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Today celebrates the famous caffeinated Italian drink in American fashion with National Cappuccino Day. The history of this Italian cafe staple makes it seem like cappuccinos have been around forever, but espresso culture didn’t really take off in Italy until around the 1900s. Before then, Italian coffee was more similar to modern-day Turkish coffee, an espresso-sized drink with the coffee grounds still in it. Once espresso machines were popularized, a new coffee culture in Italy was born.
Cappuccinos are a delicious coffee drink made from espresso along with steamed and frothed milk. These two simple ingredients combine together to make a luxurious, silky beverage that is perfectly enjoyed along with a breakfast pastry. What makes a cappuccino “perfect” is the milk to espresso ratio—too little, and it isn’t rich enough, too much, and it becomes watered down.
The name cappuccino has a funny history. There are two main schools of thought on how cappuccinos got their name: One is that the circle of white, foamed milk on top of the brown espresso resembled a little cap. Cappuccino literally means “little cap” or “little hood” in Italian. The other theory is that the milk mixed with the espresso created the same light brown color of the Capuchin friars’ robes. Either way, the Italians found the aesthetics of the drink so striking that they named the beverage after the foam top they created.
In Italy, it is almost unheard of to drink a cappuccino after the morning is over. The idea is that the milk in the cappuccino inhibits digestion and thus interferes with your health. In the United States, unless you have a lactose intolerance, you should feel free to drink a cappuccino at any hour of the day. However, if you are in Italy, be warned that you will get many strange looks if you order a cappuccino after (or, heavens forbid, along with) your dinner. In the rest of the world, cappuccino culture is much more relaxed.
Here in the United States, cappuccinos were popularized in the 1980s and 1990s. These cappuccinos are similar to their Italian counterparts, but they have been adapted to suit more American tastes. Americanized cappuccinos are typically much larger and contain a higher milk-to-espresso ratio. The other main difference is that cappuccinos are often taken “to go,” whereas, in Italy, cappuccinos are always enjoyed in a cafe.
There are many variations on the classic cappuccino today. The holiday season is approaching, and so are a variety of flavored cappuccinos, such as peppermint and white chocolate. In Italy, a favorite cappuccino variation among young people is called a “Marocchino,” which is typically a cappuccino in a glass that may be filled partially with Nutella. A recent favorite is the “glitter cappuccino,” which hardly resembles a cappuccino at all and should be avoided at all costs for its lack of respect for Italian cappuccino traditions. To celebrate National Cappuccino Day, go to a local espresso bar, such as Hidden Grounds, and enjoy a classic.