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In my previous post at the Well Fed Network, I wrote about Italian coffee concoctions that did a great job of extrapolating from a base of black brew. Clearly, the Italians have done an excellent job maximizing coffee in cocktails. But before the creative and perhaps, at times, cloying cocktails, was the simplicity of a black espresso with a twist of lime and the comforting capuccino.
For a point of reference, I am a Colombian-American and I like my coffee strong. I won't wax on about the need for that intensity other than to say that I appreciate it in other types of coffee. My experience with coffee in Colombia has been very low tech. I remember a cloth hung from a wire above my cup, coffee packed inside, and hot water poured over the top. Italian coffee, with its massive, complicated, steamy coffee making machines, seems to involve a whole lot more technology than what I grew up with.
Italian espresso machines cross the line from utility to high octane machinery. The barrista, behind the steaming fury of the milk frother, hidden with my little cup of espresso, would likely feel just as comfortable adjusting the spark plugs of a Maserati, while it's still running.
But it is very hard to complain as you look down into the creamy foam-edged carmel depths of a good espresso or the delicate felt on the surface of a cappuccino. Leaving the gleaming mass of high-tech coffee machine behind, I can sit in the café and sip divine coffee beauty, too content to compare, only to enjoy.
Just how does the barrista harness that machine that seems like its bulging with steam to make tiny little potent espressos and whispy froths for lattes? From the experts on Italian coffee, illy, comes an exacting set of directions for making a cappuccino, Italian style.
Cappuccino Italian Style
The ceramic container - or, if not available, one made out of stainless steel - should be twice as large as the volume of milk to be heated; in addition, the container's optimal diameter is 1/3 of its height.
The temperature of the cup is irrelevant, but the milk's temperature should not exceed 70°C (158°F). It should never be heated a second time without at least adding some fresh milk. It is heated up by means of the steam nozzle of the "espresso machine" after discharging any condensed water which may have collected in the nozzle. The foam should be fine and dry, compact and lasting.
1/3 espresso coffee
1/3 milk (preferably whole milk)
1. Pour the necessary quantity of milk in the container.
2. Discharge any condensed water which may have collected in the steam nozzle by opening the steam tap for 2-3 seconds.
3. Immerse the steam nozzle in the milk and open the tap.
4. Once the foam has reached the desired consistency and volume, prepare the espresso in a large cup (max 120cc).
5. Pour the milk and the foam in the cup with the espresso coffee, keeping in mind that the proportions are 1/3 for each component.
a. To obtain dryer foam, the pressure of the boiler should be above 0.7 atmospheres; hit the container (with the milk foam) hard on the counter a couple of times before you pour it.
b. To obtain a fine cream, use a spoon to remove the layer of large bubbles after the first heating, restricting the operation to the foam only.
c. Prepare the milk before the espresso if you wish to have the center of foam colored. Proceed in the opposite manner if you wish the foam to obtain a colored contour.
d. To give a greater intensity to the taste of the espresso, prepare two extra strong espresso coffee ("ristretti"). Thanks to the low caffeine content of illy coffee, even in this case 130-140 mg of caffeine per cappuccino are never exceeded.
e. Refrigerate the milk container.
Cocoa powder, though optional, is sometimes sprinkled on top of the cappuccino, often to cover imperfections.
(FYI: Ristretto is a very short shot of espresso coffee. A normal (double) espresso shot is a 2 fl.oz or 0.6 DL extraction over 25-30 seconds. A (double) ristretto is a 1-1.5 fl.oz (0.3-0.45 DL) extraction with the same amount of ground coffee over the same period of time. Ristretti is the plural of ristretto. Source.)
Whew, that is some protocol for using a set of Maserati spark plugs to make a cup of coffee.
While you are at it, you may wish to indulge in extravagant scientifically rigorous caffeinated adventures as do Dr.s Andrew Smith and David Thomas, scientists in the Department Of Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University, UK. They have an interesting site that discusses Coffee Science and the vagaries of the infusion of coffee solubles. (Check out the following PDF of a scientific article that discusses the extraction kinetics of coffee brewing, at length. The Infusion of Coffee Solubles into Water: Effect of Particle Size and Temperature.)
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