Cappuccinos might seem like a skilled coffee beverage that can only be enjoyed in your favorite cafe, but they’re actually simple to make and enjoy at home. Whether you’re trying to level up your at-home barista skills or just want to know how to make a delicious coffee beverage, learning how to make a cappuccino is a must. In this article, we’ll share what exactly a cappuccino is, the different variations of cappuccinos, and how you can make the perfect cappuccino at home.
What is a Cappuccino?
A cappuccino is a popular coffee drink made from espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Traditional baristas follow a 1:1:1 ratio of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam when making cappuccinos, and may sometimes garnish the beverage with cinnamon powder or cocoa powder.
Cappuccinos have seen very few changes over the years. The notable differences are serving sizes and finishing touches. Though some coffee shops may offer cappuccinos in various sizes, most cafes offer the standard 6oz cappuccino. More traditional coffee shops will still follow the classic 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth, whereas more modern, third-wave, coffee shops only offer cappuccinos with espresso and steamed milk.
The Origin of the Cappuccino
The cappuccino, at least in name, is speculated to have originated in Vienna in the 1700s. Named after Viennese Kapuzin friars whose robes were brown, the ‘kapuziner’ was a specialty coffee served with cream and sugar. Some sources also reference that spices were added to the recipe.
Whether the cappuccino was a false cognate of the kapuziner is up for speculation; nevertheless, the cappuccino appeared in Italy in the early 1900s with a similar name and recipe to its Viennese relative. The recent invention of the espresso machine helped cappuccinos gain popularity, though they were limited at first to specialty cafes until espresso machines became more widespread. Italian cappuccinos were served in small, preheated porcelain cups with a 1:1:1 ratio of a single shot (or double shot) of espresso with steamed milk and milk foam.
Types of Cappuccinos
There are a few variations on the cappuccino that are worth mentioning.
- Wet Cappuccino: Also referred to as a cappuccino chiaro or light cappuccino, a wet cappuccino has more steamed milk and less milk foam than a traditional cappuccino. These cappuccinos are more creamy and mild in flavor and are what you’ll likely receive when ordering at a modern, third-wave coffee shop.
- Dry Cappuccino: Also referred to as a cappuccino scurro or dark cappuccino, a dry cappuccino is made with more milk foam and less steamed milk than a wet cappuccino. This type of cappuccino has a stronger flavor due to the difference in the milk-to-espresso ratio.
- Iced Cappuccino: Made popular in recent years, iced cappuccinos are made with cold milk instead of steamed milk and have ice added. Cold milk foam is added on top to simulate the foam of a traditional cappuccino.
Learn more: Cappuccino vs. Latte vs. Macchiato
How to Make a Cappuccino at Home
Making a cappuccino at home is actually fairly simple. Read on to discover what ingredients and equipment you’ll need, as well as the strategies for making a great cappuccino.
To make a cappuccino, you’ll need the following ingredients.
- Milk of choice
- Medium roast coffee
Though many coffee shops use dark, bitter espresso roasts for their espresso beverages, we believe medium roasts work best for espresso-based drinks. A flavorful, high-quality medium roast coffee will usually provide a more complex and less bitter flavor profile than any type of dark roast. Make sure to choose high-quality milk, such as whole milk or a barista series non-dairy milk. The higher fat content of the milk will improve the mouthfeel and flavor of your cappuccino. The higher quality ingredients you use in general, the better your cappuccino will taste.
To make a cappuccino, you’ll need the following equipment.
- Coffee grinder
- Espresso machine OR alternative espresso brewing equipment
- Steam wand OR milk frothing equipment
- Steaming pitcher
Cappuccinos are traditionally made using an espresso machine as these machines can efficiently steam and foam milk while also pulling espresso shots, but that’s not the only way to make them.
Learn more: How to Choose a Home Espresso Machine
You can make a cappuccino without an espresso machine by heating milk and using a hand whisk or milk frother or French press to create foam, then brewing espresso using an Aeropress, Moka pot, or French press coffee maker. The results will differ from what you’re used to getting at your favorite coffee shop, but you’ll still end up with a delicious cappuccino.
How to Make a Cappuccino with an Espresso Machine
Using an espresso machine to make a cappuccino is simple and traditional. Follow these steps to make a delicious cappuccino with an espresso machine.
Step One: Pull Your Espresso
Grind your coffee of choice to a fine consistency and tamp it into the portafilter basket. Insert the portafilter into your espresso machine and start pulling your espresso shot. While the shot is pulling, start steaming your milk.
Learn more: How to Pull a Shot of Espresso
Step Two: Steam Your Milk
Steaming your milk is an incredibly important step. To start, you’ll need to pour about 5oz of milk into your steaming pitcher. Submerge the tip of the steam wand just under the surface of the milk and turn the steam wand on. The steam wand will introduce air into the milk to help create bubbles and volume. Hold the steam wand there for several seconds to aerate the milk and create foam. The milk should almost double in size with foam. Once that happens, completely submerge the steam wand into the milk to continue the steaming process.
If your espresso machine is automatic, it will stop steaming once a pre-programmed temperature is reached. If you have a manual espresso machine, you’ll need to keep an eye on the temperature and your hand on the milk steaming pitcher to make sure the milk doesn’t scald. The ideal milk temperature is usually around 150°F (65°C).
Step Three: Pour and Enjoy
Once your espresso is ready and your milk has been steamed, it’s time to finish your cappuccino! Before you begin pouring the milk, however, tap your steaming pitcher on the counter to pop any large bubbles.
When you’re ready to pour, tilt your cappuccino cup at a 45-degree angle and hold your steaming pitcher high, about 5-6 inches above the cup. Pour the steamed milk into the deepest part of the espresso so that the milk blends seamlessly with the espresso. Keep your pour slow and steady so the milk and espresso have time to blend. Remember, the milk-to-espresso ratio for a cappuccino is 1:1, so don’t get too heavy-handed here.
If you’re feeling traditional, garnish with cinnamon or cocoa powder and enjoy!
How to Make a Cappuccino Without an Espresso Machine
Making a cappuccino without an espresso machine is totally doable. Though the end result might differ from what you’re used to, you’ll still end up with a delicious coffee beverage.
Step One: Make Your Espresso
You can approximate the taste of traditional espresso by brewing concentrated coffee that’s similar to the usual 2:1 ratio of coffee to water by using a French press coffee maker, an Aeropress, or a Moka pot.
Step Two: Steam Your Milk
You can still heat and froth milk without an espresso machine. You can use a milk frothing pitcher which automatically steams and froths your milk, or you can use a handheld frother or electric whisk. Remember to heat your milk before using an electric whisk or handheld frother–you won’t get any foam otherwise! We recommend warming about 5oz of milk in a pot on the stove and whisking or using a French press to create the foam once the milk is heated. You’ll need to froth the steamed milk for several seconds, perhaps a minute or more, in order to get the proper amount of foam for your cappuccino.
Step Three: Pour and Enjoy
Tilt your cappuccino cup at a 45-degree angle and hold your steaming pitcher high, about 5-6 inches above the cup. Pour the steamed milk into the deepest part of the espresso so that the milk blends with the espresso. As the cup fills, slowly level your cup and place the spout of your milk pitcher as close as possible to the surface of the coffee. This will lay the milk on top to create a frothy top and even allow you to pour latte art.
Which Milk Makes the Best Cappuccino?
You can use many different types of milk when making a cappuccino. Here are some of the best milks to use when making this delicious beverage.
Whole milk has been the favorite of baristas around the world for decades. The fat content of whole dairy milk helps to create the perfect microfoam and produces a delicious mouthfeel once steamed. The flavor also wonderfully balances the acidity of espresso, bringing out incredible flavor.
As far as non-dairy options, oat milk is by far one of the best choices when making a cappuccino. The flavor of oat milk compliments espresso deliciously, and its fat content helps create great foam. Baristas tend to prefer “barista grade” oat milk because it has extra thickeners, making it easier to steam for cappuccinos and lattes.
Other Milk Options
Though whole milk and oat milk are best for making cappuccinos, you can use 2% milk, soy milk, and almond milk as well. Nonfat milk and coconut milk don’t have a high enough fat content to make the right kind of foam, and heavy cream and half and half are too dense to support foam at all.
Cheers to Delicious Coffee
Waking up on a Saturday morning and enjoying a creamy, delicious cappuccino sounds like a pretty great start to your weekend. Whether you invest in an espresso machine or use other brewing methods, you should be able to craft the perfect home cappuccino. When you need to choose coffee for your espresso, we’ve got a wide selection of coffee roasts for you to choose from.
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