The Essentials from Frothed Milk to Syrupy Espresso
As coffee shops have become increasingly popular across the country, from Seattle to the small town, so too has the famed espresso beverage, the cappuccino. While it can be a pleasure in itself to go out for a well-made cappuccino, it can become an expensive daily habit. Recently, manufacturers such as Krups and Illy, have made quality espresso machines affordable for individual use. Today, anyone can make the perfect cappuccino at home.
Frothing the Milk
The first component of the perfect cappuccino is creamy, well-frothed milk. While a latte is made from espresso and steamed milk, and is considered wet, a cappuccino is espresso and milk foam, and is considered dry. The consistency should be light and airy, easily shaped with a spoon.
The most ideal milk to make perfect foam is cold skim milk. Whole milk or cream will not froth as easily because of their weight. Cold milk will work better than warm or room temperature milk. You can even add an ice cube to the milk to bring down the temperature.
Pour milk fresh from the refrigerator into a stainless steel pitcher, preferably cold as well. Fill the pitcher less than half full to leave room for the foam. Place the steam wand into the milk at a 90 degree angle, as close to the center of the container as possible. Start by touching the head of the wand to the bottom of the pitcher. Turn on the wand to its full strength, using as much air pressure as possible.
Once the milk begins to rise, after ten to thirty seconds, bring the pitcher down so that the wand head is just under the surface of the milk. The key at this point is sound. If the steam wand makes a screeching or hissing sound, and the milk is upset and bubbling, the wand isn’t deep enough within the milk. Raise the pitcher slightly until the steam wand makes a smooth humming sound, while the milk steadily rises into a creamy, airy foam.
Proper foam should be 160 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, a good rule of thumb is when the side of the metal pitcher is too hot to touch, the milk is ready.
Pulling the Perfect Espresso Shot
Once the milk is ready, it is time to make the espresso. This should always be the final step because the flavor of espresso deteriorates as it is exposed to oxygen. First, use a finely ground espresso roast. It should be powdery in consistency. Although your coffee shop can grind the beans for you, freshly ground espresso beans will yield a much better tasting espresso.
Next, put just enough ground espresso into the porta-filter to reach the top. Level off any excess grinds with the flat edge of a knife. The espresso now needs to be pressed down, or tamped. This is because it is important that the espresso is extremely tight and nonporous, so that when the pressurized hot water travels though the grounds, it can take with it the highest amount of coffee essences.
Tamp the espresso first lightly, with about five pounds of weight, then a second time with more force, about thirty pounds of weight. Put the porta-filter into the espresso machine, and pull the shot. With most machines, this involves pressing a button to start the water. Time your shot. It should take between 18 and 25 seconds for the espresso the extract. The liquid should be rich and syrupy, a dark color, with a light brown layer of crema on top, and beautifully aromatic.
Once the shot has been pulled, you can either pour the espresso over your cup of frothed milk, or vice versa. Use a spatula when pouring the milk so that you can control the amount of liquid you prefer versus the amount of foam. You now have a perfect cup of cappuccino.