In Search of the Golden Cappuccino

You might think that after an extensive tour of the US I'd have more to talk about than coffee. I do, but I'm saving it for another post. The tour was a truly incredible experience and we had a blast playing for new audiences, seeing old friends and making new ones… oh, and we had cupcakes. But on to the coffee.

Three to go from 9th St. Espresso, NYC

Three to go from 9th St. Espresso, NYC

Obviously I love coffee. But with the exception of rare cases, I only have two servings of caffeine a day. So I place a lot of value on each of these daily experiences. It might seem silly, but that's how I roll.

Lately I've been partial to soy cappuccinos. That's what I make at home and I've done a lot of research and experimentation trying to attain what I think is perfection. It never happens for me, but at least I have an idea of what I'm going for. That's more than I can say for the majority of baristas I encountered during Sunna Gunnlaugs Trio's bi-coastal North American tour.

The real issue at hand is textured milk vs. frothed milk. If you order a cappuccino in Starbucks the milk will be frothed. In and of itself this would be fine. Most people have no problem with a cappuccino from Starbucks, and neither did I until I moved to Iceland. For some reason, as secluded and isolated as Iceland is, they have some of the best baristas in the world. (I've heard this is in large part due to Sonja Grant's coffee school.) Whatever the reason, now I'm spoiled and I kind of knew I was setting myself up for disappointment on this tour.

The "barista" at Barista, Portland.

The "barista" at Barista, Portland.

The highpoint was the West Coast and specifically Portland, Oregon. We went to both Stumptown and Barista there and I was equally impressed at both. San Francisco was also right up there once I made it to Blue Bottle. I wanted to visit Sightglass but somehow got lost walking and came within a block of it. In Seattle I was curious to try the original Starbucks – I barely had enough time to glance at the line out the door. Sadly, we didn't have time to hit Caffe Vita either, which was highly recommended, so we went across the street from our venue to Bedlam which had the signs pictured below. Next was 9th Street Espresso in New York, although we were short on time so we got it to go which isn't really optimal.

No-frills signage at Bedlam in Seattle.

No-frills signage at Bedlam in Seattle.

All of the places mentioned above textured their milk (and soy milk is harder to texture than cow's milk). The basic physics at work for textured milk is centrifugal force; creating a whirlpool in the milk which keeps most of the bubbles from floating to the top and getting too big. However, there's also making sure it doesn't get too hot which will kill the texture as well. When the milk is done right the barista can pour it in such a way as to make designs on the surface of the drink, and the taste and feel of the cappuccino is worlds apart from it's frothed cousin.

I won't go into the low points, but I will say that in the end I was encouraged to see such a coffee awareness in certain parts of the country. I can only assume it will continue to grow and spread… hopefully to Virginia Beach really soon!

Serious textured milk found at Stumptown, Portland.

Serious textured milk found at Stumptown, Portland.

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