The Fine Grind
Simple steps to a rich cappuccino
Coffee: that divine morning elixir that tastes so good especially when you have not overeaten the night before. Maybe I should make that personal; I find that my morning mana tastes so much better on an almost empty stomach. I love it both black or even better with rich frothy milk. The key for me is sugar, too much of it unfortunately. Many a flight attendant has raised their eye when I ask for three extra sugars to go with my cup after a meal. I am going to blame this sugar high on living in Italy and in Spain back in the 1980s. Everyone did it.
Anyway, over time, I have sipped hundreds of coffees in search of the perfect rich, dark brew. With some bare bone knowledge about beans, that there are two main ones: the Arabica and the Robusta, I don't feel the need to become a genus/species expert because all I want is just a rich, fairly strong, smooth cup of coffee. Simple, hands-on taste testing over the years has worked. There are so many choices out there. For example, I have had some unique Ethiopian and Sumatran Arabica, but these smaller producers are more difficult to find back home.
The Arabica bean was originally from the Ethiopian highlands but is now grown around the world. The Robusta bean, central/Sub Sahara Africa origin, is considered stronger with higher caffeine; yet, it is often blended with the Arabica in lesser amounts. Having lived in the land of expressos and cappuccinos, my coffee of choice has come around to the Italians and their manner of roasting the beans. I switch between the fine grind illy and another company called Caffè Vergnano 1882. The latter was discovered at a small Italian restaurant in Grenada and, with a little shove from my husband to approach the great chef and enquire, followed by a little searching online, we were able to order it here in Vermont. enjoybettercoffee.com click here is an informative site from which to order with confidence.
Another link in this caffeine chain is the actual machine that is going to create your brew. After all those cappuccinos and expressos and macchiatos in Europe, I realized that most households have that 'screw-together-water-in-the-bottom-coffee-in-the-middle-stove-top pot'- the one that sits and sometimes tips on its gas burner. I advocated for these for a long time and thought it unnecessary to spend hundreds of dollars on the shiny, stainless machines that take up vast parts of a kitchen counter. The only important maneuver is not to let the coffee perk all the way up inside; the essence is the rich part, not the rest of the light brown, sludgy water that follows. However, two things happened: one day I decided to use the fine grind expresso in the Cuisinart drip maker and essentially created a gorgeous rich cup of coffee (measurements being one tablespoon of coffee for one cup of water plus one extra tablespoon of coffee for good measure.). This is the present morning coffee routine and I am quite sure that the drip maker need not be restricted to a Cuisinart.
Then, along came Nespresso, a brilliant Swiss contraption transforming a tidy pod for a cup of intensely rich, beautiful coffee cream. The Roma pod. Wow. The origin? Central and South American Arabica and Robusta- Just when you thought you would stay loyal to the Italians! I do admit that the downside is the price ratio compared to a drip maker in this case. Those pods add up and the price is somewhat more than double a regular cup.
When it comes to the cappuccino, the milk froth is the key. After trying all sorts of frother tools, the Nespresso Aeroccino milk frother arrived and there was no going back. It comes with two working rings. The wire ring is THE weapon to insure thick Italian froth. The small propeller does more of a hand-held whisk froth- something more like bubbly café au lait texture. In our area the milk that works best is either Hood or Organic Valley- Pour the whole milk in until you just see a part of the top of the propeller; this amount eventually accounts for roughly a 10-ounce cup of cappuccino. So now, any time a friend comes to visit mid morning, a cappuccino made with drip coffee maker and whole milk in the Nespresso frother is a beloved success. As a reliable ratio, the one third coffee and two thirds milk is ideal. (Many people like the powdered cacao or cinamon as a topper too.)
This cappuccino business is all highly personal, of course, and then there are individual taste buds that step up to the plate, not to mention those who start in with their milk opinions-some who swear by skim/1% for light four-story foam as opposed to a deeper, thick and rich froth from whole milk. I remain a purist and simply add: Grazie, enough said!
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