Most American cafes can't figure out how to make a real cappuccino


A cappuccino should be wonderfully light, composed of nothing but milk foam over espresso. A latté is heavier, containing a lot of steamed milk and a layer of milk foam over espresso.

This difference, which is meaningful to some people, is unfortunately neglected at many of the rapidly increasing number of places that serve espresso drinks in America.

I'm not talking about those exceptional cafés around the country that have mastered the art of espresso drinks.


I'm also not talking about the thousands of Starbucks, which are at least moderately reliable - yes, despite its obnoxious sizes and sugar-bomb concoctions, Howard Schultz's company (where I worked years ago) puts a fair effort into training baristas, including a certification test that involves making a cappuccino within precise weight and temperature ranges.

Instead, I'm talking about the thousands of establishments ranging from mom & pop joints to casual dining chains that just pretend to understand these drinks. Most disappointing are the supposedly artisanal coffee chains that use expensive equipment and obsess over foam art while screwing up the core drink.

Case in point, when I ordered a cappuccino at NYC-coffee chain Joe the Art of Coffee:


bad cappuccino joe


As you can see, there's steamed milk nearly to the brim, with just half-a-centimeter of milk foam on top. That's just simply not a cappuccino. Also it was scalding.

I've had a similar experience at Fika, the Swedish coffee chain that's spreading through the city, and at 'wichcraft, a hot chain started by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, and at hot British chain Pret A Manger, and countless other places.


This pet peeve will seem inconsequential to many, but it matters to some, and it's one of those things that are hardest to get right as boutique café chains seek to expand.

Indeed, Starbucks' ability to get it half-right through systematic training is one reason why the brand has been so successful. And the ability of exceptional cafés to make them perfectly is a reason why they may never get wiped out.

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