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How to Make a Cappuccino (Simple Steps)

A cappuccino

A cappuccino is one of the most popular and iconic espresso drinks. Making a great cappuccino is a rite of passage for baristas, and many people test a coffee shop’s quality by ordering a cappuccino. Despite its honored place in the pantheon of classic coffee, cappuccinos aren’t that difficult to make.

In this article, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to get started making your own tasty cappuccino. We cover the basics first before giving you detailed instructions and then conclude with a brief overview of alternative methods in case you don’t have an espresso machine. We have a lot to get through, so grab your frothing wand, and let’s get started!

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What Is a Cappuccino?

Let’s start with the basics. Traditionally, a cappuccino is equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. There are many slight variations you can order to suit your taste, but all cappuccinos are fundamentally those three ingredients in roughly equal amounts.

Part of the magic of a cappuccino comes from the texture. For a cappuccino to be truly excellent, genuine espresso with a layer of crema must be combined with frothed milk carefully so that the smooth foam-like layer isn’t disturbed. A properly crafted cappuccino has a smooth, rich texture to accompany the strong espresso flavor.

Morning Cappuccino

Essential Equipment for Traditional Espresso

Before you get started, there are a few essential pieces of equipment you’ll need if you want to make a cappuccino that is as close to what you’d get from your local coffee shop.

Ingredients
  • Fresh coffee beans
  • Milk
Equipment

Later, we’ll cover what to do if you don’t have all of these items. For now, we’ll continue assuming you have gathered this equipment and are familiar with using an espresso machine.

How to Make a Cappuccino With an Espresso Machine

1. Weigh and grind the coffee.

A standard shot of espresso uses 6-8 g of coffee. It is important to weigh the coffee so that you can reproduce your results once you find the right dose.

Skerton Pro manual burr grinder

If you want the best tasting espresso, you have to grind your coffee immediately before brewing to get the freshest possible taste. Use a fine setting. Many grinders have specific espresso settings, so check your grinder and use its recommended setting for espresso if possible.

2. Heat the water.

If your machine heats water, start the preheat cycle. Otherwise, put the kettle on and bring the water to a boil.

3. Add the coffee to the portafilter and tamp it.

Use your finger or a soft utensil to level the coffee bed. Make sure there are no gaps or holes in the coffee.

tamping coffee
Image Credit: Ketut Subiyanto, Pexels

Use the tamper to apply between 20 and 30 pounds of force to the coffee. Remove the tamper with a slight turning motion to prevent grounds from sticking to it and disrupting the packing.

4. Pull the shot.

Attach the portafilter and let your espresso machine work its magic.

5. Froth the milk.

frothed vs steamed milk

While the shot is being pulled, use the frothing wand to froth preheated milk.

6. Combine the milk and espresso.

Gently pour the milk over the espresso, taking care not to create turbulence. Feeling creative? Try your hand at latte art!

7. Serve and enjoy!

cappuccino K-cups

Making cappuccino isn’t very difficult, but tamping and pouring the milk requires practice. With patience and dedication, it won’t take you long to get the hang of it, and you’ll be making killer cappuccino in no time!

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Alternatives and Substitutes

Not everyone has an espresso machine at home, so we’d like to briefly give you some alternative brewing methods that do a reasonable job of recreating a cappuccino without a dedicated espresso machine. We realize that these options don’t technically make traditional cappuccinos, but we’re not sticklers for the rules anyway.

Moka Pot
Image Credit: Vee Satayamas, Flickr

Moka Pot

In our opinion, the closest you can get to genuine espresso without an espresso machine is using a Moka pot. Although they don’t make real espresso, sometimes Moka pots are referred to as stove top espresso makers since they make strong, concentrated coffee that closely mimics espresso’s taste. The biggest difference is the lack of crema, which can’t be produced without an espresso machine’s high-pressure.

AeroPress

The second-best option after a Moka pot is to use an AeroPress. The AeroPress is one of the most versatile coffee makers we’ve ever used and is capable of making “fauxpresso” that is good enough to fool all but the most discerning espresso aficionados.

AeroPress Review
Freshly brewed AeroPress coffee

The trick is to use a fine grind size that is almost as fine as you would use in an espresso machine. You can get pretty close to the right concentration if you grind fine enough, but be careful not to use too fine of a grind. Since the AeroPress needs to be pressed by hand, it will be difficult or impossible to press if you grind too finely. Even though you won’t have any crema, you can quickly and easily make a reasonable facsimile of a cappuccino with an AeroPress.

What If I Don’t Have a Frother?

A milk frother is another piece of equipment not everyone will have access to. The good news is you don’t need one. The bad news is it will take a little elbow grease to froth milk by hand.

handheld milk frother

Our favorite option is to use a French press. The plunger makes it easy to aerate heated milk quickly, although it is a bit of a workout. If you have a French press, add your heated milk to it and vigorously pump the plunger until the milk starts to thicken.

If you don’t have a French press, you’ll have to froth milk the old-fashioned way with a whisk. There’s no trick to this; simply whisk heated milk until it reaches the desired consistency. This is only good as a last resort because it takes considerable time and effort.


does a cappuccino have caffeine

The Perfect Cappuccino

For a cappuccino to be truly excellent, genuine espresso with a layer of crema must be combined with frothed milk carefully so that the smooth foam-like layer isn’t disturbed. A properly crafted cappuccino has a smooth, rich texture to accompany the strong espresso flavor.
5 star average
Prep Time 4 mins
Brew Time 3 mins
Total Time 7 mins
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Servings 1 cappuccino(s)
Calories 40 kcal

Equipment

  • Kettle
  • Coffee grinder
  • Frothing wand
  • Espresso machine
  • Tamper
  • Kitchen scale

Ingredients
 

Instructions
 

  • Weigh and grind the coffee. A standard shot of espresso uses 6-8 g of coffee. It is important to weigh the coffee so that you can reproduce your results once you find the right dose.
  • If your machine heats water, start the preheat cycle. Otherwise, put the kettle on and bring the water to a boil.
  • Add the coffee to the portafilter. Use your finger or a soft utensil to level the coffee bed. Make sure there are no gaps or holes in the coffee.
  • Use the tamper to apply between 20 and 30 pounds of force to the coffee. Remove the tamper with a slight turning motion to prevent grounds from sticking to it and disrupting the packing.
  • Attach the portafilter and let your espresso machine work its magic.
  • While the shot is being pulled, use the frothing wand to froth preheated milk.
  • Gently pour the milk over the espresso, taking care not to create turbulence. Feeling creative? Try your hand at latte art!
  • Serve and enjoy!

Notes

If you want the best tasting espresso, you have to grind your coffee immediately before brewing to get the freshest possible taste. Use a fine setting. Many grinders have specific espresso settings, so check your grinder and use its recommended setting for espresso if possible.

Nutrition

Calories: 40kcal
Keyword cappuccino

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Conclusion

We hope you’ve found this guide helpful! Making a cappuccino isn’t too difficult, especially if you already own an espresso machine, but it is more than doable even if you don’t. With a little creativity – and a lot of practice – you can whip up a delicious cappuccino with only standard coffee-making equipment.

Don’t fret if it doesn’t come out perfectly the first time. Making cappuccinos is an art form and a skill that professional baristas hone over many years. In just a few weeks, you will see noticeable improvements and be well on your way to making an excellent cappuccino at home!

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Featured Image: Athena Lam, Unsplash

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Sean Brennan

Sean’s obsession with coffee started when he received his first French press as a gift almost ten years ago. Since then, his love of coffee – and the number of coffee gadgets he owns – has grown considerably. A scientist by training, there is no stone he has left unturned in the never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee. He has spent many hours tuning his pour-over technique, thinking about how to best compare grind quality, and worrying about whether the Nicaraguan or Kenyan beans will make the best cold brew. These days he favors the Hario V60, and starts each day by hand grinding his coffee before enjoying a cup prepared with care and attention to detail.

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