The Perfect Cappuccino

I am not a coffee drinker (in New Mexico).   I actually went for 40 years without drinking a cup of coffee (until our first trip to Italy).  I never understood why people were always drinking coffee, there are coffee makers in every office, Starbucks on every block (okay, I still don’t totally get that one).  I was pretty certain I would live out my days never having drunk a cup of coffee.  Then, I went to Italy…

In Italy, coffee is an art form.  And not one of those fancy Michelangelo, wait-in-line for hours art forms – an art form widely available to the masses (starting at about .80 euro).

At the school in Bologna, every day we had a (working) break between classes where all the students and teachers would go to the bar and have a beverage (and perhaps a pastry or panino) and practice our Italian by just having casual conversations (okay, ONCE in a while, we would break into English, but only to get some matter of great importance dealt with, and never in ear-shot of the teachers).  As an aside – “bar” in Italy is not what you think of when you hear “bar” in the U.S. – on literally every block there is at least one bar, and while most of them do serve alcohol of some sort, they all serve coffee beverages and some small snacks (pastries and/or panini).  The bars open very early and they are THE place to stop for breakfast (a coffee drink and pastry is the norm).   Anyway, back to our class trips to the bar…

I decided that every day I would try a different beverage – aqua frizzante, tè, caffe macchiato, etc.  The caffe macchiato was yummy – and my first serious foray into the coffee beverage selections.  After that, I tried a old-fashioned caffe, and my taste-testing was on a roll.  But then I had a cappuccino.  And the next day…I had another cappuccino.  And the next day… (you can see where this is going).  Seriously, I have no idea what they do that is so special, but the coffee, and especially the cappuccino, in Italy are like no coffee-based beverage I have ever had in the U.S.  Here, I think the coffee is bitter and has an after-taste; in Italy, the coffee is smooth as silk, and sweet, and…DIVINE!

And cappuccino…well…beyond divine!  A properly made cappuccino is actually 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, topped with 1/3 foamy milk.   The top is a beautiful foam, sometimes enhanced by decorative swirling, or a creative dusting of coca powder.   I looked forward to this little treat every day and after I discovered them I had one pretty much daily until I left (though I still think in volume I had more gelato).  I have to admit, I missed cappuccino when I got back so much that I went to a cooking store here and bought a little hand-held milk foamer (works pretty well!).  (We had already gotten a “nespresso” machine on ebay after Steve tried one the last time we visited Italy).  Now I can simulate, but by no means replicate, the wonder that is an Italian-made cappuccino. (As a cultural aside, while other caffe drinks are consumed throughout the day, cappuccino are reserved for before noon).

If you think Starbucks has a comprehensive selection, almost any bar in Italy can make any number of coffee drinks, including the “basic” caffe (espresso) to caffe macchiato (espresso with a splash of milk), caffe corretto (“correct coffee” – espresso with a drop of liquor), and yes, even caffee Americano (espresso with lots of water). For a fairly complete list and description of types of coffee you can order at an Italian bar go to:  Salute!

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