The cappuccino may be a coffee house classic, but you might be surprised to learn how much the drink has evolved over the years. While most baristas would agree that there are three basic ingredients in a cappuccino– espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam– everyone seems to have their own definition for how much to use of each, as well as how it should be served.

Why the confusion? To get some answers, you’ll have to tuck in for a little history lesson…

From Kapuziner to Cappuccino

Early cappuccinos started as “kapuziner” served in Viennese coffee houses of the 1700s. Described as a “coffee with cream and sugar (and sometimes spices),” the drink sported a brown color similar to that of the robes worn by the Capuchin (or “Kapuzin”) friars who inspired it’s name.

But while Vienna gets credit for the drink’s origins, Italy is responsible for popularizing the modern cappuccino. With the invention of the espresso machine in the early 1900s, coffee was traded out for espresso, triggering the emergence of Italy’s “coffee culture” and making the cappuccino a beverage staple across the country.

Because the first espresso machines were bulky and difficult to use, specialized coffee shops became hubs for great drinks and social activity. While skilled “baristi” (barmen) and “bariste” (barmaids) whipped up drinks like the cappuccino, guests would spend hours at the café, reading and meeting up with friends.

Photos from the era show cappuccinos served in the “Viennese style”– garnished with whipped cream and cinnamon or chocolate shavings. It wouldn’t be until the next major development in espresso technology that the drink would get its signature steamed milk and milk foam.

By the time the drink achieved global attention following the second World War, the cappuccino had become much improved, appearing in the form we most recognize today. Advancements in the espresso machine had allowed the drink to be made with steamed and foamed milk. It also led to a finer grind, creating a greater presence of crema– the reddish-brown froth that forms when air bubbles combine with fine-ground espresso’s soluble oils. Offering a delightful balance of bold espresso and sweet, textured milk, the cappuccino has quickly become a global favorite.

The Many Styles of The Modern Cappuccino

The biggest difference among cappuccino styles are in the composition of their espresso, steamed milk, and foam layers. The traditional Italian cappuccino is recognized by its slightly domed, white foam top encircled by a brown ring of espresso. It’s a small cup, made quickly and consumed within a few mouthfuls to the start of the day.

There’s no need for latte art, and in fact, the artwork is often seen as detrimental to the drink. That’s because in order to create those Instagram-worthy tulips and hearts, heavier, stretched foam is required. This is quite different from the drier, aerated foam that’s piled atop a classic cappuccino.

The Italian National Espresso Institute defines a “Certified Italian cappuccino” as comprising “25 milliliters of espresso and 100 milliliters of milk whipped with steam.” Compare this to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and its Barista Guild, which only require “a minimum of 1 centimeter of foam depth”– significantly less than its Italian cousin.

Of course, that’s not even considering how preparation varies both globally and from café to café; nor does it address its comparison to similar coffee drinks (like the flat white and the latte) or commercialized, Ready-to-Drink (RTD) iterations.

So while you may have to be more specific than you’d like with your cappuccino order, different interpretations of the drink offer new flavors, textures, and styles to explore. As the cappuccino continues to change what the world is drinking, consumers can look forward to new experiences with their coffee house favorites.

If you’ve got an innovative idea for the next take on your favorite coffee, Flavorman can help you bring it to life. Get started by filling out this webform or by giving us a call at (502) 273-5214.


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Written on November 4, 2020.