Newspaper article International New York Times

The Cappuccino Debate

Newspaper article International New York Times

The Cappuccino Debate

Article excerpt

To stir or not to stir? Thick foam or none? Experts weigh in on a beloved beverage.

CORRECTION APPENDED

What if the cappuccino you had this morning was not, in fact, a cappuccino? Scary. More worrisome still: What if your flat white was?

There was a time when cappuccino was easy to identify. It was a shot of espresso with steamed milk and a meringue-like milk foam on top. But now the onetime king of specialty coffee drinks is having a bit of an identity crisis.

Even among experts, there is considerable disagreement concerning what exactly a cappuccino is, with some of those in the know focusing on the size of the drink as its distinguishing characteristic.

"In the U.S., cappuccino are small, medium and large, and that actually doesn't exist," the food and coffee writer Oliver Strand said. "Cappuccino is basically a four-ounce drink."

Todd Carmichael, a founder of La Colombe, a coffee roasting company with cafes in New York and other cities, is not so hung up on the ounce factor. "We've made the cappuccino mobile," he said. "With 8 to 10 ounces, the flavors do not go away. They're just less intense."

Others cling to old-school notions of what makes a cappuccino, with the layering of ingredients as the main thing. "The goal is to serve three distinct layers: caffe, hot milk and frothy (not dense) foam," the chef and writer Mario Batali wrote in an email. "But to drink it Italian style, it will be stirred so that the three stratum come together as one."

With the stirring of the drink, one may see the distinctive red- brown color similar to that of the habits worn by men belonging to the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor, a resemblance believed by some to have given the beverage its name.

Joe, a cafe with 13 locations in New York and Philadelphia, serves a cappuccino that is not layered, with no bubbly foam on top. "The consistency should be the same from the first sip to the last," said Jonathan Rubenstein, one of Joe's founders.

The Joe version would seem to violate the cappuccino standards put forth by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (S.C.A.A.) and its Barista Guild, which advocate a one-centimeter layer, minimum, of milky foam.

Only one centimeter? Sounds dangerously close to a latte. But who would know better than the S.C.A.A.? "It's kind of ridiculous," said David Schomer, the founder of Espresso Vivace in Seattle.

Some coffee specialists pointed to "latte art creep" as being responsible for the small amount of foam in the modern cappuccino, noting that it is easier for baristas to make intricate designs with less froth in a time of Instagram-ready food and drink.

Given the changes in what constitutes a cappuccino, some people may find themselves with an attachment to an incarnation of the drink that was in style when they came of coffee-drinking age. …

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