Do You Have To Use Espresso Beans To Make Cappuccino or Latte?


Do You Have To Use Espresso Beans To Make Cappuccino or Latte header image

Got some random beans and are wondering if you can make cappuccino, latte or other milk based drinks with them? Here’s what you want to know.

Cappuccino or latte is made by adding milk to espresso. Espresso is a brewing method, not a type of beans and therefore can be made with any type of bean as long as they’re ground finely for espresso machines. Dark roasted beans will produce a more dark and bitter taste which works well with dairy.

Below we’ll go into why that is and what you can need to make good cappuccino and latte.

What Kind Of Coffee Is Used For Cappuccino?

Milk is a very important part of any cappuccino or latte. But just foamed or warm milk alone is not enough. What makes a cappuccino a cappuccino is the coffee that’s also in there. What kind of coffee is used for cappuccino and latte?

Proper cappuccino is made with espresso. If you look at a cup of cappuccino, about, 2/3 is milk (including the +-1.5 cm of foam on top) and 1/3 is espresso (1 shot). So you can see that the espresso is an essential part. The same goes for latte although the ratios are different.

Can’t you just use normal coffee to make cappuccino? No, that won’t have the same result. A good cappuccino for me has the correct balance between the bitter, dark coffee flavor and the rich creamy milk with the silky soft foam on top. You need to start with that strong, intense espresso so you can get that balance after adding milk.

Suggested: Does espresso have milk in it?

If you’d start with pour over coffee and make a cappuccino in the normal ratios, you will have almost no coffee flavor left. Because you only use a little bit of coffee and add quite a bit of milk, you want that coffee to be very strong and intense. Espresso is about the only type of coffee that can do this.

Also, milk is usually steamed on espresso machines so why wouldn’t you use that espresso machine to make espresso as well?

Do You Need Espresso Beans For Latte And Cappuccino?

Does the type of bean matter if you want to make latte or cappuccino? Since you add a lot of milk, you cover up much of the taste anyways? Do you need espresso beans or will any type of bean work?

We should cover what espresso beans actually are. Any type of coffee bean can be used to make espresso. Espresso is a brewing method not a type of bean. An espresso machine pushes hot water through a bed of finely ground coffee beans under high pressure. As long as the beans are ground to the right size, you can use them to make espresso.

That means you can use any type of coffee bean to make cappuccino, latte and other espresso based drinks.

However, while you can use any bean to make espresso, in general espresso tends to be made with dark roasted Arabica beans with sometimes a little Robusta blended in. The really darkly roasted beans are used to make the traditional Italian style espresso. These dark beans result in an intensely bitter, dark and thick liquid that you know and love as espresso.

Suggested: Can you make espresso in a regular coffee maker?

While that is still a very popular way to do it and it’s likely the taste you expect from espresso, there has been a movement over the last years to use lighter roasts for espresso. Especially in third wave coffee shops. Using a lighter roast results in a less bitter, more balanced espresso that’s still very strong and intense. For cappuccino the traditional way might be better, more on that below.

If you’re buying pre-ground coffee, you definitely have to choose the bag that mentions it’s for espresso. That’s because coffee grounds for espresso are much finer than for regular coffee so normal pre-ground coffee won’t work properly in an espresso machine. The bags of pre-ground espresso coffee are usually dark roasted.

Suggested: Is espresso just finely ground coffee?

Espresso grounds in a portafilter

Are Dark Roasted Beans For Cappuccino And Latte?

This is largely personal taste. As said above, you can use pretty much every bean and roast level an put it in an espresso machine as long as it’s ground to the correct size.

Personally I prefer lighter roasted beans to make espresso if I’m going to drink it without anything in it. I like the more balanced, less bitter flavors. However, to make cappuccino, I prefer a darker roasted bean and even like a little bit of Robusta blended in.

That’s because I personally don’t like cappuccino where the espresso gets lost in the milk. I want that bitter punch clearly coming through the milk and foam. That dark bitterness comes mainly from darker roasted beans. So for making cappuccino, dark roasted espresso beans are preferable.

However, it’s all down to personal preference. There is no right way to make coffee. Sure, if you run a coffee shop, people expect a certain drink when they order something. However, at home, who cares? Do what you like the best. That will require some experimentation but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But, if you want the cappuccino taste you expect when ordering on in a coffee shop, go for a dark roast. Supermarket coffee often doesn’t tell you the roast level. Often these bags do have a strength indicator though. Generally, the higher the strength, the darker the roast. While strength and roast are not related, a darker roast gives more dark, bitter notes which most people associate with stronger coffee. For most consumers the roast doesn’t mean much so the strength indicator is what most people understand.

Suggested: What do you need to make good espresso at home?

Coffee beans in a glass jar

How To Make Cappuccino Without An Espresso Machine

Espresso machines are expensive. Many people don’t have one at home but many people would like to make cappuccino at home. What can you do?

While an espresso machine is the only way to make real espresso, you can use a moka pot (Amazon link) to make something that’s the closest you can get to espresso without a machine. A moka pot is very cheap compared to an espresso machine and can also make small amounts of very strong coffee. It’s not quite espresso but to make a cappuccino or latte it’s close enough.

Suggested: The best moka pot size for one person

Just the coffee is not enough to make a cappuccino though. You also need some milk foam. Just heating up some milk is not going to do it although that would work to make a latte. A big part of cappuccino is the milk foam which you can’t get by only heating the milk.

There are a few ways you can make milk foam. The best options are a milk frother and a French press. If you’ve already got a French press, this can be used with pretty good success. Heat up the milk separately (to about 70 degrees Celsius) and pour it into the French press. Then quickly move the plunger up and down until you get foam. It’s not quite as good as foam made by steam from an espresso machine but it’s good enough for most situations.

A milk frother can be bought for about the same amount of money as a French press. For about $30 you can buy a milk frother that heats and foams the milk with the push of a button.

Recommended Espresso Equipment

Besides an espresso machine, there are a few other tools that can make your espresso better. Here are my favorites:

  • Espresso Machine: The Breville Barista Express (Amazon) is the sweet spot in price and quality for most casual home baristas. It comes with a built in grinder and most tools you need to brew espresso.
  • Tamper: A nice tamper helps you tamp your grounds in the filter for the best result. Any correctly sized tamper can do the job but a nice heavy one just feels so much better in your hand than a plastic model. This Luxhaus one (Amazon) has a nice trick up it’s sleeve to make tamping very consistent.
  • Beans: Good espresso starts with good beans. Using fresh beans is a big improvement over pre-ground coffee.
  • Scales: Getting consistently good espresso means you have to know how much grounds is going into the machine and how much is coming out and how long this takes. A coffee scale is going to make your espresso much more consistent and also makes adjustments a lot easier. The Apexstone coffee scale (Amazon) is cheap and doesn’t look too sleek but is just as accurate as more expensive scales. The TimeMore scales (Amazon) look and feel a lot nicer but cost a bit more.
  • Distribution tool: After grinding you can get some clumps in the coffee grounds. Those clumps should be broken up so the water can extract all the coffee grounds equally. Distribution tools are very simple things but this one (Amazon) is beautifully made and will look good in your kitchen.

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