How to make a Cappuccino

How to make a cappuccino & espresso coffees

Today, the home espresso machine is a common appliance, a trend seen in the late 2000’s that quickly turned to pod style machines like Nespresso.  Why?  well I believe it was because making espresso at home isn’t as easy as it seems and home owners weren’t getting the results they expected.

The truth is, making espresso coffees takes some finesse, and that is why they are so romantic.  There is something special about a small table in a bistro with a tiny cup of perfect coffee!  It isn’t meant to be commercially made, it requires patience and passion. When in Vancouver Canada, you must find a Caffe Artigiano a bistro coffee experience to remember.

If you want to get out the old machine and give it a go again, here is how to do it properly.

The difference between espresso beans and coffee beans

You have to start with the right bean, an espresso bean!    Espresso beans are different than regular coffee beans because they are roasted for a much longer period.  This removes a lot of their acidity and oils creating a deeper, richer flavor.

Next, you need to grind the bean properly.  If it is ground too thick it will not properly release the flavor of the bean, but if you grind them too thin, then the coffee will be runny and may not be able to create a crema which is vital to a great espresso.

If you are unsure, simply purchase ground espresso coffee and examine the texture yourself so that you can grind them at home.

How to make an espresso

Packing espressoYou cannot make any espresso coffees without first knowing how to make a proper espresso!  Let’s start with that.

  1. Most machines come with a single “press” and you can purchase a double “press” as well.  Double presses allow you to make two single espressos or one double espresso.
  2. Take your single press and fill with ground beans to the line.  Now it is important to use the stamper to press the coffee firmly into the press, the process which gave it its name.  Use your weight on the press to really stamp the coffee firmly inside.  This stage helps to make a great crema on your espresso. This step is referred to as packing the espresso.
  3. Place the press inside the machine and turn the handle, locking it into place.  You want to be sure it is firmly in place otherwise the water may escape and send coffee grinds everywhere.
  4. Place an espresso cup under the spot and turn on the machine, press the single shot button for a single press to receive your espresso.

When the machine is finished, you should see a beautiful tan layer on top of your espresso that almost looks like caramel cream.  This is known as the crema and it is a tell-tail sign that your coffee has been made correctly.

Making a Double Espresso

Making a double espresso is simply using a double press to make one larger espresso.  You typically need a larger cup like a cappuccino cup for this to collect the coffee from both spouts.  If you do not have a double press, simply use the single press twice and pour the second cup into another.

How to make a Cappuccino

In my books, the greatest hot beverages of all, the cappuccino.  It earns its royalty status with the effort it takes to make a worthy one.  By following these guidelines, you can learn how to make a cappuccino at home that rivals your favorite barista’s.

Your Milk Must Be Cold

To make the perfect cappuccino, you need to start with your milk, 1%, 2%, Almond or oat milk, whatever you choose, it needs to be cold.  Your steamer should be cold as well.  At the restaurant, after frothing the milk, we would put the steamer in a well of ice to cool it off as quickly as possible, ready for the next coffee order.

When making multiple cappuccinos in a row, try to use a large stainless steel steamer to get enough froth or foam for two coffees or have multiple steamers handy.

Is your cappuccino hygienic? Before you start steaming…

Big Time Tip! – Always blow steam out of the machine before starting to steam your milk.  When a machine is not in use,  hot water actually collects in the machine line that makes the steam.  Quickly turn the steam nozzle on and you will notice that water actually comes out before the steam does.  Doing this step first  does two things:

1.  Blowing the hot water and steam through first removes the warm water that has been sitting in the line for a while, keeping it from getting into your perfect coffee. Gross!

2. Second, it actually cleans the steamer nozzle.  This is a health hazard that is relatively unknown!  Do you clean your nozzle after steaming milk every time?

Think about it, after steaming and soaking your nozzle in milk for a while, residual milk remains hidden inside, potentially breading bacteria! Every time you begin frothing your milk, you should blow steam through the nozzle first and then wipe it.  Never leave the nozzle soaking in a cup of water as this is just as bad.  The hot steam works to clean it much better than soaking it in anything.

How to Steam (froth) milk for a cappuccino

Now steaming milk is where experience and skill make it look easy.  Creating great froth for a cappuccino is not easy, it takes a lot of practice and requires all of your senses working together to make the perfect froth.

  1.  With your chilled steamer, quickly blow out steam from your machine until all of the water has been released and you are only getting steam, then turn off the steam. (make sure this is not done inside your milk steamer)
  2. Tilt your milk slightly to the side and place the steam nozzle inside the milk, just under the surface on an angle, then carefully turn on the steam.
  3. Now use your ears! To begin, steaming starts with a high pitched whine, let the steam bubble the milk just under the surface until the sound begins to change to a nice rumble.  At this time, move the milk steamer up and down gently with the nozzle steaming up against the inside wall of the milk.  The sound will become more and more muffled as the milk begins to froth, if the sound does not change, then you are likely not doing something right…
  4. Once the milk froth begins to rise closer to the top of the surface, you can drop the nozzle deeper into the milk, however keep your eyes on it, and feel the bottom of the steamer, it should not get scalding hot otherwise you are burning the milk.  This step is quick to heat the remaining milk.  The whole process shouldn’t take more than a minute.
  5. Pull the milk off the steam and set aside, then gently tap the milk in the steamer on the countertop to release any bubbles and firm up the froth.
  6. Clean your steam nozzle as mentioned above.

Espresso + froth = a cappuccino!

Double EspressoNow that the milk is resting, place the espresso press into the machine and lock it, make sure it’s tight.  Hopefully if you have the right conditions and receive a beautiful crema layer on your coffee!

Now, a traditional cappuccino is simply espresso with milk froth, not milk!  It is meant to be served as an espresso with several spoons of foam on top of the coffee.

In North America, it is served with froth, but hot milk from the frothing phase is also added at the end.  Adding the hot milk raises the froth higher in the cup, making the beverage look even more desirable.  Add as much froth as you have to the coffee and gently add the milk after and watch it rise to complete a perfect cappuccino.

Espresso Coffee Recipes

Now that you are armed with the correct espresso and cappuccino methods, here are the recipes for the remaining popular bistro coffee recipes you can also make at home.

Latte (Café au Lait)

¼ espresso coffee

½ steamed milk

¼ froth

To properly layer a latte, pour the steam milk first, then add froth. Ensure the coffee is poured immediately after brewing, use the back of a spoon and press it against the edge of the glass, slowly pour the espresso over the spoon and it will layer itself beautifully.


1 full shot of espresso &  Hot water

The best way to make an americano is to pour the hot water in your cup first before adding your espresso.

Have your espresso machine on and ready.  Fill a single or double press for desired strength and lock into the machine.  Fill a cappuccino cup about 1/2 full with hot water. Place cup under the spout and brew your espresso.  This will give you a desired crema on top of the americano.  Adding the hot water after risks destroying the crema.

This was a favorite with American troops in Europe during World War II as a substitute for American brewed coffee.


1 Shot Espresso (Single or Double)

Heated Milk froth

Heat some milk and keep the froth, brew your espresso and add a small amount of froth on top! This is a stronger substitute to the cappuccino without the steamed milk.

Cafe Mocha

Using the standard latte recipe, add hot chocolate in place of the steamed milk. If this is too sweet for you, try half and half. Top with steamed milk or Whipped cream.

Flat White

Similar to a latte, a flat white is an Australian favorite.  Simply make an espresso in cappuccino cup.  Add a touch of milk froth and then finish with hot milk.  This makes a lovely creamy top to the coffee.  Very similar to the latte, just a little less milk.

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