A cappuccino is an Italian coffee drink that is traditionally prepared with double espresso, and steamed milk foam.

Variations of the drink involve the use of cream instead of milk, and flavouring with cinnamon or chocolate powder. It is typically smaller in volume than a caffè latte, with a thicker layer of micro foam.

The name comes from the Capuchin friars, referring to the colour of their habits, and in this context referring to the colour of the beverage when milk is added in small portion to dark, brewed coffee (today mostly espresso). The physical appearance of a modern cappuccino with espresso créma and steamed milk is a result of a long evolution of the drink.

The Viennese bestowed the name “Kapuziner” possibly in the 18th century on a version that included whipped cream and spices of unknown origin. The Italian cappuccino was unknown outside Italy until the 1930s, and seems to be born out of Viennese-style cafés in Trieste and other cities in the former Austria in the first decades of the 20th century. The drink has since spread worldwide and can be found at a number of establishments.


Cappuccino is a coffee drink that today is composed of double espresso and hot milk, with the surface topped with foamed milk. Cappuccinos are most often prepared with an espresso machine. The double espresso is poured into the bottom of the cup, followed by a similar amount of hot milk, which is prepared by heating and texturing the milk using the espresso machine steam wand. The top third of the drink consists of milk foam; this foam can be decorated with artistic drawings made with the same milk, called latte art.

Cappuccino is traditionally small (max 180 ml) with a thick layer of foam, while ‘latte’ traditionally is larger (200 ml-300 ml). Caffè latte is often served in a large glass; cappuccino mostly in a 150 – 180 ml cup with a handle. Cappuccino traditionally has a layer of textured milk micro foam exceeding 1 cm in thickness; micro foam is frothed/steamed milk in which the bubbles are so small and so numerous that they are not seen, but it makes the milk lighter and thicker. As a result, the micro foam will remain partly on top of the mug when the espresso is poured in correctly as well as mix well with the rest of the cappuccino.

The World Barista Championships have been arranged annually since 2000, and during the course of the competition, the competing barista must produce—for four sensory judges—among other drinks four cappuccinos, defined in WBC Rules and Regulations as […] a coffee and milk beverage that should produce a harmonious balance of rich, sweet milk and espresso [….] The cappuccino is prepared with one (1) single shot of espresso, textured milk and foam. A minimum of 1 centimeter of foam depth [….] A cappuccino is a beverage between 150 ml and 180 ml in total volume [….]

History and evolution

The consumption of coffee in Europe was initially based on the traditional Ottoman preparation of the drink, by bringing to boil the mixture of coffee and water together, sometimes adding sugar. The British seem to have started filtering and steeping coffee already in the second part of the 18th century and France and continental Europe followed suit. By the 19th century coffee was brewed in different devices designed for both home and public cafés.

Adding milk to coffee is mentioned by Europeans already in the 1700s, and sometimes advised.

‘Cappuccino’ originated as the coffee beverage “Kapuziner” in the Viennese coffee houses in the 1700s at the same time as the counterpart coffee beverage named “Franziskaner”: ‘Kapuziner’ shows up on coffee house menus all over the Habsburg Monarchy around this time, and is in 1805 described in a Wörterbuch (dictionary) as ‘coffee with cream and sugar’ (although it does not say how it is composed). ‘Kapuziner’ is mentioned again in writings in the 1850s, described as ‘coffee with cream, spices and sugar’. Around the same time, the coffee beverage ‘Melange’ is mentioned in writings, explained as a blend of coffee and milk, presumably similar to the modern day ‘Caffè Latte’. Other coffees containing cream surfaced in Vienna, and outside Austria these are referred to as ‘Viennese Coffee’ or ‘Café Viennois’, coffee with whipped cream. Predecessors of Irish Coffee, sweetened coffee with different alcohols, topped with whipped cream also spread out from Vienna.

The ‘Kapuziner’ took its name from the colour of coffee with a few drops of cream, nicknamed so because the capuchin monks in Vienna and elsewhere wore vestments with this colour. Another popular coffee was Franziskaner, with more cream, referring to the somewhat ‘lighter’ brown colour of the robes of monks of the Franciscan order.

Cappuccino as we write it today (in Italian) is first mentioned in northern Italy in the 1930s, and photographs from that time shows the drink to resemble a ‘viennese’ — a coffee topped with whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon or chocolate. The Italian cappuccino evolved and developed in the following decades: The steamed milk atop is a later addition, and in the US a slight misunderstanding has led to this ‘cap’ of milk foam being named ‘monk’s head’ -although it originally had nothing to do with the name of the beverage.

Though coffee was brewed differently all over Europe after the Second World War, in Italy, the real espresso machines became widespread only during the 1950s, and ‘cappuccino’ was redefined, now made from espresso and frothed milk (though far from the quality of micro foam steamed milk today). As the espresso machines improved, so did the dosing of coffee and the heating of the milk. Outside Italy, ‘cappuccino’ spread, but was generally made from dark coffee with whipped cream, as it still is in large parts of Europe even in 2014.

The ‘Kapuziner’ remained unchanged on the Austrian coffee menu, even in Trieste, which by 1920 belonged to Italy and in Budapest, Prague, Bratislava and other cities of the former empire.

Espresso machines were introduced at the beginning of the 20th century, after Luigi Bezzera of Milan filed the first patent in 1901,[9] and although the first generations of machines certainly did not make espresso the way we define it today.

Coffee making in cafés changed in the first decades of the 20th century. These first machines made it possible to serve coffee ‘espresso’ -specifically to each customer. The cups were still the same size, and the dose of beans were ground coarse as before. The too high temperature of the boilers scalded the coffee and several attempts at improving this came in the years after the First World War.

By the end of the Second World War, the Italians launched the ‘age of crema’ as the new coffee machines could create a higher pressure, leading to a finer grind and the now classic ‘crema’.

The first small cups appear in the 1950s, and the machines could by now also heat milk. The modern ‘cappuccino’ was born. In Vienna, the espresso bars were introduced in the 1950s, leading to both the ‘kapuziner’ and the by now new-born Italian ‘cappuccino’ being served as two different beverages alongside each other.

In the United Kingdom, espresso coffee initially gained popularity in the form of the cappuccino, influenced by the British custom of drinking coffee with milk, the desire for a longer drink to preserve the café as a destination, and the exotic texture of the beverage.


The way the cappuccino is defined today, in addition to a double shot of espresso a most important factor in preparing a cappuccino is the texture and temperature of the milk. When a barista steams the milk for a cappuccino, microfoam is created by introducing very tiny bubbles of air into the milk, giving the milk a velvety texture. The traditional cappuccino consists of a single espresso, on which the barista pours the hot foamed milk, resulting in a 2 cm (¾ in) thick milk foam on top. Variations could be made adding another shot of espresso resulting in a double cappuccino.

Attaining the correct ratio of foam requires close attention while steaming the milk, thus making the cappuccino one of the most difficult espresso-based beverages to make properly. A skilled barista may obtain artistic shapes while pouring the milk on the top of the espresso coffee.


Cappuccino was traditionally a taste largely appreciated in Europe, Australia, South America and some of North America. By the mid-1990s cappuccino was made much more widely available to North Americans, as upscale coffee houses sprang up.

In Italy, and throughout continental Europe, cappuccino was traditionally consumed early in the day as part of the breakfast, with some kind of sweet pastry. Generally, Europeans did not drink cappuccino with meals other than breakfast. Though they did prefer to drink Espresso after dinner. However, in recent years Europeans have started to drink cappuccino throughout the entire day. Especially in Australia and Western Europe (The UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France and Spain) cappuccino is popular at cafés and terraces during the afternoon and in restaurants after dinner. In modern-day Italy, cappuccino is consumed only up to 11 a.m., and Italians consider it very strange to ask for a cappuccino after that hour. If the beverage is requested in the evening, although not common, it should only be consumed after dessert, as the final part of the meal. Espresso is usually ordered after a meal due to the belief that the lack of milk aids in digestion. In the United States, cappuccinos have become popular concurrent with the boom in the American coffee industry through the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially in the urban Pacific Northwest.

Cappuccino is traditionally served in 150–180 ml (5–6 imp fl oz; 5–6 US fl oz) cups. By the start of the 21st century, a modified “short-cut” version was being served by fast-food chains in servings up to 600 ml (21 imp fl oz; 20 US fl oz).


Traditional and latte art

Although size is what varies most among different cappuccinos, there are two main ways of preparing cappuccino: one is the traditional or classical way with a cap of milk foam; the other is the “Latte Art” way. The former follows the traditional idea of the cappuccino being prepared by ⅓ espresso, ⅓ steamed milk and ⅓ milk foam. The latter follows the same recipe, but is served more often in smaller cups, and the textured milk is gently poured in and finished with a pattern in the surface crèma. The illustrations in this article show the preparation methods.

Iced cappuccino

In Canada, Tim Hortons’s coffee chain sells iced coffee cappuccino under the brand name Iced Capps. The coffee drink mix comes to the Tim Hortons stores as a thick black syrup which is mixed at three parts water to one part syrup in a slurpee machine. The frozen coffee drink is then blended with cream at the time of service (or blended with milk, or chocolate milk upon customer request). The Ice Capp can also be prepared as a Supreme, which includes a flavour shot, whipped topping, and either caramel or chocolate syrup. There is also a Brownie Supreme, which is made with chocolate milk, and mixed with bits of brownie. This is then topped with whipped topping, and finished off with more bits of brownie scattered on top. The chain has also recently introduced traditional iced coffee to its Canadian menu in addition to its U.S. menu.

Capuccino Freddo

In Cyprus and Greece, the iced cappuccino is widespread, known locally as Freddo Cappuccino, as opposed to Cappuccino Freddo. Despite its Italian name, the drink both tastes and is prepared differently to its Italian counterpart, and is not common in Italy or outside Greece. The Freddo Cappuccino is topped with a cold milk-based foam known as aphrogala (Greek: αφρόγαλα), which is created using cold milk and an electric frother. These frothers are commonplace in Greek coffeeshops due to their usage during the preparation of Frappé coffee. The foam is then added to espresso poured over ice. Outside Greece and Cyprus, Capuccino Freddo can be mostly found on coffee shops and delis catering towards the greek expat community. More recently, Starbucks has added Cappuccino Freddo to branch menus in Europe.

Iced coffee

Cappuccino Freddo is the cold version of a cappuccino, and the drink usually has a small amount of cold frothed milk atop it. This drink is widely available in Cyprus, Greece, and parts of Italy. In Rome, for example, each bar has the drink already prepared. In cities of Northern Italy, like Milan, however, it is almost impossible to find cappuccino freddo. Instead, gelato da bere (a thick blend of gelato and espresso) or shakerato (espresso and ice shaken together) are more popular. The term has also spread throughout the Mediterranean region where foam is added to the drink just before serving, often varying from the Italian original.

In North America, however, the terms “Cappuccino Freddo” or “Iced cappuccino”, if offered, may be somewhat of a misnomer if the characteristic frothed milk is omitted in the iced variation. For example, at Starbucks, without the frothed milk the drink is called an “iced latte”.

Similar drinks

Other milk and espresso drinks similar to the cappuccino include:

  • Caffè macchiato (sometimes called espresso macchiato) is a significantly shorter drink, which consists of espresso with only a small amount of milk.
  • Cortado is a Spanish hybrid; a slightly shorter drink, which consists of espresso mixed with milk in a 1:1 to 1:2 ratio, and is not topped with foam. Cafè Cortado has traditionally been served in a small glass on a saucer, and its character comes more from the Spanish preference of coffee beans and roast plus condensed milk replacing fresh dairy milk. Modern coffee shops have started using fresh milk.
  • Flat White is a hybrid which is popular in Australia and New Zealand. It is in-between a cappuccino and a caffè latte (‘flat’ indicating little or no foam), typically prepared with a double shot of espresso and a little latte art atop. A flat white is prepared with a milder espresso and no robusta.
  • Latte (short for “caffè latte”) is a larger drink, with the same amount of espresso, but with more milk and a varying amount of foam, served in a large cup or tall glass.
  • A steamer or babyccino is a drink of frothed milk without coffee (hence no caffeine), which is available in some coffeehouses. In North America it often has flavoured syrup added, while in Commonwealth countries outside North America it is primarily marketed to children as a coffee-free cappuccino, as the name indicates, and is sometimes topped with marshmallows, a chocolate flake, or sprinkles.

How to Make a Cappuccino

The cappuccino. It’s a popular option among coffee lovers, but what exactly is it? The typical cappuccino consists of three equally important elements: the espresso, hot milk, and steamed milk foam. It is similar to the traditional latte, although the amount of foam sets it apart. Cappuccinos use a higher foam-to-milk ratio, along with a decadent dusting of chocolate on top. Here are some basic steps and tips to help you make a great cappuccino every time.
Recipe type: Beverage
  1. Pull Your Shot
    The espresso shot forms the base of many popular caffeinated beverages. If you haven’t mastered this, then it’s time to get practicing!

    Pulling (or pouring) a shot of espresso on your average espresso machine involves grinding the amount of coffee beans required, tamping them into the portafilter with just the right amount of pressure (this prevents weak, watery shots), and then extracting the espresso shot from the grounds using the machine. A number of factors will influence the quality of your shot, including the brand and quality of beans you use, freshness, and how you tamp the coffee in the portafilter.
  2. Steam Your Milk
    Using a steam wand (or milk frother, depending on the equipment you have available), the next step is to steam your milk. Place the nozzle of the steam wand under the surface of the milk, aimed toward the side of the jug. Stretching and polishing your milk is key here for a quality beverage, so if you aren’t confident with either of these, it’s worth reading up on how to create barista-quality milk every time. You want to end up with hot milk on the bottom and foam on the top.
  3. Pour Your Milk
    The final step is pouring your milk to combine it with your espresso shot.

    Start by pouring your milk from a height of about 10 centimetres above your cup, aiming for the middle. Then, in one smooth action, move your pour closer to the surface of the drink, pushing more of the foamy milk froth in the top of your milk jug. In order to achieve a cappuccino you must have stretched your milk adequately to allow for the foamy top. This is the time to add a flick of the wrist if you want to try for some latte art, although mastering the pour should be your first priority.
Fun Fact: in Italy, a cappuccino is served without any chocolate dusting. It has become popular in Australia to serve chocolate on top, however in some countries the cappuccino is dusted with cinnamon or nutmeg.
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