What Is Your Idea of the Perfect Cappuccino?

Erin Hulbert is a New York-based barista originally from the coffee homeland of Seattle. Every Thursday morning she will be checking in here to let us know what's on her (caffeinated) mind.


[Photographs: Erin Hulbert]

20100217-milkfoaming.jpgMy formative cappuccino years were spent working at Espresso Vivace in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood where I studied under David Schomer and formulated my perfect cappuccino memories. This is where I learned that texture is the key. A thick velvety pillow of microfoam with no visible grain is the perfect avenue for accentuating the most sweetness in espresso. This texture folds effortlessly when joining with the espresso creating a taste and tactile sensation. When teaching the techniques of milk texturizing, I always refer to the end product swirling in the pitcher to resemble a fresh can of white paint; thick, glossy and bubble free.

But that's just my perfect cappuccino memory. I have found that the perfect "anything" tends to evoke a fond memory, experience, or state of mind. I can't tell you how many die-hard cappuccino drinkers literally beg for what we professional baristas refer to as sea foam, a bubbly mash of froth that sits idly upon its espresso. This is a typical Starbucks phenomenon, also referred to as "second wave coffee," and reminds me of my childhood as a Seattle native wondering around Pike Place Market back in the '80s.

In Europe, the essence of a cappuccino is the amount of milk diluting the espresso rather than a specific texture. The term itself signifies the size, unlike here the States where everything comes in large or small, short or tall. These intelligent beverage connoisseurs like to keep it simple, and best of all, everything is "for here." Un café "to go" is simply enjoyed at the stand up bar instead of at a table. You won't find any travel mugs or paper cups in European cafes. Everything is served out of porcelain, which accentuates the delicate nuances of the espresso and saves the planet all at once—how deliciously PC.

I've found that when dealing with the perfect cappuccino, perfection lies in the taste bud of the beholder. For myself, a second wave cappuccino conjures up memories of childhood, a European cappuccino takes me back to my travels, and an artisanal American cappuccino—in porcelain of course—reminds me of home.


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About the Author: Erin Hulbert, a native Seattleite, has been in the coffee world for well over a decade working with and learning from some of the most influential coffee minds in the industry. She now lives in the West Village in New York City, where she teaches, consults, and recently finished her first book Finding the Grind: A Barista Guide, due out this year. She also can be found pouring lattes as one of three trainers at Joe on Waverly Place. Read more from Erin at her blog Finding the Grind.