Wet vs Dry Cappuccino - What Are They and What's The Difference
It is arguably the most consumed coffee-based drink in the world, but how much do we know about our dearest friend, cappuccino? Spanning a little over 300 years of history, your ideal cappuccino today might be a little different to what it was when it was born, back at those Viennese coffee houses in the early 18th century.
And just like with any other invention, we constantly evolve and refine it to reach its purest form. With several variations regarding all the ingredients, preparations, and ratios, let's embark on a journey to answer all of your fundamental questions about this beloved vice.
In the end, you'll be an authority in matters such as: What is a wet cappuccino? What is a dry cappuccino? When and where was it born? Let's go.
A Quick History Lesson
What's a great discovery if not found amidst the tides of war? The word Cappuccino was first accrued in 1683 and the legend goes like this. In the aftermath of the victory over the Ottomans in the Battle of Vienna, the soldiers fighting alongside Marco d'Aviano (a monk from the Capuchin order) found a hidden cache of coffee.
However, the Arabic coffee was way too strong for their taste, so they came up with a modified version of it. They sweetened it with cream and honey, and the pitch black beverage diluted to a clear and brownish hue. The same colour from the monk's robes, so they named it 'Capuchino' and, Alas! A legend was born.
FUN FACT: Cappuccino itself, pre-dates its main ingredient (the espresso), by more than 200 years.
The Evolutionary Process
Cappuccino made its premiere debut as a drink called "Kapuziner" back in 18th-century-Vienna and is described as coffee with cream and sugar. A similar drink came around that same time, the "Franziskaner" (literally, from the Franciscans).
It was fairly similar, except it was made with more cream (or milk).However, the cappuccino we all know and love first appeared in Italy in the early 20th century while the espresso machine was invented in 1884 and popularized in 1901.
A match made in heaven, because this series of events led to a rapid spread of the drink amongst all cafes in Italy.
A coffee culture was born, very much similar to the "Penny Universities" (famous coffeehouses in Oxford and London, where for the price of a penny, you could enjoy a cup of coffee and hours of polite conversation and reasoned debate with the likes of Alexander Pope and Sir Isaac Newton).
Ingredients – what is really in your Cappuccino?
There is a consensus as to what defines a cappuccino today, and it consists of an espresso shot, steamed milk, and milk foam (frothed milk).
Since there are so many ratios and combinations available, making YOUR perfect cappuccino will prove to be a hard task, but don't worry, we'll cover it in a moment.
We have three major styles for making a cup of cappuccino. The traditional form is made with 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 frothed milk. Cappuccino Chiaro (a.k.a. light cappuccino or wet cappuccino) requires more steamed milk than frothed milk.
And last but not least the Cappuccino Scuro (a.k.a. dark cappuccino or dry cappuccino) goes with more frothed milk than steamed milk.
Understanding the Preparation
We just said cappuccino only has three ingredients, so basically if I put 1/3 espresso combined with 1/3 of steamed milk and another 1/3 of frothed milk that should do the trick right?
Well, there's a catch, though; there is absolutely no way to make a decent cappuccino without a decent espresso. I mean it, and I can't stress this enough. No matter how glorious your frothed milk is, without the perfect espresso, there is just no hope.
- A single shot of espresso must have 25-35 ml. No more, no less.
- It must be extracted from 6.5-7.5 g. of freshly grounded coffee beans.
- Coffee beans must be tamped (pressed into the filter holder) to 30 lbs. of pressure.
- Water must be purified and heated to a temperature of 190-198 F (just below boiling point).
- Pump pressure during extraction must be of 8-10 Bar.
- Extraction time should be 18-30 seconds.
And of course, it goes without saying, that to make the perfect espresso, you'll need the perfect espresso machine – and finding your perfect machine is a whole process in itself, so start that chapter here.
You can also invest in a cappuccino maker, check our top 5 machines here.
Time for the Perfect Cappuccino
Now that you are close to being an expert in the art know as the espresso, how about we learn about exactly WHAT makes the perfect cup of cappuccino? It’s as easy as following these steps:
- Prepare the espresso shot at the bottom of your cup.
- Steam the milk at no more than 160 F, because at hotter temperatures the milk changes its chemical structure and overall flavor.
- When the milk is properly steamed, start pouring it into the espresso at about 10cms away from the cup, exactly in the middle of it. This way the milk goes right through the Crema (little bubbly layer on top of the espresso) and blends nicely together.
- Just as the steamed milk is about to finish, move your jug closer to the cup until almost touching the drink. You will see how the milk white takes over, expanding from the center to the sides and creating the top layer.
- Traditionally, Italians don't top their cappuccinos with anything. However, a little cinnamon or powdered cocoa can be used for decoration.
Everyone has a different style and you may or may not love everyone’s way of doing things. The basics to a great cappuccino always apply however:
- Before making the espresso, make sure to remove residual water from your espresso machine.
- Because the espresso is such a tiny drink, make sure to keep it at the right temperature at all times, by preheating your cup with warm water before pouring it in.
- Milk froth is determined by the amount of protein the milk has, and NOT by the amount of fat (as popularly believed). Feel free to try different brand and types of milk to find your perfect fit.
- Always use cold milk for steaming and frothing. The colder it is, the more time you'll have to work with it, and the entire process will go more smoothly.
- In case you don't have a frother or a professional coffee machine, don't worry. Heat the milk at no more than 160 F. Then with the aid of a French Press (better known as a Coffee Plunger), go ahead and froth. What you are looking for is that the milk doubles in size, so roughly 30-40 seconds of plunging the press should do the trick.
Granted, not as easy as making a cup of plain, brewed coffee, but is most definitely worth it. Creating your perfect cup of cappuccino is a tough trial, and you'll need several do-overs. But the experience in itself is just so rewarding, you'll learn more about yourself and discover which variation you like best, be it traditional, wet, or dry.
Questions or comments? Maybe you have some of your own cappuccino-ninja tips that you’d like to share? Head to our homepage for more history lessons in the art of el café’