Bringing Europe Home

Budget Barista Series: Cappuccino

You don’t have to go to Italy to get a great cappuccino (and you don’t have to stand in line at Starbucks, either—but in keeping with the theme of this blog, I’m evoking Italy).


Cappuccino is an espresso based drink, made of one-third espresso and equal parts steamed milk and foamed milk.  There are various stories explaining the origins of the name, all having to do with the Capuchin monks.  Some say that the drink is named after the color of the robes that the monks wore; some say that it is named for the hoods on their robes. (Cappuccino means little hood in Italian, and a cappuccino has a little cap of foamed milk on top.)  There is even a legend which has been circulating for centuries that a Capuchin monk invented the drink.  We cannot definitively say why cappuccino is known by this name, but it does appear that the good monks had something to do with it.  The drink became wildly popular in Italy, and Italians make their breakfast of it.  A coffee/milk drink is the way to start the day in Italy, and I do have fond memories (from my stint as live-in in babysitter for an Italian family) of drinking a very milk-heavy cappuccino or a caffelatte along with a pane dolce at the dining table each morning. It was a perfectly satisfying way to start the day.


While it would be a personal thrill to have a genuine cappuccino machine in my kitchen, I have neither the budget nor the counter space for one.  So, I make do with three pieces of fairly cheap and easily stored equipment: a stove top espresso maker, a milk saucer, and an aerolatte.

I purchased my Bialetti espresso maker from Target for under $25.00.

I found this milk saucer at Home Goods for about $5.00.  It is part of the Palm Restaurant kitchen collections. While any small saucepan will do, this one has a copper bottom, 0.5L and 0.75L markings, and handy pouring spouts, making it especially user-friendly.

Although I was first introduced to the aerolatte by a friend in Munich, I purchased mine here in the States at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for about $10.00 (I had a coupon!)  This is also a very useful tool for making hot-chocolate, by the way.

This is what I do.  First, I make the espresso.  A good, strong, quality coffee is key for a tasty cappuccino.  After all, this is the base of your drink. Next comes the milk. Not having a genuine milk steamer, I heat the milk on the stove.  Cappuccino purists out there will be quick to point out that this will not make a true steamed-milk cappuccino, but I’m winging it here, and the drink turns out just fine.  And while we’re on this steamy subject, I will tell you that there are quite a few products out there that call themselves “milk steamers” (I had my eye on one myself), but on close inspection, I realized that they are not true steamers either; they just heat and froth milk.  So, they essentially create, with a hundred-dollar device, what I create with a pot and a wand.  So there you go.  Bellman is one manufacturer who does make a true stove top milk steamer.  The aerolatte cappuccino-making method consists of frothing the entire amount of heated milk for your drink.  I like to foam part, then froth part–and get the most out of my 40 bucks worth of equipment.

So, I fill my cappuccino cup almost half-way with milk. (I use 2% milk.) I then pour the milk into the saucer and set it on high heat.  This is one pot you do want to watch, because it will come to a boil, and quickly! When the milk starts to steam on the surface it will boil in a matter of seconds, and if you’re not hovering over it at the ready, you’ll have a burnt milk mess on your hands (and your stove top). I let it heat to a foam, then I pour a little more than half of this heated milk into my cup, pour in the hot espresso, and then focus on the milk again.  You could set the milk back on the burner to let it foam up again, and then spoon that on top of the coffee, and thus be done with it at this point…..

Or, you could have at it with the aerolatte.  I tilt the pot and whir away, until the remaining milk has doubled in volume and is somewhat stiff and frothy.   I then pour that on top of the coffee.  Being high maintenance gal, I also top my cappuccino with a dusting of cinnamon or shavings of chocolate or nutmeg—or some combinations thereof.

It’s really not all that complicated or time-consuming.  The espresso is percolated in about 5 minutes, and the milk can be steamed during that time.  Truthfully, this entire process takes less than 10 minutes, and the result is a fine and gratifying cup of cappuccino.

It’s what’s for breakfast.


  1. Silvia

    We have the same Bialetti espresso machine. We used to have Nespresso, but after they increased the price of the coffee again, we switched back to Bialetti.

    • Yes, one of the beauties of the Bialetti is that you can use your own coffee.

  2. I’d like to have an aerolatte, and those stove top espresso makers are really good. This is a good idea as an alternative to a big expensive coffee machine.

    • Glad you think the stove top espresso makers are good, since tea does appear to be your beverage of choice. There is quite a debate “brewing” as to whether or not the stove top device produces “true” espresso. 🙂

      • I first came across them in a youth hostel in New Zealand and was really surprised by how good they were. You’re right that tea is normally my beverage of choice, but I do quite often like a decaf latte, especially in the afternoons.

  3. June

    I have enjoyed every post on this blog! Each one has been something of real interest to me. I never attempted cappuccino because I thought it would be too time consuming to get to the finished product. But YOU make it look easy and in 10 minutes! Wow! I can’t wait to try it! June

    • I’m so pleased that you find these posts enjoyable and intereting, June! And, I’m glad that you think this looks easy–I thought it might appear a bit intimidating, but I did have to outline the steps. So, let us know how that cappuccino turns out!

  4. Well, I can’t wait to hear how it turns out! Here’s to new traditions!

  5. Betsy

    I can’t wait to get home and do this…it’s going to be my Saturday morning tradition from now on…

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