It can be easy to believe that Starbucks coffee is a world away from the stuff we drink at home. The thick, foamy textures and rich flavors are a huge step from instant coffee.
Nothing is quite as impressive as the bubbly and thick cappuccino with its layers of frothy milk and dark, intense coffee taste. If this is your go-to order when you visit any coffee shop then you’ll be pleased to learn that it is possible to make this drink at home.
You can make a Starbucks quality cappuccino in the comfort of your own home using a variety of equipment options to achieve that thick, delicious brew. You only need two ingredients, coffee and milk, and a bit of know-how to get started.
Before we dive right into the method, let’s first look at the cappuccino and what makes it so special.
The Starbucks cappuccino is a popular coffee drink that originated in Italy. Of course, this drink isn’t unique to Starbucks and can be found on the menu at most coffee shops. It’s made by combining espresso with steamed milk and milk froth so has a very light and airy feel. It’s similar to a latte but the foamed milk is lighter and fluffier so you end up with stronger coffee flavors standing out.
You only need two ingredients to produce a cappuccino, milk, and coffee. The thing that really makes the cappuccino is the way it’s brewed.
To get a rich coffee flavor that stands up well to the milk foam ideally you should use a ground coffee that’s intended for espresso making. Starbucks has an espresso roast variety of coffee beans for sale that their baristas use to make their delicious coffees. The darker roast means it’s full-bodied and rich in intense caramel notes that help create a strong coffee to pair beautifully with frothy milk.
Of course, you can use any espresso coffee you enjoy, it doesn’t have to be a Starbuck brand. I’m only recommending theirs if you want your brewed coffee to taste as close to the Starbucks recipe as possible.
To create the thick microfoam texture that transforms any espresso shot into a thick and fluffy cappuccino, it’s best to use whole milk. The fats help it hold that foamy texture and it’s best to use cold milk when you start steaming it.
If you don’t take dairy then fear not! There are loads of great alternatives for those who are lactose intolerant, have milk allergies, or are vegan. You can use non-dairy alternatives like soy, oat, coconut, almond milk, or any kind you enjoy best.
I would recommend using a barista blend of non-dairy milk as these contain stabilizers to help them foam up and hold their shape. You can use regular, non-dairy milk but you will find that the texture doesn’t end up thick as you get at a coffee shop.
There are many ways to brew espresso drinks but if you want it as close as possible to the real deal then you need an espresso machine and steam wand. I’ll explain why these are a good idea and I’ll also give some alternative options for at-home brewing.
A true espresso machine is able to reach at least 9 bars of pressure although some coffee connoisseurs swear you need 15 bars to brew the best shots of espresso. You can use a manual, semi-automatic, automatic, or super-automatic model to brew the coffee. These different models do vary in the skill required from you and most require some practice to get your espresso just right.
If you don’t have an espresso machine handy then there are other ways to make strong coffee that will rival this brew method. Some instant pod machines make espresso-like coffee like the Nespresso machines. You can use a Moka pot (also known as the stovetop espresso maker) which makes a very rich, dark, espresso-like brew. The Aeropress is another good option to create coffee that is similar to espresso, easily and on a tight budget.
A steam wand is the best option for creating a seriously thick microfoam that’s best for latte art. To steam milk is to inject a stream of pressurized steam into the liquid which both heats and aerates it. The force of this process makes the milk extremely light yet thick in texture so that it stands up in peaks like whipped cream.
Similar to espresso brewing, steaming milk is a bit of an art. It does take some practice to get good at this technique and another downside is that steam wands are pretty expensive to buy. Espresso machines often come with the option of a steam wand attachment but again, not everyone will have one of these at home.
A great alternative to the steam wand is a milk frother jug. These act to swirl and move the milk to aerate it and sometimes heat the milk for you as well. A more compact version of this is a milk frother wand that you introduce to your jug of milk to aerate it.
You can also froth milk using a variety of easy methods from shaking it up in a jar to rapidly pressing the plunger of a french press through it. These methods are very easy to do but don’t create the microfoam needed to make a drink similar to a cappuccino.
How To Make A Cappuccino
To start with you need to brew your espresso. A double shot is typically used in Starbucks so grind up around 18g of coffee beans to a fine grind. It’s best to use a burr grinder to get a really even grind. Add to the portafilter basket and tamp down.
Pre-heat the group head of the espresso machine by quickly running some hot water through it straight into the drip tray or a spare mug. Fix your portafilter in place and turn on the machine. So espresso makers will do most of this for you whereas others need you to time the pour and turn them on and off again.
An espresso shot usually takes around 30 seconds to brew.
Discard the coffee grounds in the compost and wipe the machine down. Now turn on the steam wand to heat up.
For a double shot (2 ounces) of coffee, you’ll need 10-14 ounces of milk (300-400ml) to make a tall or a grande-sized drink. You need a milk frothing jug that can hold twice this volume as you only want to fill the jug halfway.
For a tall cappuccino, fill a 20-ounce milk jug with 10 ounces of cold milk. Ensure the steam wand is hot and ready to go and switch it on (over an empty mug or the drip tray) before you introduce it to the milk so that it discards any water sitting in it. Wait until there is a fine stream of steam produced and switch it off again.
Now introduce the tip of the steam wand to your jug of milk and hold the jug at a slight angle. Turn the steamer on full and lower the jug until the tip is just at the surface of the milk. You should hear a characteristic ‘kissing’ sound. This is where all the air is introduced so keep the jug balanced at this point until the milk has doubled in volume. Lower the wand into the liquid and continue steaming until the milk reaches 60C (140F) or just too hot to touch.
Turn off the wand and tap the jug firmly on the countertop to remove any large air bubbles. Make sure you flush out and clean the steam wand!
You want to top your coffee with 50% steamed milk and finish it with 50% milk froth so this is the goal to aim for when steaming it.
Size Of Drink
Starbucks has a variety of drink sizes available to order and these will influence how much coffee and milk you use.
The smallest option, a short is only 8 ounces. It uses 1 ounce of coffee to 7 ounces of milk.
The tall is 12 ounces and you can use a single or double shot of coffee then top it up to this volume with milk.
A grande is 16 ounces and uses a 2 ounce double shot of espresso plus 14 ounces of milk.
The venti is served as 20 ounces with a double shot of espresso plus 18 ounces of milk.
An iced coffee venti uses 3 shots and is served in 24-ounce servings.
You can customize your cappuccino recipe to suit your preferred taste and texture. If you like a creamier drink then you can opt for a ‘wet’ cappuccino that contains more liquid milk. If you prefer the light and fluffy feel then a ‘dry’ option contains more milk foam.
You can switch the coffee for decaf if you prefer this and of course, as previously mentioned, switch the milk for any kind you like best.
Top the drink with cinnamon or cocoa powder and enjoy!
The sweetness of a cappuccino is all down to the milk used. Most recipes don’t call for any sweeteners to be added but if you prefer a little sweetness then you can add this as well. A spoonful of sugar, a pump of flavored syrup, or any sugar-free sweetener is fine to add.
You can even add chocolate-flavored syrup to make a mocha drink.
Similar Starbucks drinks like lattes and macchiatos (especially the ultra-sweet, caramel macchiato) are sometimes served with whipped cream on top. Whilst, it’s not ideal for your cholesterol levels, it sure does taste good! The thick foamy milk in a cappuccino doesn’t really need cream but if you’re feeling decadent then feel free to add some.
You can make your very own Starbucks cappuccino at home but to get those lovely rich flavors and textures you do really need an espresso machine. If you enjoy drinking coffee every day then it’s definitely worth the investment as the money you save on buying drinks quickly adds up. The great thing about making this drink at home is you can customize it completely to suit your tastes.
Best of luck with your next cappuccino brewing attempt and I hope you’re now converted to homemade coffee.