It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t had a Cappuccino in years. I’d been so set on Cortados that I just stopped drinking anything with more milk. It’s funny though, before I started my roasting business, I used to drink Cappuccinos daily at the Trident in Boulder Colorado. I’d walk in, and the barista there would say: “I’m gonna bust a cap in you,” and we’d have a good laugh at our geeky coffee humor.
But, that was before microfoam, and they were Cappuccinos that now represent all that was so-so about 2nd wave espresso: huge heaps of foam with gigantic bubbles in them. Hey, we didn’t know any better back then, microfoam didn’t exist yet. Actually, these beasts still exist, a friend of mine sent me a picture of one he ordered recently. The microfoam revolution hasn’t taken hold everywhere just yet apparently.
So, what is microfoam, and why is it such a big deal? It’s a different way of frothing milk, and it means exactly what the word implies: tiny bubbles. When air is introduced into the milk during steaming, for microfoam, you set up a vortex in the steaming pitcher that breaks down the bubbles into progressively smaller and smaller bubbles. The result is incredible taste and mouthfeel. Another result is the ability to pour latte art, which is always fun.
So, what is a Cappuccino in the age of microfoam? I set out to find my cappuccino. James Hoffman has a fairly famous blog post about Cappuccinos that says a few very interesting things. One is that he takes serious issue with the traditional “rule of thirds” for cappuccinos, which says a cappuccino is one third espresso, one third milk and one third foam. James’ Cappuccino isn’t that at all, he leans on the milk side somewhat.
James also issues a “plea for foam,” saying that for him a cappuccino is all about the foam and the microfoam mouthfeel. I’m onboard with James here, it seems like so many Cappuccinos are essentially mini-latte’s, with the milk textured the same way as a latte.
In my search for my Cappuccino, so far I’ve come to a bit of a blend: my cappuccino follows the rule of thirds, but solidly follows James’ plea for microfoam goodness. Here’s my Cappuccino in the age of microfoam:
I start with 2 oz espresso from my Bezzera Strega, and then add microfoamed milk that has been seriously stretched to about twice its original volume. This adds way more microfoam bubbles than “usual” cortado or latte milk texturing. I experimented with the old-school method of waiting for the foam to settle out from the milk and using a spoon to place it on top of the drink, but I had more success with just free-pouring it right after texturing.
For me, this results in a poster-child drink for the rule of thirds: in a 6 oz glass, there is 4 oz of espresso and milk, and then about 2 oz of microfoam settles out on top after a minute or so.
So, to answer the question: “What is a Cappuccino in the age of microfoam,” apparently my answer ends up to be fairly mundane: it’s a Cappuccino with microfoam. My Cappuccino follows the traditional rule of thirds, but I just make it with microfoam.
The result though, is anything but mundane. It’s a drink with stunning microfoam mouthfeel that stands apart from it’s milk-ratio neighbors, the Cortado and the Latte. It definitely has its own personality and character. Yum.