Whip it good

There was a time, not so long ago, when I feared I would never be allowed to live in Italy for lack of the innate ability to make a proper cappuccino.

First of all, I use soy milk. That is cause enough for my residency permit to be revoked.

Italians use real, whole milk. Period.

People always come back telling everyone at home how great the coffee is in Italy. But it’s not just the coffee, it’s the milk too. Seriously.

If you order low-fat or soy-milk in the few commercialized coffee shops that even stock the stuff, they look at you like you’re some sort of bleeding heart, left-of-center liberal freak, obviously a tourist with no understanding of proper cafĂ© culture.

Cappuccino literally means "small cap" and refers to the cap of frothed milk that is supposed to float airily atop a cup of espresso and steamed milk. Historically, my soy caps have been neither frothy nor airy and they sure as hell didn't float, choosing to dive and disperse themselves immediately into the coffee rather than standing proudly with a presence of their own.

Alas, I was certain that a soy-milk cappuccino (much like my visions of living in Italy) was nothing more than a wishful figment of my imagination, a dream that would forever elude me.

Was I the only person in the universe who couldn't make soy milk foam without a $10,000 espresso machine? Despite hundreds of attempts at homemade cappuccinos, I could never, EVER, get the foam going. Luckily I'm actually more of a cafe au lait kind of girl anyway, but cappuccino's are just so darn pretty...

I've mistakenly attributed some kind of self-righteous attitude to this inanimate beverage, deciding that it simply refuses to foam as part of a silent protest. It's all like, "Yeah that's right, you can whip me all you want but I'm not gonna dance for you. If you want pretty milk, go back to your cow, Sissy Girl!"

But take heart friends. I have just discovered that it is not the failings of the soy-milk so much as my own. The secret - as with any frothed milk - ain't nuthin' but time. And a little technique.

So if ever I have to plead my case before a jury of smarmy Italian baristas at the immigration office, I am now confident that I will triumph.

Here are a couple of tips for anyone else who mistakenly believes that they must suffer through a lifetime of unfestive looking coffee solely because they cannot (or will not) do dairy.

1) Get a battery-operated whip (and get your head of the gutter!) - if you are a habitual cappuccino addict, it will pay for itself in less than two trips to Starbucks. I like this one because it has a nice little storage case, and this one is just too cute not to have.

2) Don't be lazy - I had a bad habit of leaving the milk to heat unattended and trying to whip it at the last minute before the milk boiled over (and sometimes not even in time for that), expecting the foam to magically appear like so much fairy dust. But foam needs time to perk itself up - no different than the rest of us in the morning I suppose. So start whipping immediately.

3) Use medium heat, whip in circles and start at the the bottom. I used to skim the whipper on the top of the milk thinking that's where the foam should be (always looking for shortcuts I am), but apparently the magic is in the act of aerating the milk throughout.

4) Enjoy the process - unlike shots of espresso, cappuccino is meant to be savored. That includes the process of making it as well. If you're anything like me, your days are probably super busy so here is a perfect excuse to slow yourself down and stand still for at least 10 minutes in the morning. Take your time and zen yourself out, or (if you simply MUST multi-task) use this opportunity to collect your thoughts and organize your mental to-do list.

Either way, it's a lovely way to start the day...

Cappuccino Variations

Although ratios may vary to taste, a common recipe for a traditional 6 oz. cappuccino is: 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 frothed milk. Purists consider this recipe complete as-is. Powdered cocoa or cinnamon may be sprinkled on top. As you can see, I'm as heavy-handed with the cinnamon sugar as I am with my prosecco.

If you allow the freshly frothed milk a moment to rest (and thus separate) you can layer the milk and espresso more easily. Pour your warm milk into the bottom third of the cup, then pour the espresso slowly into the steamed milk and spoon your fabulously frothed milk on top to fill cup. Done in this order, the espresso should settle between the milk and the foam.

Two variations are the Cappuccino Scuro (prepared with less milk and darker in color) and Cappuccino Chiaro (prepared with more milk - but less than a caffe latte - and lighter in color).

It is also growing more common in Italy to see a cappuccino made with only espresso and frothed milk. This is a Classic Cappuccino (1-1/2 oz. espresso topped with 1-1/2- 2 oz. foam) vs the Basic Cappuccino described above.

Gourmet Cappuccino Recipes
[read: excuses to imbibe first thing in the am]

WARNING: If you tend to make monstrous American-sized cappuccino's like mine, please take into consideration your morning activities (like driving, hang-gliding, or cutting your own bangs) before taking the liberty of pro-rating the liqueur quantities.

Caffe Conquistador
Basic Cappuccino with 1oz. of Kahlua topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

Cappuccino Royale
Basic Cappuccino with 1 oz. of liqueur of your choice (classic Italian favorites include Grand Marnier, Frangelico, Amaretto, or any chocolate based liqueur) and top with whipped cream.

Caffe Napoleon
Basic Cappuccino with 1 oz. of cognac topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

Bon Bon
Basic Cappuccino with 1 oz. chocolate mint liqueur topped with whipped cream, shaved white chocolate and a maraschino cherry. (Personally, I would use a brandied cherry - you can find a great recipe at the bottom of this post.)

Cappucino Cioccolocino
Basic Cappuccino topped with vanilla, chocolate or coffee ice cream.

Bottoms Up!


  1. The little whipper thingee has made my life so much better here -- love having cappuccino while still wearing pajamas and also at any time of day with no strange looks from fellow bar patrons hahaha :)

  2. Aren't they wonderful! Personally, I think cappuccino tastes much better when one is wearing PJs =) Thanks so much for stopping by!


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