Cappuccino: The secrets of this global coffee uncovered

Cappuccino is the most famous coffee with milk preparation on the planet.

Virtually anywhere in the world you ask for it, you will be served this coffee with milk that has won the affection of many coffee drinkers over the years.

Cappuccino is based on espresso with steamed and frothed milk, always in equal parts, at least in the most widespread version.

Here we would follow the rule of thirds: one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk and one-third frothed milk. This means 6O ml of coffee, 60 ml of steamed milk, and 60 ml of frothed milk.

What is a cappuccino?

In the speciality coffee industry, both the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) and the World Barista Championship (WBC) define cappuccino as:

5–6 oz coffee and milk beverage that should produce a harmonious balance of rich, sweet milk and espresso. A cappuccino is prepared with a single shot of espresso, textured milk and a minimum of 1 cm of foam depth (assessed vertically).


A cappuccino is prepared with a single espresso, steamed milk and foam at least 1 cm deep (measured vertically).

Definition of Cappuccino for the Italians

The Italian National Espresso Institute (INEI) even has its definition of cappuccino:

According to experimentation conducted by the Italian Espresso Institute (IEI), a quality cappuccino that respects tradition consists of 25 ml of espresso and 100 ml of milk whipped with steam.


Who is right then about what a cappuccino is?

Everybody and nobody. There are different ways of interpreting this drink with coffee and milk, which professionals in different areas read differently. You can look for the formula that suits you personally.

Cappuccino in the world

It may be the most widespread coffee preparation in the world; there is no city on the planet where you can’t find a cappuccino.

It usually consists of 100 – 120 ml of milk and 25 – 30 ml of espresso coffee.

A cappuccino cup is usually smaller than a latte cup, generally 150 ml capacity. The cappuccino cup tends to get smaller and smaller in speciality coffee.

The cappuccino size has been reduced from at least 220 ml/7.7 oz to 120-180 ml/4.2-6.3 oz total volume in just ten years. With this, the amount of foam also decreased, from about 50% of the cup to about 20-25%.

The growth of the speciality sector, which focuses on bringing out the espresso flavours, may be largely responsible for the significant reduction in cappuccino cup size in recent years.

The smaller the beverage, the less milk is needed, which means that the consumer is more likely to feel the flavour profile of the coffee. Well-treated milk can even bring out different and unique flavour notes of the coffee that might not be felt.

When making a cup of cappuccino and an espresso, the texture and temperature of the milk are paramount.

Level cappuccino starts with a quality espresso, over which frothed milk and textured milk are poured on top, at least a centimetre or two.

The proportion of milk can change, and if more milk is poured in, you get cappuccino “chiaro”, light cappuccino, and wet cappuccino. If less milk is steamed, you get cappuccino “scuro”, dark cappuccino, or dry cappuccino.

Coffee will always be a topic of discussion, and in the case of cappuccino, all the more so as it is a drink that you can find in any corner of the world, albeit more or less adapted to local tastes.

The foam of a cappuccino can be dry or velvety, although we are more in favour of the latter than the former.

  • Dry foam has large, light and voluminous bubbles.
  • Whereas in foam or textured milk (microfoam), the bubbles are so small that they are hardly noticeable.

In my opinion, the perfect milk foam is a consistent system of microbubbles.

What do some places serve with a cappuccino?

  • With cocoa powder.
  • You can even add cinnamon to suit your taste.
  • And, of course, there are always those who add sugar to the coffee, which coffee purists don’t think is the most appropriate thing to do.

Adding more than just milk and coffee to a cappuccino is a little short of an insult to many baristas who cannot conceive of such an attitude to quality coffee.

It is the same for them as mixing soda with good wine; if you want my opinion, they are not wrong. But on the other hand, what do you want me to say? You know my theory, try it in different ways, and the one you like the most is the most suitable, at least for you.

Personal definition of what a cappuccino is

A cappuccino is a coffee with milk based on a shot of espresso, with about 120 ml of milk heated with the steam lance, differentiated into two types of milk, about 60 ml of steamed milk and another 60 ml of texturised milk.

The Freddo or Cappuccino Freddo

There is also the “freddo” cappuccino, a cold edition of a cappuccino.

It is made by adding a small proportion of cold milk foam to the cappuccino. The Freddo is said to have been created in the 1990s and was served alongside a similar cold drink made with instant coffee, the frappé.

The birth of Freddo in the mid-1990s was a revolution, and within a few years, it overshadowed frappé. The preparation is similar, substituting instant coffee with a double espresso. 

In a country like Greece, which has a highly developed coffee tradition… it was a natural consequence of the evolution of frappé.

Espresso was introduced to the Greek coffee scene in the 1990s, and soon after, speciality coffee shops started to appear. Consequently, consumer tastes shifted to quality coffee beans and speciality coffee. From here on, you can find very different cappuccinos in every country, area, and shop.

The origin of cappuccino, a bit of history

Cappuccino comes from the Italian word “cappuccio”, which means hood, and is associated with the brown-coloured habit worn by the Capuchin monks, reminiscent of coffee.

But it was actually in German “kapuziner” that the word was first used to refer to coffee.

We have references to Wilhelm Tissot’s “kapuzinerkaffe” (cappuccino coffee), published in 1790. It explains that coffee is first boiled, mixed with cream, sugar and spices, and then boiled again. It is then poured over the egg whites and yolks and beaten.

As you can see, this is not exactly the current espresso-based recipe. For coffee lovers in Vienna during the 19th and 20th centuries, the term cappuccino remained to describe coffee with milk.

Cappuccino, as understood today, was born in northern Italy in the 1930s.

He recalls that part of northern Italy had belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Initially, it was made in the “Viennese” style, with whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon or cocoa powder.

This custom is still maintained in many places. The variant with milk treated with a lance or steam pipe came into being later.

The real espresso machines only became widespread in the 1950s, and people began to make cappuccino with espresso instead of the usual coffee.

In this form, cappuccino started to become popular from that moment on. The “Kapuziner” still exists without much change on the Austrian coffee menu today.

Is cappuccino coffee of Viennese or Italian origin?

The Italians accept that the Austrians took the term and applied it to coffee for the first time, but they insist that the cappuccino we drink today is an Italian drink, and we should probably agree with them.

Modern cappuccino coffee cannot be understood without the evolution of espresso machines over the 20th century, which heat the milk and produce foam or cream, for which we coffee lovers must be eternally grateful to the Italians. And we owe this way of preparing cappuccino to the Italians.

How did cappuccino become a global coffee brew?

The cappuccino initially spread throughout Europe, taking its final form around 1950, and then reached the Americas.

Since the second half of the 1990s, the drink has been consumed worldwide.

Especially because it became popular with baristas in big cities like New York and London, and from there, it leapt to the big cities of the world where it had not yet arrived.

Curiously, in Italy, cappuccino is drunk exclusively at breakfast, often accompanied by pastries. In other countries, it is also drunk throughout the day.

As you would expect from a coffee like cappuccino, which is present everywhere in the world, it is a very diverse coffee consumed with more or less important differences in the cappuccinos that can be served depending on where you are in the world.

You can have a cappuccino anywhere in the world, but it is another matter of whether it will be the same cappuccino they serve you in the coffee shop next to your house.

Cappuccino or Latte? The confusion between lattes

With the spread of coffee menus, it is important to understand what a cappuccino is and how it compares to other milky drink options.

Latte often causes a lot of confusion with a cappuccino. However, the milk’s compositions are completely different, and Lattes are generally larger, about 8 oz/240 ml.

Baristas often cream the milk for a latte to make it “more textured”, as it will then mix well with the espresso. This is compared to cappuccino, which ends up with fluffier and airier milk. When poured over espresso, the milk forms more distinct layers and does not incorporate into the espresso as a Latte does.

This is why cappuccino is a much more intense drink than a latte and with more coffee presence.

Both the Macchiato and the cortado are smaller than the cappuccino. This is the first sign that it is not a cappuccino. Both are generally served in 3 to 4-oz. glasses.

The growth of flat white also played a role in the confusion about the definition of cappuccino. Typically, Flat white is made with about the same amount of milk as a cappuccino but will have less foam than a cappuccino, only 0.5 cm, hence the name flat white in a literal translation.

The industry’s differentiation with cappuccinos is still very blurred. Those born in the Australian and New Zealand area are cappuccinos with strong foam, no coffee flavour, and airy and airy milky.