As professional coffee roasters and baristas, the classic cappuccino remains one of our favorite espresso drinks.
Our guide will walk you through step-by-step instructions on how to make cappuccino at home and enjoy its frothy milk foam and dark espresso without the hefty price that most coffee shops charge!
Here’s what you need to get started on your cappuccino adventure:
- What is a cappuccino?
- What is in a cappuccino?
- What’s the difference between a latte and a cappuccino?
- What are the best beans for cappuccino?
- How do you make cappuccino with non-dairy milk?
- How do I make a cappuccino?
- Making espresso
- Making cappuccino foam
- Making cappuccino without an espresso machine
- How to make a cappuccino with an espresso machine
What is a cappuccino?
A cappuccino is traditionally made of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk. First, the espresso shot is poured into the cup. Next, the milk is steamed and frothed with a steam wand and added to the espresso. Finally, the top layer is the milk foam, which can be made into various patterns such as a heart or a flower.
For a stronger punch, double espresso shots are used with a little less milk and foam. Cream can be used instead of milk, as well as additional toppings such as cinnamon and cocoa powder.
The cappuccino originated in 17th century Italy. When it was created, this drink consisted of whipped cream, spices, and Italian espresso. In Italian, ‘cappuccino’ translates to ‘little cap’, which refers to the layer of milk foam on the top. The name is also a reference to Capuchin friars, who were a group of monks in the 16th century. When milk is added to the espresso, the light brown color mimics the monk’s robes and their bald heads.
In the 1930s, the Italian cappuccino started to gain popularity outside of Italy and is now one of the most popular coffee drinks worldwide.
How to make cappuccino at home
Try your hand at being a cappuccino-brewing barista with these two easy steps!
The heart of any good cappuccino starts with espresso. It’s up to you if you want to make it a double shot cappuccino or a single. For a step-by-step guide read our guide to “Making Espresso at Home.”
Here’s how to do it:
- Clean your portafilter from any previous coffee grounds
- Grind your coffee
- Tamp your coffee and clean the sides of the portafilter
- Rinse your espresso machine’s group head
- Insert your portafilter into the group head and place your espresso cup under it
- Pull the espresso
- Remove the portafilter
- Clean to get ready for the next shot
We recommend using an espresso machine so you get full control of your espresso shot. But, if you don’t have one there are other ways you can make it!
Making cappuccino foam
Most espresso machines come with a steam wand. This magical tool is the answer to frothing your milk and making the creamiest cappuccinos.
Let’s start with the microfoam. A lot of people think that the milk art on top of coffee drinks shows a well-made coffee. It is actually the microfoam that is one of the most important elements of a cappuccino.
The microfoam is not a different layer to the milk but part of it. It takes a lot of time and practice to master your microfoaming abilities.
The best way to start is to hold your steam wand at a 15-degree angle to the pitcher. Place the steam wand just below the milk surface, making sure to keep the pitcher handle parallel to the steam wand.
Once you get it a frothiness you like, place the steam wand a little deeper into the milk, and heat it to 135F-150F.
This gives the cappuccino its signature silky mouthfeel and brings out the natural sweetness of the milk.
Pro tips for making foam
- Avoid steaming your milk over 150F since it takes away the milk flavors
- Avoid heating your milk over 175F because it will scald and ruin the taste
- Placing the steam wand too low results in less aeration
- Placing it too high will add too much air and create a mess
How to make a cappuccino
- Espresso machine
- Steam wand
- Burr grinder
- Coffee mug
- 2 shots espresso
- 8 oz whole milk
- Grind your coffee using a burr grinder. We recommend a burr as it evenly grinds the coffee beans.
- Place your ground coffee in the portafilter and tamp down evenly.
- Place the portafilter in the espresso machine group head and pull your shot. Discard the ground coffee and wipe your portafilter clean.
- Fill 1/3 of your pitcher with milk and steam.
- Wipe the steam wand nozzle and turn it on for a second to get rid of any milk residue.
- Add the espresso to your cup.
- Gently swirl your milk pitcher. Use a spoon to cover the milk pitcher's head. This will stop the foam and pour just the steamed milk.
- Once you have filled your cup to 2/3, add your foamy milk on top.
- Slightly angle the cup and pour the milk in. Decorate and garnish your cappuccino as you wish.
How to make a cappuccino without an espresso machine
The best way to brew espresso without an espresso machine is using a Moka pot.
Moka pots use 1-2 bars of pressure to produce strong flavored coffee, which is great for mixing with milk and ideal for making your own cappuccino.
To use a Moka pot grind your coffee beans between fine and coarse — if they’re too finely ground you risk clogging the Moka pot’s filter and creating too much pressure.
Another great appliance you can use to make espresso is a Nespresso machine. With this one-and-done method, all you need to do is pop in your Nespresso pod and the espresso is made that instant.
How to make cappuccino without a steam wand
With most espresso machines, a steam wand comes attached.
If you use a Moka pot or a Nespresso machine chances are you won’t have a steam wand.
The good thing is that there are plenty of alternatives!
The first is an electric foam wand, which will heat and froth the milk for you.
The other is a French Press. Add your warmed milk into the French Press and rapidly plunge it up and down to froth your milk.
If you don’t have either of these you can use a saucepan and warm your milk. Using a whisk, whip your warming milk until it becomes frothy.
What’s the difference between a latte and a cappuccino?
There are three distinct differences between making a latte and a cappuccino.
The first is that lattes use more steamed milk with a thinner layer of foamed milk while cappuccinos use equal layers of espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk.
The second is that in lattes the espresso and milk are mixed together, while cappuccinos are separated into distinct layers. This gives lattes a thinner texture with a subtler coffee taste.
The third is that lattes use around 1-2 ounces of espresso to 8-15 ounces of milk. This means lattes have a milder espresso taste. For this reason, lattes are excellent for adding flavor variations like vanilla or chocolate. Cappuccinos use 2 ounces of espresso to 2 ounces of steamed milk which makes the bitterness of the espresso compliment the sweetness of the milk.
What are the best coffee beans for a cappuccino?
The best coffee beans to use for a cappuccino are dark roast.
The milk content in cappuccinos can quickly dilute the taste of the cappuccino if the coffee beans are too lightly roasted. A dark roast holds its flavor and body against the milk and lets the aroma of the espresso emerge from the milk.
A dark roast that is also acidic helps balance the sweetness and alkalinity of the milk.
We love using French Roast coffee to make cappuccinos.
If you want to experiment with flavors more you could also use blends of dark and light roast coffee!
How do you make cappuccino with non-dairy milk?
Milk and espresso are a match made in heaven. The creamy sweetness of milk and the darkness of the coffee is a perfect balance. This is also true with plant-based milk! Here are the non-dairy milks we like best in cappuccinos.
Barista-ready oat milk, like Oatly Barista Edition and Califa Farms Oat Barista Blend, are our favorite non-dairy choice for making cappuccinos. This oat milk is a little nutty with a rich creaminess like whole milk. The thick foam from this oat milk produce is excellent for making cappuccino art and it compliments the full-bodied flavor of the espresso and dark roast coffee.
Sweetened barista-style almond milk is smooth and has a more neutral taste than oat milk. The simplicity of this plant-based milk pairs well with medium roast coffee. Almond milk is a little trickier to foam (we recommend frothing it at room temperature) and more challenging to make designs with.
Soy milk is often the non-dairy milk go-to at cafes. Like almond milk, soy is mild in flavor. It doesn’t overpower the bold espresso notes and nutty dark roast coffee cappuccinos are so well known for. Get your hands on the barista-versions of soy milk for a sweet, creamy, and frothy whole milk alternative.
Our top pick for non-dairy milk is barista-style oat milk. The sweetness, creaminess, and frothiness oat milk brings to cappuccinos is the perfect plant-based answer to cow’s milk and cream.
Takeaways on making cappuccinos like a pro
The next time a cappuccino craving hits you can hustle on over to your kitchen and blend up one of these dreamy, creamy, coffee lover classics for yourself! Get your inner barista on and impress your friends and yourself when you plop down one of these frothy, flavorful drinks down with the knowledge that you bested those big coffee chains at their own game. Sip, sip, hooray to that!