by Bruce Milletto
I must give credit to the cappuccino for changing
my life. In the late 80s, I was hopping back and forth between the
U.S. and Italy. Each time I would arrive in this motherland of espresso
beverages, I would anxiously await my morning stroll in whatever town
or region I was visiting. Eventually I would wander into a "bar
place" to have a wonderful pastry and the drink most patrons
around me were enjoyinga cappuccino.
was thrilled in the early days of the specialty coffee movement in
the U.S. when I found an establishmentother than an Italian
restaurantthat listed cappuccino on their menu. What I was not
thrilled about was that each and every time I ordered one I was sorely
Before I became involved in coffee, I assumed
like most Americans that the coffee beans in Italy were superior.
I was fully aware that the consistency of the milk in the U.S. was
different and was usually prepared way too hot. But why was this drink
so bitter here and so smooth and pleasurable in Europe?
In the early 90s, I began to import coffee and
investigate and study American and Italian preparation techniques.
What I discovered was the coffee beans in the U.S. were often of good
quality. Young Seattle roasters such as Torrefazione and Caffé
d'arte (then Caffé Mauro) were not overroasting the beans for
flavor but were using age-old Italian techniques and blending to achieve
the proper taste. At that time, many roasters had no comprehension
of these techniques, and to compensate, they basically burned their
beans to a crisp in their search for enough strength to hold up in
No matter how good the beans were in the early
90s, you still had about a two-percent chance of receiving a good
drinkeven in Seattle. If the coffee "pour" was not off (over-
or under-extracted), then you could almost bet the steaming and texturing
of the milk would be bastardized.
From my observations, I concluded that numerous
factors are critical in the preparation of each and every beverage:
- Beans must be properly roasted and blended
to withstand the rigors of a professional machine.
- The grind must be set so that the coffee does
not extract either too fast or too slow. A proper pack in the portafilter
is also necessary for the optimum 20- 25-second extraction.
- Milk frothing (steaming and texturing) is a
learned art. The person preparing the beverage must be conscious
at each stage of the heating process to insure rich, wet creamy
foam. Milk is generally expanded only to about 90 degrees; at this
point the goal is not further expansion, but texture.
I still remember in the early days of our industry
when a fellow teacher made the remark, "I would not feed that
foam to my dog." I still smile when I think of this. It is because
of the cappuccino that I saw an opportunity in the United States to
help bring consistency and excellence to specialty coffee. Almost
ten years later,
there is still an incredible amount of work to be done. To order a
cappuccino is still a bit of a crapshoot if you expect quality. However,
the fact does remain that things are getting better here, and I must
admit to some degree, getting worse in Europe. More and more superautomatics
are being used abroad and our Big Mac philosophy of faster and cheaper
has even touched the land of espresso and cappuccino purists.
I welcome the day when I can order a cappuccino
without being disappointed or feeling the anger of having been ripped
off. When the public becomes more educated and demands higher quality,
I will no longer need to order brewed coffee.
Bruce Milletto is the president of Bellissimo
Coffee InfoGroup. He can be reached at email@example.com.