Trouble is brewing

“What size of cappuccino do you want?”

This was not a question I was prepared for. The only thing I’m used to changing is the colour of my cappuccino cup. Definitely not its size. But like many things recently, my eyes have been opened to alternative perspectives and I have discovered that the size of a cappuccino cup is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to coffee controversies.

From an article in the NY Times: “In the U.S., cappuccino are small, medium and large, and that actually doesn’t exist. Cappuccino is basically a four-ounce drink.” So far so good, as long as you can get your head around what four ounces looks like. It might help to know that the smallest coffee at Starbucks is generally 12 oz.  By the way, Mr NY Times, the plural of cappuccino is cappuccini so you shouldn’t say ‘cappuccino are…’.

It seems that some people who should probably know better are too focussed on size as a distinguishing characteristic. But it gets worse.

I’ve heard that there are cafes in New York that serve a cappuccino with no foam on top. “The consistency should be the same from the first sip to the last,” they say. That cannot be correct. A cappuccino is always made from a shot or two of espresso with milk steamed to the perfect temperature (baristas argue about what this is) to make a perfect meringue-like foam which lies in a layer on the top of the coffee. Experiencing the taste of hot strong coffee through this smooth milky foam is one of the joys of a cappuccino.


This flat white from a cafe  in Houston, TX was as good as any from New Zealand, the true home of the flat white.

Another cafe owner in New York grew so sick of customers’ insistence on what makes a “real” cappuccino that he removed all the drink names from his menu. Now it just says espresso with milk. “We stopped with the names because it’s all silly”. I know what I think is sillier.

And now the flat white is muddying the steaming milk even more. “You put 10 people in a room who claim to be an authority on the flat white, you’re going to get at least five different opinions on what it should be,” said the cafe owner who stopped using names on his menu.  “People are trying to make the whole process intimidating to the consumer.” Really?



In Elizabethton, TN a cappuccino masquerades as a flat white.

In many of the smallest towns I have visited in Tennessee and Virginia, I have found people who really care about coffee. In Damascus they work in Mojo’s, in Abingdon at Zazzy’z and in Elizabethton  at the The Coffee Company. I ordered a cappuccino at The Coffee Company and what I got was a very good coffee which I would have called a flat white (double shot in a 8 oz cup, very little foam). I asked what happens when someone orders a 12, 20 or 24 oz cappuccino (it’s on the menu). The barista looked horrified and returned to the comfort of his espresso machine. When I told him that his cappuccino was my flat white we discussed whether  the flat white originated in New Zealand or Australia  (I think I convinced him) but I bet he agrees with the Aussies too. The customer is always right, right? Only until they ask for a ‘half decaf half regular, non fat cappuccino with caramel drizzle and extra foam.


Categories: An American Adventure

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7 replies

  1. It’s a coffee minefield 🙂 Good to see some people are upholding cafe etiquette and standards! And NY Times need some grammar tutorials!!!


  2. I always thought that the distinguishing factor for a cappuccino was chocolate on top but thats me showing my ignorance probably.
    Im glad to see that you are going for the size isn’t everything angle……..
    Good luck getting the USA to pay attention to correct english.

    On behalf of the population of NZ I must remind you that your passport can be revoked if you even dare think that any flat white in Houston is remotely as good as the flat white in Godzone. Even thinking about putting it on the new flag!!


  3. You tell them Donna! I just love the subject. ☕️☕️☕️☕️☕️


  4. I admit – I love coffee but have a lot to learn. This post was both amusing and informative!


  5. Thank you for commenting! I also love coffee and find the whole culture around it fascinating.


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