Cappuccino, an Italian classic… or is it? You might be surprised to know that the cappuccino is thought to have originated in Austria, Vienna to be precise, another country well-known for its extensive menu of coffee options. In the 18th century, a Viennese “Kapuziner” included whipped cream, sugar and a number of different spices, and was enjoyed in the many elegant coffee houses across the city.
Based, in three parts, on a shot of espresso topped with hot milk then a surface of frothy foam, today the cappuccino is synonymous with the Bel Paese. A fashion for consuming coffee in this way is thought to have first been pioneered in Italy in the Viennese-style cafés in Trieste, the main coffee port for Central Europe, and other Italian parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early 20th century. Conquering Italy from its north-east corner, the cappuccino became popular all over the Italian peninsula in the wake of the First World War and once espresso machines became widespread from the 1950s.
What does cappuccino mean?
The name cappuccino comes from the Latin capitium and has a religious link many devotees may be unaware of. It is the diminutive form of cappuccio in Italian, meaning “hood” or head covering. The drink is named, not after the hood, but the colour of the hooded robes worn by the monks and nuns of the Capuchin religious order, typically a reddish-brown. The colour of espresso mixed with frothed milk was said to be similar to that of Capuchin robes and thus the cappuccino was born. Founded in Italy in the 16th century, the Capuchins have also lent their name to a cloak with a hood popular with women in the 18th century and a type of monkey with a ruff of fur on its neck said to resemble the hoods of Capuchin monks.
When to drink cappuccino
Italians tend to be particularly fussy about which coffee they drink when. No self-respecting Italian would ever dream of ordering a cappuccino in the middle of the afternoon or at the end of a heavy meal. In Italy, milky coffees are considered unhelpful to the digestion, so short, sharp, bitter espressos would typically be consumed after eating. Generally speaking, a cappuccino is a breakfast drink, best taken with a flaky pastry treat and no later than 11am.
Also worth noting, a cappuccino only comes one way in Italy. Some places may reluctantly serve you a cappuccino senza schiuma (without foam), similar to what might be known as a flat white in other parts of the world, but it is not unknown for bars and cafés in Italy’s tourist cities to post signs refusing outright to serve such aberrations! A wet or dry cappuccino is also decidedly un-Italian, and if you want a bigger serving, you’ll have to order two rather than asking to supersize!
Also, and you have been warned, cocoa powder or grated chocolate on top of your cappuccino is another Italian no-no, although many Italians do tend to stir in plenty of sugar to sweeten the milk.
How to make cappuccino at home
Recreating a cappuccino in your own kitchen used to pose quite the challenge, but these days there are plenty of machines on the market to help you replicate the experience of enjoying a creamy cappuccino freshly made your local barista. The key is what is known as microfoam, produced by introducing tiny air bubbles into the milk to create its velvety texture. In order to sufficiently aerate your milk, there are two crucial steps: start by bringing the steam up to a temperature of 130˚C. The milk itself must then be heated to 60-65˚C. One important thing to remember is to warm your cup in advance; using a cold cup could see the temperature of your drink drop by as much as 10˚C!
Although more common on top of a latte, skilled baristas may be able to create patterns or artistic shapes with the foam while pouring it out to float on top of your espresso coffee. This sleight of hand takes plenty of practice!