Being European there are a few inherit traits at birth that are evident from ground zero. Among other things you can ski before you can walk, you learn how to read via travel guides, and an internal clock that alerts you that it’s 4pm and time for coffee. Well, as life goes on you realize that it becomes harder to find time to get away and ski as much as you would like to, if you don’t work for a European company you had better get used to 2 week vacations, but there will always be time to enjoy a quality cappuccino, espresso, or latte. It may be a simple pleasure, but for the enthusiast it certainly can make a good day better or help get you through a hard one. Especially now, there is no need to follow the heard and graze in a Starbucks line when you can have superior quality as well as a better experience in the solitude of you own home. So we’re going to show you how to make the perfect cup of coffee to enhance you to carve out your own ‘me time’ whether it’s at 9am to get the day off right or the 4pm gathering to welcome in a bella sera.
Firstly, in the spirit of “if you’re going to do something, do it well”, there’s a process that will hopefully become routine and ensure you the best results on a consistent basis. And although not as formal as the Japanese tea ceremony there is a ritual in serving a well made cappuccino that will add relaxing element to enjoy your down time and knock the socks off your guest when you entertain. So to start with the basics, A perfect cappuccino drink has both a shot of espresso and simple foamed milk. What makes it different is that the light foam sits directly on top of the espresso shot and does not mix with the coffee drink at all. The two elements complement each other, but do not mix until they hit the drinker’s tongue. And just a helpful FYI, If your espresso is bad it doesn’t matter how well you froth or pour your milk, it will never make a good cappuccino!
The basic make-up of a cappuccino is roughly 1/3 coffee, 1/3 hot milk and 1/3 frothed/foamed milk but you may also hear people ask for a dry cappuccino (more froth) or a wet cappuccino (less froth). In Italy a cappuccino is served in a 6-7oz cup, using a single espresso as the base. Here in the UK we tend to go for larger cup sizes than this, typically 10-12oz, so it is fundamental to multiply these Italian ratios up to suit the cup size you are making. For example a 12oz cappuccino needs a double espresso as its base (about 60ml made with 12-14g of coffee), an 18oz cup would need a triple shot espresso (about 90ml made with ~18g of coffee) etc.
- Prepare the required amount of espresso in the bottom the cup.
- Prepare the milk as described in how to properly froth milk.
- When the milk is ready to pour, start pouring from a little height roughly 10cm above the crema, into the center of the drink. This makes the milk go through the crema rather than cover it.
- Then move the jug closer to the coffee until it is practically touching the cup, keeping the pour in the center of the drink. You will see the white of the milk starting to take over creating a circle.
- Just before the cup is full, gently flick the jug forwards. This draws a line in the circle of white making a heart or apple shape.
- Cocoa powder can be used to decorate the top of the drink although in Italy a cappuccino is often served without any topping. It is better to avoid other chocolate sprinkles as they tend to be sweet and hide the true flavor of the coffee.
It is important not to break your pour, it should be one smooth flowing maneuver. This is the simplest form of latte art, once you have mastered this you can then move onto other patterns such as leaves/ferns etc.
Now these steps may seem slightly extensive or even overkill but rest assured they will become routine and not overly time consuming and you’ll be pleased with your results, getting a quality coffee that you would normally drop $4-5 on at your local Starbucks. Now to do that you’re going to need a good espresso machine so I wanted to review some that I’ve had experience with or heard good things from friends. Now the price on these is going to run you more than your typical Mr. Coffee so go in with that mindset, but if you reduce to the ridiculous you’ll find you’re already spending this money only in smaller increments when you make your 5 dollar runs to Starbucks or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
Now that you’ve made the commitment and are reaping the benefits, make sure you complete the task with some fine tuning. We were in Austria for a ski vacation and while we were trying to thaw out in the lounge we ordered a cappuccino, which were presented to us on small stainless steel serving trays along with a small glass of water. With the napkin, small spoon, and cookie I thought it was the nicest presentation I had ever seen. I was so enamored, I didn’t even make it home before I got online and started looking to see if I could get them in the States or would I have to try and pick them up over there. I actually found them at most places you would expect, Bed Bath & Beyond, Sur La Table, Amazon, etc. You really don’t need to step up to crystal since it will certainly get spilled on and you can find the trays from around $14-29 USD.
Lastly, in regards to presentation…keep it clean. You may be tempted to go with a floral print or embroidery on your cups, but stick the pure basic white. It enhances the color of the coffee and if class is what you’re after, then the pure white actually is not only traditional but expected. Don’t get me wrong I’m always up for shaking things up and thinking out of the box but bold colors or cryptic designs would have been great if you were entertaining the Royals in the 16th century to enhance an atmosphere of elegance, but they’re better suited for tea.
However, if you really feel need to stand out, rather than serving a cup with a knight in shining armor on it, how about doing something interesting on top with the foam? It only takes a couple of extra seconds and I guarantee you will provoke a comment and it will be remembered. Understand you don’t need to do something takes so long your cappuccino more resembles ice coffee by the time it is served, or worthy of a picture on the cappuccino art Instagram page, but with a circle of chocolate syrup and toothpick you will be able to stack yours up against some of the best cafes in Milano. However just for kicks I had to show you some of the most amazing cappuccino art I’ve seen. Enjoy!