Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About A Cappuccino

In honor of National Cappuccino Day (which was on Tuesday), we talked to two local baristas about just what makes a cappuccino a cappuccino.

“I’ll have a venti, caramel macchiato with soy and extra caramel drizzle, no foam. Oh, and make that iced.”

This is my common plea for a sugar induced coma whenever I go into a Starbucks, but I’ve learned (the hard way) that a macchiato anywhere else is nowhere close to being like this gloriously saccharine confection. One time at Seven Stars I ordered a macchiato, waited expectantly for the behemoth of an iced drink to be placed on the serving counter, but instead heard ‘macchiato for Grace’ accompanied by a cup practically the size of a thimble filled with espresso and foam. Where did I go wrong?

The opportunity arose for me to answer all my coffee drink questions with National Cappuccino Day this past Tuesday. I decided to find out just what makes a cappuccino a cappuccino (and not a latte), what the next ‘big’ coffee drink is, and why my macchiato came shrunken down ten sizes. And while Tuesday has passed, after the shocker of an election result, we all could all still use a strong dose of espresso loaded with creamy foam. 

 To get answers to my pressing questions, I talked to Katie Mazzarelli from Dave’s Coffee and TomToupin from White Electric Coffee (who also showed me how to make a cappuccino; see the video so you can learn and impress your friends). 

Katie Mazzarelli, Dave's Coffee: 

 We'll start with the basics. What is a cappuccino?

What you think of as a cappuccino is what is has ‘become.’ Big cup, lotsa foam. Technically a cappuccino is a short drink, about five to six ounces, and is equal amounts of espresso, steamed milk and a heavy micro foam on top. 
But a cappuccino you get today, it’s a twelve ounce drink. I think it’s the way it is now because in America we like large drinks and cappuccinos have the heavy foam, so we make it bigger with the piles and piles of heavy foam. And honestly, I like it better that way! It’s an attractive drink, it’s much different than a latte, all the other drinks. It’s very recognizable and I think that’s why it has it’s own day. 

 How is it different than a latte?
A latte is a double shot of espresso, a lot of steamed milk, runnier, and the micro foam in a very thin layer on top. You can tell if you put them side by side, one’s got the big foam, the other you can do the super intricate latte art with.

What about all the different iterations of drinks? **cough, macchiato, cough**

Wherever you go, it’s good to have your order clarified because every store has a different approach. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Starbuck’s caramel macchiato. ** How did she know?!** So there’s technically a latte macchiato and an espresso macchiato. Specialty coffee shops usually only do an espresso macchiato, which is what we have. That’s a double shot of espresso with just a little bit of heavy foam on top. A latte macchiato, well, the only difference between a regular latte and a latte macchiato is, in a regular latte you pour the milk onto the espresso, but in a latte macchiato, you pour the espresso into the milk ** My mind is blown. That’s why my iced caramel macchiato comes with milk on the bottom!!**
Starbucks’ caramel macchiato is a play on the latte macchiato, with the shot going in last. 

Is it possible to make a bad cappuccino?
It’s possible to make any espresso drink poorly because it all comes down to how you make the espresso and how you steam the milk. If you over or under extract the espresso, it will be bitter or sour. As for steaming the milk, it’s called latte art for a reason— it’s kind of an art. You can easily over or under steam it.

What’s your most popular drink now?
Our most popular on the regular menu, besides just a plain latte, is probably our coffee milk latte —it kind of speaks to the Rhode Islander in everyone. It’s nice and sweet while still having that coffee flavor.The honey latte is also a big hit. 

 

Tom Toupin, White Electric Coffee: 

We'll start with the basics. What is a cappuccino?
A cappuccino is basically a third of espresso, a third of milk, and then a third of dry foam on top. 

How is it different than a latte?
They’re all essentially the same thing, a latte is basically, you’ve got your espresso and then ⅔ of milk, and then a little bit of the microfoam on top. So basically it’s a wet cappuccino. 

What about a macchiato? What is it exactly? 
Macchiato means marked or stained, so you’re getting an espresso with a dollop of micro foam in the middle of it. It should just be the tiniest little bit. 
Then there’s a flat white which is in-between a cappuccino and a latte. It’s basically espresso  with steamed milk but less volume than a latte. So less milk so you get more of the espresso flavor.If you add ½ and ½ instead of milk, it’s a breve. For a while, all the rage was a breve with butter, to make it even more creamy and fatty. ** It’s the Paula Deen of coffee drinks!**
Is it possible to make a bad cappuccino? 
Yeah, when you make a cappuccino, you have to tell the temperature you’re steaming at with your hand. You don’t want to burn the milk, but you also don’t want it to be too cold, but you also need the right amount of spin going, it’s kind of a vortex you get going in your can, which makes the foam rise. Any of those things could be wrong, which would ruin your drink. And it can even come down to the espresso, if you do that wrong or pull a bad shot, there it goes. It’s all about paying attention to your temperatures and your proportions, so very easy to mess up. 
Most popular drink now?
Lattes are probably our biggest espresso based drink. But now we are getting right into mocha season, so that’s kind of our most popular drink now. We grind our own chocolate;  we’re going through pounds of chocolate a day. We make it with a Mexican chocolate.
What’s your favorite drink?
Probably our mocha that we do here. Right before I go to the gym, I might make myself a small with extra espresso in it just to get going.