Sunday, May 25, 2008

A latte is NOT a cappucino

I wanted to write about something earth-shaking today, other than gas prices, the Iraq war, and no pun intended, the quakes in China. This deep and important issue is the cappuccino.

My morning caffeine rush is in some part the best part of the day. I can't wait for the day to be over so I can wake up and go get it again. The cappuccino is a part of that. Actually it IS that.

Layered with velvety, slightly sweet foam under which the rich and somewhat bitter espresso resides, hopefully a double shot, the cappuccino is over too quickly. You don't sit and sip it like coffee.

Most drinkers are usually done in a few minutes and on their way, which is why in Italy, the drinker enjoys it standing up, swallows a croissant, and moves right along.

My dilemma is that most barristos and barristas don't know how to make one. The other day, this *$*WJL$*F@ told her compadre, when he asked how to make one "it's basically a latte with foam". I was enraged. I wanted to throw hot coffee on her face. Incidentally, you can rely upon Peet's coffee to make a good one, or the Flying Goat in Sonoma. Always order it in a small cup, if you can. A real cappuccino is always small. The Flying Goat automatically gives you one if you ask for a cappuccino. I love them. They love me.

Cappuccino originated as a beverage in 19th century Vienna cafés, where the coffee menus were innovative: the customers could choose among up to 20 variations of coffees; mostly variations of black coffee and milk or cream. Innovative names like "Kapuziner," "Franziskaner," "Pharisäer," and so forth were invented.

The 'kapuziner' ('cappuccino' in Italian) was so named from the color of the Capuchin friars' habit, which is light/darkish brown and at that time a frequently used term. The Italian 'version' of the Austrian beverage had come south in the first decades of the 20th century and grew in popularity as the large espresso machines in cafés and restaurants were improved during and after WW2. By the 1950's, the Italian cappuccino had found its form. The name 'cappuccino' is inspired by the color of the beverage (the blend of coffee and milk), which is a brownish-red, and has nothing to do with the 'cap' of foam, which was a later addition to the drink, nor the description of a white hood or white rope as part of the costume: this is incorrect. The name of the friars themselves (and the monkey also named after them) comes from the Italian word for hood, "cappuccio" [kap'put:ʃo], which is also often used colloquially for the beverage (the '-ino' suffix denotes a diminutive in Italian). The Capuchin friars' habit again was inspired by St Francisco from Assisi's original costume—with a pointed hood and this color—as it is preserved in the basilica in Assisi.


Besides a shot of espresso, the most important element in preparing a cappuccino is the texture and temperature of the milk. When a barista steams the milk for a cappuccino, he or she creates microfoam by introducing very tiny bubbles of air into the milk, giving the milk a velvety texture and sweetness. The traditional cappuccino consists of an espresso, on which the barista pours the hot foamed milk, resulting in a 1 cm-thick milk foam on top. Variations of the mixtures are usually called cappuccino chiaro (light cappuccino, also known as a wet cappuccino) with more milk than normal, and cappuccino scuro (dark cappuccino, also known as a dry cappuccino) with less milk than normal.

Attaining the correct ratio of foam requires close attention be paid while steaming the milk, thus making the cappuccino one of the most difficult espresso-based beverages to make properly. Moreover, a skilled barista may obtain artistic shapes while pouring the milk on the top of the espresso coffee.