22 June 2009

Holy cappuccino!

My favorite drink--at Thunderbird or any other coffee joint--is a traditional cappuccino. What is a cappuccino? What makes it different from a latte? These are reasonable questions for the average coffee drinker. Luckily for us, there are answers.

We've been trained by most American coffee retailers that a cappuccino is an espresso with a whole bunch of foamy milk, and a latte is espresso with a little bit of foamy milk. You can certainly order these drinks this way, and you very well may enjoy them. But the Specialty Coffee Association of America, judges of the US Barista Championship, and other specialty coffee aficionados see espresso-and-milk beverages in terms of their coffee-to-milk ratio rather than how the milk is steamed. In fact, the experts say that milk should be steamed exactly the same way in a macchiato, a cappuccino, and a latte.

What ratio of milk, foam, and espresso is appropriate for a traditional cappuccino? The Italians (and all the other folks I referred to in the previous paragraph) define a cappuccino--by law, no less--as one-third espresso and two-thirds textured milk. By contrast, lattes have more textured milk than a cappuccino, and macchiatos have about a one-to-one ratio of espresso to textured milk.

Why steam the milk the same way? In short, because it tastes better. A great barista will steam the milk with small, tight bubbles which creates a smooth, velvety texture which releases milk proteins in the most tasty way possible and highlights the taste of the espresso. It's also the ideal milk texture for creating latte art!

For me the most important thing is that the 8 oz. cappuccino at Thunderbird highlights the delicious flavor of our Meritage blend espresso. (As an aside, the blend breakdown of the Meritage espresso is here.) It's the perfect combination of coffee and milk.

So what about those who have gotten used to their drinks in a different way? Here's some terminology that might help:

- Dry: This is a beverage (usually a latte) that has milk steamed with more foam.
- Wet: This is a beverage (usually a latte) that has milk steamed with very little to no foam.

For example, if you want espresso, steamed milk, and a lot of foam, you might order a 12-oz latte, dry.

This is all important to you, the brilliant and attractive Thunderbird customer, because--technically speaking--Thunderbird only serves a cappuccino in our traditional 8-oz. size. If you order a 12-oz or 16-oz cappuccino, the barista will more than likely inquire as to whether you like your cappuccinos dry or wet, or suggest an 8-oz size.

So now you know! Feel free to discuss this and many other relevant and interesting questions with our baristas next time you're in the shop!

[For discussions of this topic in the zeitgeist, click here and here.]

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