee.

Some beans just seem to go very well with milk. I’ve tried robusta blends that aren’t anything special but are perfectly fine. If the milk is made correctly, the sweetness will cancel out a small amount of bitterness in your beans. I’ve also had lovely Ethiopian and Kenya origin Arabica beans that made a different type of Cappuccino, but very nice.

Conversely, I used some beans which make a great Americano, and they tasted very wrong when blended with milk. There’s no correct answer, than to try some different varieties and see what works for you.

The Official Cappuccino Step by Step

Make a single espresso using good quality beans – see our guide on making great espresso here.

Make sure everything you need is prepared. You’ll need:

  • Cold milk
  • Clean and dry milk pitcher
  • 6oz (170ml) porcelain cup (warmed)
  • Espresso machine warmed up and ready
  • fresh beans, best roasted over 1week, but less than 1 month earlier
  • Grinder, free of stale grinds

As the espresso is brewing, pour cold milk into your jug. Unless you’re using non-dairy, you’ll get best results with either barista milk or full-fat milk. Make sure the jug is dry, and the milk is cold. 

Tip

A tip is to pour the milk into your glass first, leaving only enough room for your single espresso. Pour the milk from your glass into the milk pitcher, and that’s the level you need to use.

The milk should come as high as the beginning of the spout. If you’re making a single drink, use a 12oz (350ml) jug. 

Steam the milk. See below for details on this crucial step.

Pour the milk slowly in circles – do not worry about doing art, mix the coffee well and lower the jug toward the end to carefully pour the last 1cm of thick foam across the top, forming a large central mass of white, while leaving a brown rim around the outside.

This style is called the monks head because of the way it resembles a monks haircut!

If you are so inclined – shake some high-quality chocolate or better, cacao power across the surface and you’re ready to go.

Steaming the Milk in Detail

When I learned to make coffee, I made the Cappuccino with a lot of foam because I didn’t know any better, and because making too much foam seemed safer than not having enough.

The true secret of the Cappuccino, and the difference between a meh coffee! And a wow coffee! is largely down to the milk preparation. 

We want our milk to:

  • Keep the sweetness by not overheating it
  • Have a majority of microfoam
  • have a 1-2cm layer of thicker foam on top

When a milk coffee needs sugar to make it drinkable, it’s often an indication that something is wrong with the coffee and / or the milk. It’s not uncommon for someone who is learning the art of coffee making to overheat the milk, which destroys the natural sweetness released when you’re steaming.

When you’ve made your coffee, use a spoon to pull back the foam to review the milk underneath. If the thick foam suddenly gives way to thin milk underneath, then you’ve probably not textured the milk correctly. 

When drinking a Cappuccino, tip your head slowly back and let the foam give way to the milk underneath. The foam will slide in, giving way to the microfoam below, which should slide down your throat like silk.

You should not feel a sudden shift of foam to milk, but a gradual and pleasant shift in texture. This is the Cappuccino, and it’s delicious!

Cappuccino Vs Latte

A frequent question is what is the difference between a Cappuccino versus a Latte. The answer is that the Cappuccino is served in a 5-6oz cup, uses a single shot of espresso and has a thicker 1-2cm foam top.

The Latte differs from the Cappuccino in that it is served in a 8oz cup or sometimes larger, has 2 shots of espresso and uses the same texture of milk throughout. There is no thick layer foam layer on top.

How We Make Our House Cappuccino

The origin of this method is unknown, but my business partner revealed it to me, and it’s been my favourite ever since. It’s simple, messy, and introduces the cacao lightly through the coffee without having it as a single sweet hit on top.

The milk and ratios don’t change from a regular Cappuccino, but we choose to serve it in a 6 oz Duralex glass instead of a porcelain cup. Part of this is practical and part aesthetic. 

We used these Duralex glasses for multiple purposes, including water glasses. Finding multiple purposes for your cups and glasses means less storage space is required.

Aesthetically, the glasses are plain and practical, which suited our cafe style, and it meant it was easy to see the quality of the beverage at a glance. More on that later.

Next, we shake the cacao into the glass to chase the espresso before we pour the milk. This creates an interesting and pleasing stellar-Esq asymmetry of cacao flecks throughout an otherwise beautifully balanced milky coffee.

Another benefit to this method is the consumer does not get super sweet chocolate hit upfront that suddenly disappears after the first layer.

There’s No More

That’s just about all there is to know about Cappuccino’s. If you liked this article, check out our article on making a Long Black.

Written by Nick Baskett

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