What is a Cappuccino

What is a Cappuccino

Cappuccinos are arguably among the top three popular coffee drinks in the world. People love to have a perfect Cappuccino as their breakfast drink, which also provides them with part of their daily dose of caffeine.

Let us look at this popular drink, its history and rise to popularity, variations, nutritional facts, and how to make it at home with ease!

What is a Cappuccino

A cappuccino is a coffee drink with an espresso base that is traditionally prepared with steamed milk and foam. It is smaller in serving size than the Caffe latte, usually a maximum of 180 ml or six fl oz, but has a thicker layer of microfoam on the top. It can also be made with cream or dairy-free alternatives instead of milk and flavored with chocolate or cinnamon powder.

The Origins & Evolution of Cappuccino

The name was inspired by the similarity in color of the drink in earlier times to the color of the hooded robes that monks of the Capuchin order used to wear. Italian writings in the 19th century refer to the Italian form of the word Cappuccino as the black coffee to which a few drops of cream or milk are added to transform its color to the tunic of the Capuchins.

Some think that Cappuccino, as a word, originates from the Latin word Caputium, which got modified to Kapuziner in German/Austrian. It was a coffee drink with sugar, cream, and egg yolks in Austria in the 18th century. The Kapuziner drink is still served today in traditional Viennese coffee shops.

There are references to the addition of milk in European coffee beverages in the 18th century. There are many references to Kapuziner in writings of the 19th century as “coffee with cream, spices, and sugar.” Melange is mentioned as a blend of coffee with milk. “Viennese coffee” or “café Viennois” consisted of coffee with whipped cream.

Franziskaner was coffee with more cream that matched the light brown color of the robes of monks of the Franciscan order.

Modern Day Cappuccino

After the second world war, when espresso gained a lot of popularity in Italy, the Italians began using their espresso machines to make the Cappuccino with espresso shots and frothed milk. The quality of the milk foam improved with the advancements in the machines. While Cappuccino spread as a drink outside Italy but was still made from dark coffee and milk.

In the United Kingdom, espresso gained popularity in the form of the Cappuccino as the British loved their coffee with hot milk. The hot cappuccino coffee lasted a little longer, and the textured milk gave it an exotic appearance.

A cup of Cappuccino Coffee

Where are Cappuccinos Most Popular?

The taste of the Cappuccino got appreciated in Europe, South America, Australia, and parts of North America. The boom of coffee culture and the opening up of coffee chains accelerated the growth of the Cappuccino in North America in the 1990s.

Like most other coffee drinks with milk, Europeans prefer to have Cappuccinos only along with their breakfast. While an Italian may drink multiple cups of espresso coffee in a day, the intake of a Cappuccino is restricted to only up to 11 am by most.

What is in Cappuccino

The composition or the ratio of components of the Cappuccino coffee is different in Italy than in the rest of the world. As previously stated, the modern Cappuccino comprises a single or double shot of espresso from the espresso machine and steamed milk, further topped up with the foamed milk.

What is a Cappuccino Coffee and Its recipe

Outside Italy

In traditional Cappuccino drinks, the espresso shots form the base of the drink. They are poured into the bottom of the cup, followed by a similar amount of espresso-steamed milk prepared by using the steam wand of the same espresso machine. This is followed by an equal amount of foamed milk, upon which the artistic drawings are created with the same milk, known popularly as Latte Art.

This is commonly known as the rule of thirds with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and hot foamed milk. This means that the three main ingredients are in the ratio of 1:1:1.

The total serving volume of the Cappuccino drinks is between 150 to 180 ml, equivalent to 5 to 6 fl oz. To follow the rule of thirds, each component has to be about two fl oz, which means two shots of espresso and two fl oz each of steamed milk and milk froth.

Many coffee shops in America even serve the Cappuccino in 360 ml sizes or more. It is traditional to drink Cappuccino in small servings with a thick layer of milk foam in cups with handles as against caffè latte, which is a larger drink (240 to 300 ml) served in a large glass.

Italian Cappuccino

Some coffee experts feel that the rule of thirds is based on a wrong interpretation. The actual reference in the earliest texts (around 1950) says, “an espresso mixed with equal amounts of milk and foam.”

The Italian version of the Cappuccino espresso drink contains a single espresso shot ( 1 fl oz). The balance volume of the cup is filled with steamed milk and foam in equal quantities. Thus the Italian Cappuccino follows the ratio of 1:2:2 with one fl oz espresso and two fl oz each of heated milk and microfoam.

In addition, Cappuccino Scuro refers to a Cappuccino with a long shot of espresso, which is made with more water than the normal shot. These drinks have less milk than the normal cappuccino drink and are sometimes referred to as dark or dry cappuccino.

Similarly, the Cappuccino Chiaro refers to the Cappuccino with the ristretto or the short shot of espresso. They have more milk in them and are likewise known as light or wet cappuccinos.

Milk Handling & Texture of Cappuccino

We dealt with the subject of the selection of milk (whole milk, skimmed, etc) for brewing coffee and its handling in our article on Caffe Lattes. We also gave guidelines for steaming the milk, how to prevent or delay the separation of the foam from the milk, methods for pouring the milk in the same article, and basics of how to make the latte art. The same procedures are equally applicable to a Cappuccino.

The main difference with the Latte is that a Cappuccino is made with very aerated milk. If you allow the milk foam to fully separate and push the froth with a spoon to one side, the froth must be about 1/2 to 3/4 inches in depth. This can vary based on the diameter of the cup.

Very aerated milk will appear to stick to the walls of the pitcher when you spin it.

The microfoam structure must be very tight, with a glassy appearance to give it a velvety texture and no visible bubbles. The bubbles are there in the microfoam but are so small that they cannot be seen separately.

Latte is made with moderately aerated milk, while a flat white has minimally aerated milk.

How a Cappuccino Is Made At Home

You can now see how to prepare your first Cappuccino at home.

Ingredients & Equipment

  1. 0.5 to 0.75 oz (16 to 23 g) of finely ground coffee beans for a double shot of espresso.
  2. Double Espresso Shot (1.5 to 2 fl. oz), 45 to 60 ml.
  3. Pasteurized 2% skimmed milk – 120 ml or four fl oz.
  4. A teaspoon of sugar, or to taste.
  5. Espresso machine or moka pot.
  6. Steam wand or Milk frother.
  7. Digital measure.

Making The Cappuccino

The procedure for preparation of the Cappuccino is quite similar to the one detailed in our article on Caffe Lattes, with some minor differences.

  1. First, prepare the double-shot espresso using the espresso machine or the stovetop moka pot, whichever is available at your home.
  2. Pour it into the final cup with the handle if you want to drink it traditionally.
  3. Pour about four fl oz of 2% skimmed milk into a pitcher with a minimum 12 fl oz volume and start to steam it. The stretching part must be done till the temperature reaches 100 Deg F, as milk does not froth well over this temperature. Steam the milk up to 140 – 150 Deg F keeping it rolling during the heating process.
  4. Cappuccino requires aerated milk with high viscosity. While pouring, use a spoon to ensure that the densest and least frothy milk is poured first. After pouring about one-third of the milk, raise the spoon to allow the flow of the aerated milk. Raise the spoon completely after pouring two-thirds of the milk and again lower it to push the last 5% of the aerated milk. The foam surface should ideally appear like the crown surrounded by the ring of dark espresso frame towards the rim.
  5. The layer of foam should be 1/2 to 3/4 inches in height.
  6. Any milk foam containing coffee must be served immediately to avoid the separation of the foam from the milk, which will reduce the mouthfeel of the drink.
Girl drinking Cappuccino Coffee

Variations of Cappuccino

You have so far seen the traditional versions of the Cappuccino. Let us now look at the common variations of the Cappuccinos followed by the other espresso drinks with milk.

Cappuccino Freddo

The Cappuccino Freddo is the cold version of the traditional Cappuccino, popular in Greece, Cyprus, and some parts of Italy. It has a small amount of frothed cold milk over the drink.

The drink is prepared and kept chilled in many coffee bars in Rome and served on order. In Northern Italy, instead of Cappuccino Freddo, gelato da bere, a drink with espresso and gelato, and shakerato, made by shaking espresso and ice cream together, are more prevalent.

If you order Caffe Freddo or the Freddo espresso there, you will get a cold espresso without milk. You may not get the Cappuccino Freddo in America. If at all, some coffee shops offer the drink; it will, in all probabilities, be an iced drink without the cold froth.

Freddo Cappuccino

Don’t get confused with a similar name. Freddo Cappuccino is popular only in Greece and Cyprus. The cold milk foam for the drink is made using the electric milk frother. To prepare the drink, first, the espresso is poured over the ice, then the cold foam known as afrógala is added on top.

Iced Cappuccino or Ice Capps

Ice Capps is the brand name of the Tim Hortons coffee chain in Canada. The frozen coffee drink is blended with milk, cream, or chocolate milk, based on the order. The customers have the option of a flavor shot, caramel or chocolate syrup, and whipped toppings.

Other Similar drinks

Let us now look at the other espresso-based drinks with milk in them for comparison and to figure out the main differences.

  1. Latte: Latte is a much larger drink in terms of its serving size. It contains more milk, moderately aerated, with a thin layer of foam on top. The volume of the espresso is the same as Cappuccino, with one or two shots in both of them.
  2. Flat White: A flat white is a drink popular in New Zealand and Australia, with its composition lying somewhere in between that of a Cappuccino and Latte in terms of the milk content. The word Flat in its nomenclature indicates that it has little or no foam. It is much milder in strength and does not have Robusta coffee beans in its blend like most Italian espressos. As stated earlier, the flat white has minimally aerated milk as against heavily aerated milk in Cappuccinos.
  3. Caffe Macchiato: The Macchiato has an espresso shot served with a dollop of foamed milk. The drink is almost like a nascent espresso shot with espresso and foamed milk in the ratio of 90% to 10%.
  4. Cortado: It is predominantly a Spanish drink with espresso and steamed milk in a ratio of 1:1 without any microfoam on top. It has a fixed size, as any additional milk precludes it from being a Cortado. It is usually consumed without any added flavors and sugars.
  5. Babyccino: Babyccino is also known as a steamer and contains frothed milk without any coffee. It may have flavored syrups and cocoa powder.

Caffeine & Nutritional Facts

As they contain the same number of espresso shots, the caffeine content in the Cappuccino is the same as that in Caffe Latte, as detailed in the article here.

The nutritional facts of the traditional Cappuccinos with 2% milk at Starbucks without any additives are:

  • Short – 70 Calories and 6 g sugars
  • Tall – 100 Calories and 9 g sugars
  • Grande – 140 Calories and 12 g sugars
  • Venti – 200 Calories and 19 g sugars

You can note that these values are between 60% to 80% of the Caffe Latte values at Starbucks.


Did you make your first Cappuccino at home? Did you and your family enjoy the experience? Share your experience with our readers in the comments section below.

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