This entire process takes less than five minutes once you get the hang of it. It does take a bit of time to master, but once you do, you will be able to enjoy great coffee in your own home every day. And you will impress your friends.
Parts: (1) a macchinetta (I prefer Bialetti Brikka), see http://tinyurl.com/ptsuhsy; (2) a French Press (I prefer Bodum Chambord), see http://tinyurl.com/lt8yq9h; (3) a tamper, see http://tinyurl.com/lyv7ndf; and (4) coffee (I often use the Starbucks French Roast or Espresso ground at 3 ½ on their system, or 4 on my home grinder). There are four steps: (1) preparation; (2) brewing/microwaving milk; and (3) foaming the milk; and (4) combining the coffee, foam and steamed milk to make the cappuccino.
The macchinetta has three parts, the top basket, the basin, and the coffee holder. The top basket has a water mark. Fill to that level, and then pour that amount into the basin. (Do not fill the basin above that level as it will make the espresso weak.) Then spoon in a heaping mound of the ground coffee. Use the tamper to push gently in at the sides, and then push down with moderate pressure. This will depress the coffee level below the rim. Once this is done, clear any grinds from the rim with your finger. This step is important; otherwise you will not get a good seal. Then screw the top on moderately tightly. Place on your stove burner and prepare to put on a relatively low flame (if gas) or just low to moderate low if electric, but not yet. Now remove the carafe from the metal holder. (You will never need the metal holder, but you might like the look for storage.) Fill the carafe about 1/3 of the way with your preferred milk. I prefer skim or 1% (you can mix skim and 2% or whole, to taste). Leave out the basket piece, which fits in the caraf to push down, until after you heat the milk. At this point, you will move to the second stage.
At the same time, begin brewing the coffee (with the lid open) and heating the milk in the microwave for 2 ½ minutes. The coffee will likely take about 3 to 3 ½ minutes, and this works well as it gives time to froth the milk. When the milk is heated, remove it. Then gently place the mesh piece into the carafe until press down until it hits the milk line.
Start to gently pump the milk downward. You will observe that the milk line, which is becoming a foam line, will go higher and higher within the carafe. If you do this steadily for about 10-15 pumps, you will have that line go all the way to the top. This takes a bit of practice, but the secret is to keep the mesh piece even with the top of the milk/foam line when you bring it back up after a pump. The more you pump without bringing in new air, the denser the foam becomes. This is what you want, very dense foam.
Combining it all
By now, your coffee will be brewing, and you will know because you will hear it. Once it starts, turn the flame down to a simmer, and then when it is done, turn the flame off completely. Close the lid on the macchinetta. Place the macchinetta on a dish or hotplate. Have your cup ready (a large one if just for yourself or two medium size ones if you are making two cups).
Pour in all coffee into the large cup or split over two cups. If you used a Brikka, you will notice the crema, which are the micro bubbles formed at the very top of the espresso. Using the tamper helps to produce better crema.
Remove the mesh piece from the carafe. This part is important. Look at the milk/foam. The secret to good cappuccino is in the foam, and the best, meaning the densest, foam is immediately above the milk line. The foam becomes less dense the higher up from there. You can stir the foam at the top a bit to get rid of the weaker foam, and when you get skilled at this, you will have uniformly good foom. When starting out, a good trick is to scoop from the bottom of the foam (to the line that separates the milk from the foam) to get the densest foam.
With a large spoon, scoop as much foam is you wish. True cappuccino is 1/3 coffee, 1/3 foam, 1/3 milk. Personally, I prefer more foam/less milk, and typically do 1/3 coffee, ½ foam, and 1/6 milk. (When I order out, I ask for a “dry” or “extra dray” skim cappuccino.”) After you scoop in the foam, pour in the steamed milk, which remains at the bottom of the carafe, again in one cup or two. You will see the foam rise, and depending on how much you pour in, it can do so above the level of the cups, which is always a nice touch.
Final steps: You can add cinnamon or ground cocoa on top. One way to get the latter is to take three chocolate chips and crush them using the tines of a fork near the base. A few presses produces a nice fine or course cocoa, depending on your prference. You can also buy a cinnamon grinder, which I like because it gives nice uneven texture to the grinds.
A couple of additional comments/tips:
1. For those who use the Brikka, please note how it works. It is a clever device. The loose piece on the top basket does not come off, but it creates the pressure that generates the crema, a sign of a really good espresso shot. It is the only stove top piece that I know of with this feature.
2. I recommend pouring in about half an inch of water into the top part of the macchinetta immediately after you pour the espresso into the cups. That makes later cleaning much easier. Otherwise the coffee dries out, and it is a bit tricky to clean given that loose piece. To clean, unscrew the basin from the top piece after it cools. You can run it under cold tap water and it will cool off fairly quickly, or you can simply wait. Remove the coffee from the basket by flicking it with your wrist into the trash. Do you scoop out with a spoon or you will scratch it. After rinsing each piece, gently dry off with a paper towel, including inside the basin and at the top and bottom of the top piece.
3. You can put the two main parts from the French press, the carafe and the mesh piece, in in a dishwasher, top rack. DO NOT put any part of the Brikka or any other macchinetta in the dishwasher. Also, you don’t need soap to clean it. Just rinse and dry.
4. If you buy a grinder, be sure you get one that allows a consistent grind, with settings.
I hope you enjoy great coffee!
Next up: How to make a great pour over. Stay tuned!