Use a Standalone Espresso Pot and Milk Steamer
Strong, dark espresso topped with mounds of creamy, white milk foam–that’s a cappuccino, the finest coffee drink on the planet.
Yet many people seem to prefer lattes–more milk, less foam–to cappuccinos. That’s probably because it’s so common to order coffee drinks out in paper cups–not the way to enjoy a cappuccino!
Cappuccino is best enjoyed in a wide cup that gives the foam plenty of room to spread out. It’s a drink that’s meant to be sipped leisurely in a cafe or at home, where you can easily make cappuccinos using stove-top equipment.
Stove-top Cappuccino Equipment
Espresso machines, especially less expensive ones, often can’t provide enough steam pressure to froth truly creamy foam. And even a relatively cheap espresso machine will cost more than stove-top equipment.
You can get a better drink by using a stand-alone milk steamer and an espresso pot, on the stove. Expect to pay $40-$60 for a sturdy milk steamer and about $25 for a stove-top pot, often called a moka pot.
That outlay is less than the $90 you would spend if you bought a $3 cappuccino every weekday for six weeks. And once you try cappuccino made this way, you are going to be drinking a lot more than just those 30 cups.
Moka pots don’t make true espresso, which is created when steam is forced through grounds at great pressure, but the brew is strong and sturdy nonetheless. Be sure to buy a stainless steel moka pot; aluminum will impart an off-taste to the espresso.
- Fill the bottom part of the pot with water to just under the safety valve.
- Set the basket into the pot and fill with coffee ground to espresso fineness. Level off with a knife; don’t pack the coffee.
- Screw on the top part of the pot.
- Set the moka pot on medium heat and let it heat until you begin to hear a gurgle and you can see, when you open the lid, that coffee is beginning to pour into the top portion of the pot. Watch carefully and remove the pot from the heat before it starts sputtering. At the sputtering point, the liquid sprayed into the top part of the moka pot will make the brew more bitter.
Frothing milk with the stove-top steamer is the fun part. If all goes well, the milk will increase in volume by 2-1/2 or 3 times, and the bubbles will be tiny, giving the foam the silky smoothness that feels so good on the palate.
You will need a stainless steel pitcher, an instant-read thermometer and a damp cloth or dishrag. The fat content of the milk is up to you. Skim foams adequately, whole milk is creamy and nice, and half-and-half elevates the drink to a whole new level of decadence. A half-and-half cappuccino is called a breve.
- Fill the stove-top steamer with water to the level of the safety valve. Replace the basketlike piece that moderates the steam and securely screw on the top. Make sure the steam valve is closed.
- Set the stove-top steamer on high heat and leave it undisturbed as the water inside boils and steam builds. It’s a good idea to keep track of how long it takes for the steam to be strong enough, so you can set a timer for when you foam milk again.
- Add milk to the pitcher, filling no more than 1/3 full. Stick the thermometer in the milk.
- When the steam is ready, hold the pitcher so that the wand of the stove-top steamer is under the milk’s surface and gently open the steam valve.
- Listen. If the noise the steamer makes is continually loud and piercing, the steam isn’t quite there yet. Close the valve, wipe the milk off the wand, and let the pot heat a bit longer.
- Steam the milk with the want just under the surface until the thermometer reads about 150 degrees F. As the temperature of the milk increases, so should its volume.
- When you’re done steaming, remove the stove-top steamer from the heat. Wipe the milk carefully off the wand, then open the valve and let steam run through to ensure that there’s no milk clogging it.
Assembling the Drink
Have ready a wide cappuccino cup. Fill it a quarter to a third full of espresso. Pour over the milk, spooning the foam on top.
The more foam there is in relation to the milk, the “drier” the beverage. Experiment until you find your dream ratio of milk and foam.
If you wish, sprinkle the top with cinnamon or coarse-grained brown sugar. More exotic toppings include chopped candied orange peel or ginger, and ground chocolate.
It may seem like a lot of trouble at first to make stove-top cappuccino at home, but as you get familiar with the equipment, it becomes second nature. While the espresso is brewing and the steamer is heating is a great time to tidy the kitchen and lay out some cookies or pastry to enjoy with your perfect cappuccino.