How to make a great cappuccino

October 1, 2008 at 10:31 am | Posted in The Coffee | 2 Comments
Great cappuccino hunt

Great cappuccino hunt

In July, our own in-house barista trainer, Ben Carlson, had a moment of fame in The Sunday Tribune after he took pen to paper in order to describe the perfect cappuccino. In case you missed it, here’s a quick look at the article.

And, because I know you can’t read the image, here’s what Ben said, before things hit the cutting room floor.

The Cappuccino Hunt

Minnesota, USA gets cold in the winter.  It’s the kind of cold where young boys dare their friends to lick a metal pole, knowing that their tongue is going to freeze there until someone brings a cup of hot water to help tear it away.  This is where I learned to love a hot cuppa as I paid my way through university making coffee drinks.  The cappuccino’s I made were piled high with airy foam and hot enough to burn those tongues off the frozen poles.  I killed any taste that may have existed in the hand-crafted espresso by drowning it in burnt milk.

If I only knew then what I know now…

Sooner than normal and bigger than ever, the 2008 Cafe Society has started.  It comes with the necessary pressure that drives every coffee shop in the Durban area to try and woo the judges with the perfect cappuccino. Judges will come out of their caffeinated offices, kitchens, and favorite haunts to immortalize or lambaste hard working café owners.  Progressive and globally tested standards are being implemented to uncover the best cup in town.  So what are these mouth-watering standards?

Let’s take a closer look at the cappuccino itself.  It’s the delectable yet oft messed up drink we are judging each café on.  I recently demonstrated the World Barista Championship standards for the judges at Urban Grounds Coffee Emporium.  We sipped shots of ground-on-demand espresso from preheated cups.  Conversation got serious over what makes a bitter or sour cappuccino (over and under extracting the espresso for those who care). We also debated over what temperature is too hot for milk.

No one wants burnt milk in their cappuccino, but what is burnt? My recent stop at a Washington D.C. Starbucks, after the 22-hour flight from Joburg, showed me that the world’s most prolific coffee burners, I mean makers, don’t even get this right!  My frothy cappuccino was burnt and milky.  A great cappuccino will be graced with micro-textured milk that is velvety on the tongue and no hotter then 67 degrees.  Big frothy bubbles on top are like wearing an old “I work for Eskom” T-shirt.  A cappuccino divided into thirds (one third espresso, one third hot milk, and one third airy froth) might be comfy and familiar but your friends will start to disappear and the judges will ridicule you for your lack of training. Judges are looking for a perfect shot of espresso combined with velvety micro-textured milk until a 150-170 ml cup is full.

A technically correct cappuccino will get you far, but it won’t win you the Café Society championship unless you also have a great coffee shop atmosphere. We want to find café’s that make us feel at home and give us reason to relax.  I want to drink my cappuccino in peace without a waitress shooting me dirty looks as I sit reading the paper.  Creating a unique ambiance and that special café culture will help your favorite coffee shop emerge as a top ten finalist in this year’s Café Society.

My experience from naive coffee maker to barista trainer was a 12-year process.  2006 World Barista Champion Klause Thomson (Denmark) has helped me grow from my frozen Minnesota beginnings.  Likewise, Durban is also growing to become a great coffee destination by living up to international standards.  Unfortunately, many in Durban still consider regular coffee to be a scoop of Nescafe.  They also think a good cappuccino takes two hands to lift and should be hot enough to burn off your lips.  No coffee shop is safe from being reviewed and everyone’s standards are rising as we hunt for the 2008 Café society champion and best barista in Durban!



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  1. First of all think the blog is awesome and you guys have the best Chai Tea Latte i have ever had

  2. Nice Guys! See you later (today) for the usual…

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