Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Coffee Snob Returns

I am a cappuccino connoisseur. I am obsessed with them. Caffeine is my drug. Other people, they smoke weed, they drink 'til dawn in bars, they chainsmoke American Spirits. Me, I get high, silly and cracked-out on caffeine and I love it. I love Friday nights in particular, because I know that I don't have to go to work the next day and I can grab a cappucc from my favorite corner coffee spot in Greenpoint and stay up late, giddy and jittery.

Let's talk about cappuccinos. Or cappuccini, as is correct in plural Italian form. A proper cappuccino contains foam. Not milky bubbles, not just steamed milk, but thick milk foam. That is the inherent different between a cappuccino and a latte (or rather, caffe latte). A cappuccino contains primarily foam (with the addition of some steamed milk being acceptable) and espresso while a latte contains steamed milk and espresso. The knowledgeable coffee drink makers, James at Greenpoint Coffee House being one of the best that I've discovered in New York, steam the milk and then continue to tap the metal pitcher on the counter several times to get rid of the bubbles, making a thicker, headier foam.

I always wonder if I am in the right place when I read "cappucino" or "capucino" or "capuccino" on the menu. You'd be surprised at how many nice, upstanding places misspell this word.

Anyway, Starbucks (that fast food chain of lesser quality coffee beverages, where the espresso seems to become more watery by the minute) is fairly inconsistent on this point. I've had cappuccinos that turn out to be lattes because I doubt that the staff is really trained on the difference, with the occasional and rare exception to the rule. Once, I had a barista at a Starbucks in Oakton, Virginia tell me that she didn't understand what the difference was between a latte and a cappuccino. Dunkin Donuts also seems to be mildly aware of the difference, with a foam-like substance hovering on top of their greyish cappuccino, when I've been forced to settle. Even the automated Nescafe cappuccino machines in Ecuador do it right.

So the other day, I went to a new seemingly upscale coffee place in Long Island City in Queens. I ordered a cappuccino, and watched, somewhat distractedly, as the man behind the counter poured the milk straight out of the canister without steaming it or anything. I thought perhaps I had missed the steaming, and the foam-creating. I removed the lid only to see what looked like basically a dark cup of coffee - no foam, not even much milk. Not your normal New Yorker, I am always hesitant to complain. I walked out to the bus stop and sampled my drink. After realizing I just wasn't going to drink it as is, I headed back inside. I said "I'm sorry to bother you, but I ordered a cappuccino. Aren't they supposed to be foamy?" The gentleman behind the counter said "Well, yes, but we don't do the foam thing here." I said, "Then it can't really be called a cappuccino, then, can it?" The two people behind the counter looked at each other. "Well, if you really want foam, we can do it that way this time." This time? People, please, get my drug right.


Monica LeMoine said...

I totally get the coffee snob thing! Holy cow, I'm with on you that. Seattle is the nexus of coffee snobbery.

jillkitchen said...

I think I drank too many cappuccinos around the time of that post - I'm now on tea instead due to an excessive amount of coffee jitters. But man, does the smell of good espresso make me happy.

Rachel Dacus said...

I enjoyed this, being a caf-oholic myself. I'm so sorry they don't have a Peet's in New York - or do they? Because no place gets coffee (or tea) like Peet's. And the smell of the shop is simply divine. You can get jitters without even drinking anything.