The art of making the perfect cappuccino, iced cappuccino and cappuccino tricolor.
Today I'm going to tell you about my three passions: The perfect cappuccino, the perfect iced cappuccino, and the masterpiece--the regular or iced cappuccino tricolor, like the one in the picture below that I finished drinking ten minutes ago.
First, forget about buying something like this almost anywhere in the U.S., especially not at Starbucks. You'll have to do one yourself, but once you've learned the world will never be the same.
I'm going to teach you to make the cappuccino that will move not only your taste buds, but your life. Most surprising to me is that it is very hard to find all the little secrets to success in this area on the Internet, so I figure this will be my most read post ever.
How to make the perfect cappuccino
1. Start with great coffee. You can use dark, medium or light roast, it really is up to you. Any roast will do. Darker beans give a stronger espresso and lighter beans give a sweeter espresso. It's a matter of taste. What you do need to ensure is that you have freshly ground beans, and usually you have to use the finest espresso grind setting on your machine.
2. Use a chilled metal pitcher with really cold milk. The secret is that the colder the milk, the longer you can create foam and the better and more foam you'll get. That also means you should preferably use a larger pitcher with more milk, rather than a tiny one which will start to boil right away and then the process is ruined. The milk should never be over 160 ºF and you should be able to barely touch the side and bottom of the pitcher with your hand.
3. Fill the metal pitcher half full. Use only fresh whole milk. 2% is the worst and you'll never get good foam. Lots of restaurants and Panera do this. The result is disgusting. Skim milk kind of works but makes for lousy cappuccino.
4. If you're starting out, use a thermometer which you place inside pitcher. 160 ºF and you have to stop or milk will get too hot and protein coagulate and the thing will be undrinkable.
5. Frothing the milk looks so easy when someone else does this, but is really the hardest part. At least you will now start with the right ingredients. And we want lots of foam, since it is pretty and tastes delicious, but we want the RIGHT kind of foam. That means we only want tiny micro-bubbles that you can hardly see with your eyes, not big bubbles because they taste like--nothing.
6. So here's how you froth the milk: Tilt the ice cold, large, metal pitcher with lots of really cold milk. Insert the steam wand at a diagonal angle just at or below the surface of the milk (this is key) so that the milk starts to swirl around the pitcher rapidly. You want the milk in the half full pitcher to froth and increase in size until the pitcher is full, (this ain't easy and will require training, so buy lots of milk). Steam to 150-160 ºF (60-65 ºC). Remember, the temperature of the milk will raise 5 ºF (10 ºC) as it sits. First you will see big bubbles form, the milk will start to swirl, and after about ten seconds the steam will force those big bubbles down and start to make wonderful, delicious micro bubbles and the milk will start to rapidly increase in volume. If you lift the wand too high, you'll get new big bubbles and that is not what you want. If you go down too deep into the milk with the wand, it will simply heat the milk and there will be no more bubbles.
7. When you are done tap the pitcher against the table and swirl the milk a bit to remove any remaining big bubbles and give the milk a shiny, color and feel like wet paint. If you wish, place the milk in refrigerator for 30 seconds or so. This makes the foam set better.
8. Now you'll make the espresso coffee, which is a lot easier. Tamp the ground espresso into the head and lock it into position on the espresso machine. You need a good machine that produces enough steam for both milk and coffee. Usually these start at around $300 and up. The pump ones, like Breville, work a lot better than the steam driven ones, that often run out of steam. No pun intended.
9. Espresso coffee is a small (1 to 2 oz.) shot of pressure-brewed coffee, using about 1-2 tablespoons of finely ground coffee. usually you want a double shot. When this is done correctly, the brewing takes about 15 to 25 seconds, depending on if you do single or double shot and you will get a layer of rich, light brown or golden cream on the surface, called "crema." This crema is the hallmark of a quality espresso. No crema, you probably didn't have a fine enough grind or you didn't compact the coffee enough or your machine is crap. Longer brew time will give you more bitter coffee, too short time and you won't get the crema. Stop right when the coffee turns very light.
10. Pouring shots can also be an art form, check out the video below. A perfect shot has a fluid heart, minimum body and a small helping of crema or foam on its surface. You pour the milk and foam, or spoon the foam into the coffee. And now you enjoy.
How to make the perfect iced cappuccino.
This is easy. Just follow the steps above with one difference. Pour the hot espresso coffee over ice cubes, then the milk and foam. Milk and coffee will become ice cold, and the foam is already cold. You're done.
How to make the perfect cappuccino tricolor.
This is the visual masterpiece. The secret to get the milk in the bottom followed by a separate layer of espresso and then steamed milk is to make sure that the milk at the bottom is at least ten degrees colder than the boiling coffee. First you pour in the warm milk with foam into a tall glass, then you use a spoon to carefully pour hot espresso into the mix and the coffee will stay on top of the milk.
How to make the perfect iced cappuccino tricolor.
Same principle as above but with the difference that you first fill the glass with slightly more ice than the cold milk you pout into the glass. Then you slowly pour hot espresso coffee on top of the ice, and it will stay there and rapidly cool. Last you add the foam. And this is what you'll get: