Un cappuccino per favore!

Notes from Italy

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The name comes from the Capuchin friars, referring to the colour of their habitus.The consumption of coffee in Europe was initially based on the traditional Ottoman preparation of the drink, by bringing to boil the mixture of coffee and water together, sometimes by adding sugar. The British seem to have started filtering and steeping coffee already in the 2nd part of the 17th century, and France and continental Europe followed suit. By the 19th century coffee was brewed in different devices designed for both home and public Cafés.

The Italian version we know today has its first mention in Italy in the 1930s, and photographs show a cup topped with whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon or chocolate. Espresso machines were introduced at the beginning of the 20th century when Luigi Bezzera of Milan filed the first patent in 1901 and although the first generations of machines certainly did not make espresso the way we define it today, coffee making in Cafés changed in the first decades of the 20th century. These first machines made it possible to serve coffee ‘espresso’ -specifically to each customer. The cups were still the same size, and the dose of beans were ground coarse as before. The too high temperature of the boilers scalded the coffee and several attempts at improving this came years after the 1st World War. By the end of the 2nd World War, the Italians launched the ‘age of crèma’ as the new coffee machines could create a higher pressure, leading to a finer grind and the now so classic ‘crèma’. The first small cups appear in the 1950s, and the machines can by now also heat milk. The modern ‘cappuccino’ was born!

Introduced in the 1950s, leading In the United Kingdom, espresso coffee initially gained popularity in the form of the cappuccino, due to the British custom of drinking coffee with milk, the desire for a longer drink so the café may serve as a destination, and the exotic texture of the beverage.

In Italy, and throughout continental Europe, cappuccino is traditionally consumed early in the day as part of the breakfast, with some kind of sweet pastry. Generally, Europeans did not drink cappuccino with meals other than breakfast, preferring espresso throughout the day and following dinner: please do not have cappuccino with pizza!

How to make it

The way the cappuccino is defined today, besides a shot of espresso, the most important factor in preparing a cappuccino is the texture and temperature of the milk. When a barista steams the milk for a cappuccino, microfoam is created by introducing very tiny bubbles of air into the milk, giving the milk a velvety texture. The traditional cappuccino consists of an espresso, on which the barista pours the hot foamed milk, resulting in a 2 cm (¾ inch) 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 steamed milk than normal.

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

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