Cappuccino 101

Cappuccino in Montana Lisboa cafe

Some months ago a couple of Portuguese lifestyle bloggers got united around the emerging specialty coffee scene in Lisbon, and made a video-project, dedicated to looking for the best cappuccino of the Portuguese capital (here and here).

They decided to visit 9 places that serve specialty coffee in Lisbon, and tasted cappuccinos in all of these places, evaluating it in the video. They also filmed baristas in the process of making the drink, and even did some small interviews, asking about the coffee they are using and the concept of the place.

I considered it extremely interesting, and useful, and I will explain why. These girls are not coffee tasters. They are not tasters at all. Before making these videos they knew nothing about specialty. They just were aware that there is a new trand, but what is it about they did not know.

It explains why they put in the list some places that serve huge commercial blends, for example, and one is even using capsules in the coffee shop. Not specialty at all, we know it. Or the guys who yes, roast their own coffee, but it is robusta. Specialty? Nah.

But they evaluated the drinks somehow. How? As any customer evaluates it. And this is why this project is valuable – it gives us an understanding of what people are looking for.

And also they are representing the common portuguese taste, people brought up on that culture of dark roasted robusta. As I was writing before, Portuguese, like Italians and Spanish, consume a lot of coffee. And it may seem that they will perfectly receive the specialty coffee culture – and the answer is “no”.

They actually will be the most difficult customers, because of the high consumption of the low quality beans, which differ dramatically from specialty arabica – in the level and quality of acidity, first. What is “good” for specialty aficionado, for them is an alarming thing and potentially negative point. And  I should say that in most of the cases they are right – when the coffee is badly made, it will taste  sour, not pleasantly acidic, and it will be hard to enjoy it. So the palate does not lie!

Girls were evaluating the visuals first – does or does not it have latte art,  and if it has one, is it somehow different, how long does it last etc. They talk about the milk alternatives the place offers. And then they were passing to decribing the flavour.  As I mentioned above, they are not tasters, so the decriptors they are using will be very broad and limited at the same time. Soft, strong, more roasted, less roasted, more acid, less acid – those are the only ones descriptors that they use.

I really loved that intervention that they did, and I would like to give a bit more tips on what a cappuccino is according to the specialty coffee standarts, and

what to pay attention at if you want to evaluate it, or to make sure that the place you are visiting is actually specialty café.

Cappuccino is an espresso based drink usually described as a “drink of thirds”: 1/3 of the volume is espresso, 1/3 is steamed milk, and the resting third is milk micro-foam.

  1. First rule of the cappuccino in the specialty café – decent сoffee beans. The barista can tell you the origin of the beans, the processing, you can find the information like the date of roast, the elevation the coffee was cultivated at…
  2. Superb espresso. Fresh roasted beans, ground right before making the drink. Balanced espresso by itself, with the traces of sweetness. No capsules, no commercial blends, no robusta.
  3. Fresh milk, stored in the refrigerator. No UHT milk used.
  4. Cream-like sweet textured milk.
  5. The balance between the espresso, milk and milk foam. In other words, the drink shouldn’t taste like milk, there should be a harmony between steamed milk and espresso.

Cappuccino in a specialty coffee place does not have any chocolate or cinnamon on top – unless the guests ask for it. The focus is the coffee as it is, the taste of the beans from the certain region that were chosen to be used in the espresso, the balance, “the marriage” of coffee, milk and milk foam.

I briefly touched the topic in this post, and I will continue shortly, talking in details about how to evaluate a cappuccino, which parameters to pay attention at and offering some vocabulary regarding the texture, taste and balance of the drink.


The definition of the specialty coffee I stick to in this article and in my blog in general is this one, done by Ben Kaminsky in this video:

The definition is “Specialty coffee – extracted coffee of any concentration, where by virtue of it’s flavor alone, one could derive some sense of that coffee’s high quality of picking, country of origin, variety, terroir, and/or processing.”

Published by liza maksimova

Q Grader. Roast Master. SCAE certified.

One thought on “Cappuccino 101

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