There is a lot of confusion out there about cappuccinos. Should they be sweet or not? What exactly is a cappuccino, and what does it taste like? What’s the difference between a cappuccino and other popular coffee types?
The first and most common question people ask is: “Should cappuccinos be sweet?” The answer is, it depends. Cappuccinos traditionally have no added sugar beyond the natural sugars in milk, so depending on your taste buds and sugar preferences, this could be just the right amount of sweet or, if you’re more of a frappuccino fan, too bitter to take.
What is a Cappuccino?
A cappuccino is an Italian coffee drink that consists of milk and espresso. Traditionally, it is made by layering one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third foam in a porcelain cappuccino cup.
What Does a Cappuccino Taste Like?
Cappuccinos are generally considered to be well balanced in flavor, with the bold taste of coffee complimenting the sweetness of the milk and the creaminess of the foam. If you find your cappuccino to be too bitter, it could just be a preference, or it could be burnt coffee beans.
Over-roasted coffee beans tend to taste overly bitter and require the masking of sugar. Popular fast food chains and coffee joints like Starbucks often suffer this criticism from coffee enthusiasts.
How is a Cappuccino Made?
Traditionally a cappuccino is made using an espresso machine. The barista will brew 1-2 ounces of espresso and then use the attached wand to steam and foam 2-4 ounces of milk. The milk is then poured directly on top of the espresso
In some countries, syrups are added to increase sweetness or add complexity of flavor and then topped with cocoa powder, cinnamon, or sugar.
Different Kinds of Cappuccino
- An iced cappuccino is made in the same method but with cold brew espresso and frothed milk to keep the drink cold.
- Wet cappuccinos are made with more milk and less foam. These are more similar to a cafe latte, with a creamier flavor.
- Dry cappuccinos use less milk and more foam to focus on a stronger, bolder espresso taste.
- Flavored cappuccinos are much more common in America and combine flavored syrups with sugary toppings to create seasonal drinks or fun flavors like chocolate peppermint or vanilla raspberry.
Cappuccino vs Latte
Frequently coffee lovers confuse cappuccinos and lattes, as the two are very similar. They are both made with an espresso machine and consist of only milk and espresso.
Lattes, however, have a higher ratio of milk to espresso, closer to 2:1, whereas cappuccinos tend to stay in an equal ratio.
Lattes also tend to have less foam, with the focus being more on steamed milk.
How to Sweeten a Cappuccino
If you want to add a little sweetness to your cappuccino, there are plenty of options. You can mix sugar syrup with your espresso just after brewing or add sweet toppings such as cocoa powder or cinnamon.
Some might add sweetened condensed milk as a much sweeter and creamier version of a cappuccino.
You can experiment with different flavored syrups and toppings to create flavorful drinks with additional sweetness.
How Sweet Should a Cappuccino Be?
Cappuccinos are considered low sugar options and are only mildly sweet, but there are plenty of cafés that step away from tradition and mix it up with flavored syrups and toppings such as cocoa powder or cinnamon.
A lot of that difference is cultural. The traditional Italian method is different from the more global methods developed primarily in the United States.
American cappuccinos are much sweeter than Italian cappuccinos. Americans love their added sugar, so you can expect to find flavored cappuccinos loaded with artificially sweetened milk or milk alternatives, flavored sugar syrups, and sweet complimentary spices like cocoa powder or cinnamon.
Starbucks, the largest coffee chain in the world and an American staple, does not add syrups to their cappuccinos unless requested, but it is common for milk and especially milk alternatives in America to be artificially sweetened in the carton.
Wherever you are outside of Italy, you’re likely to find different creations claiming to be cappuccinos but using wildly different methods. Some coffee shops use brewed coffee rather than espresso or instant coffee mixed with powdered milk.
Some shops lose the traditional 1:1:1 ratio of milk, foam, and espresso by turning what should be a 3-6 ounce drink with 1-2 ounces of espresso into an 8-ounce or even 20-ounce drink with extra milk to make up the difference.
American coffee shops may use a different technique for the foaming process, creating a thick foam instead of a frothy microfoam like in Italy. They are also much more likely to offer your coffee in paper to-go cups for convenience instead of a porcelain cup.
Traditional Italian cappuccino
The Italian cappuccino is much more focused on technique and subtle flavor. There’s a focus on using espresso machines rather than any kind of brewed coffee machine and a special technique to create the microfoam that is light and airy with no visible bubbles.
You’re also not likely to find any add-ons to your cappuccino, no syrups or cocoa powder here. Culturally, cappuccinos are considered a morning-only beverage, with straight espresso being more appropriate for the late afternoon and evening.
They are typically drunk in a preheated porcelain cappuccino mug and served with a sweet pastry, staying within a moderate size of 5-6 ounces, aligning with the 1:1:1 ratio.
Italians will also serve cappuccino drinks to children as a milder, milky alternative to espresso.
Would you consider cappuccinos sweet? It really is dependent on the person’s preference.
While some people may praise the traditionalist method as the only viable way to have a cappuccino, ultimately it’s up to you.
Make your cappuccino as sweet or as subtle as you want, order the cappuccino at your favorite café, or better yet, experiment at home and make them yourself.