Anyone who’s tasted freshly brewed black coffee might doubt whether there could be even a drop of coffee in a cappuccino. The drinks have completely different flavors. Is the reason cappuccinos lack coffee’s intensity and bitterness because they have no coffee in them?
Traditional cappuccinos are a third coffee. The coffee part is usually two espresso shots. The rest of the drink is steamed and frothed milk, which mellows the espresso’s flavor. The heated milk’s sweet, creamy taste tones down the espresso’s bitterness and enhances its sweet flavor notes.
You might not taste it, but there can be up to three espresso shots in your cappuccino (if you like a supersized drink). Keep scrolling to discover how much coffee you can expect to find in your cappuccino and how milk magically changes its flavor to keep you wondering whether your favorite foamy drink comes with a caffeine hit.
Is There Coffee In Cappuccinos?
Cappuccinos contain a concentrated form of coffee called espresso. Baristas worldwide prepare drinks their own way, but most add a shot or two of espresso to traditional cappuccinos. Though they pour three shots into mega-sized mugs.
Cappuccino-inspired drinks like iced cappuccinos flavored cappuccinos, wet (less foam, more steamed milk), and dry cappuccinos (less milk yet a generous foam layer) also contain one or two espresso shots.
That’s the same amount of coffee typically in dark espresso-based drinks like Americanos.
Is There Caffeine In Cappuccinos?
Each espresso shot is a fluid ounce and packs about 63 to 75 mg of caffeine. Milk doesn’t counteract caffeine, so you get the same kick whether you drink your espresso in an Americano or cappuccino.
Drink a large three-shot cappuccino, and you’ve had roughly 225 mg of caffeine, pushing you just past half the healthy daily caffeine limit. This dose also puts you slightly over the safe amount of caffeine to consume at one time.
Health organizations recommend not drinking more than 200 mg of caffeine at once and sticking to a daily max of 400 mg to avoid side effects like anxiety, sleeplessness, headaches, and an irregular heartbeat. So, downing cappuccinos all day, thinking they’re coffee-free, can lead to all sorts of trouble.
Decaf cappuccinos also contain caffeine, though very little. Even a supersized decaf cappuccino won’t take you near the danger zone.
With Americanos, you know the espresso’s in there after the first sip, so why can’t you taste the same distinctive intense coffee flavor in cappuccinos?
Why Does Coffee Taste Different In Cappuccinos?
Unlike Americanos, which are one part espresso to two parts hot water, cappuccinos are one part espresso to two parts milk (half steamed and half frothed).
The espresso goes into the cup first, followed by a similar amount of creamy steamed milk and then an equal layer of cloud-like foam.
The milk in cappuccinos makes all the difference to the drink’s flavor. It transforms a strong brew into a gentle one that even children, who tend to spit out anything bitter, enjoy drinking. Yes, children in Italy drink cappuccinos (although this isn’t encouraged in the US.)
Let’s unpack the factors that work together to take the edge off the strong espresso flavor and keep you guessing whether you’re indeed drinking coffee when you sip on your cappuccino.
Milk Nutrients Influence Coffee’s Taste
Milk contains three major nutrients: sugar (or lactose), fat, and protein.
Here’s how each nutrient helps create a cappuccino’s sweet, mild, creamy taste:
- Sugar. Coffee has diverse flavor notes. Some of these are bitter, like bittersweet chocolate. But others are sweet, such as vanilla, caramel, and brown sugar. And some are even creamy, like butter and cream. All milk contains sugar, and steaming the milk makes the milk taste sweeter. This sweetness enhances coffee’s sweet, creamy notes and reduces its bitterness.
- Fat. Milk fat coats your tongue, blocking coffee’s bitter and fruity notes. At the same time, the fat intensifies the nutty and caramel notes. Fat also creates a rich, velvety texture (or mouthfeel). This results in a milder, creamier cup.
- Protein. The protein in milk makes it possible to create cappuccino textures that feel divine on your tongue. Cappuccino’s creamy, silky mouthfeel isn’t what we associate with straight espresso. Because mouthfeel shapes how we perceive tastes, we might struggle to fully recognize the coffee flavor in a thick, creamy drink.
The Amount Of Milk Influences Coffee’s Taste
Although the traditional cappuccino is one part espresso, one part steamed milk, and one part frothed milk, many US coffee bars add more milk for extra creaminess.
You’ll be even less likely to taste the espresso when drinking one of these super-milky cappuccinos.
The Type Of Milk Influences Coffee’s Taste
Some types of milk mask coffee’s flavor more effectively than others.
High-lactose and high-fat milk are two types that most successfully stop coffee’s full flavor from coming through. Interestingly, lactose-free milk also overpowers the coffee flavor because the process that removes the lactose makes the milk super sweet.
Plant-based milk can also create a cappuccino that doesn’t taste much like coffee. For example, coconut milk’s flavor is so strong that it can take over. And some types of plant milk curdle when heated and added to coffee, distracting from the coffee taste.
Milk’s Preparation Influences Coffee’s Taste
How milk is prepared shapes a cappuccino’s overall taste.
Mistakes like overheating the milk can dull espresso’s complex flavor. Burnt milk can also develop a sulfurous taste that masks the coffee.
Extra Ingredients Influence Coffee’s Taste
Flavored and sweetened cappuccinos taste the least like coffee of all the varieties because they have so many flavors screaming for your taste buds’ attention.
Added sugar, flavored syrups, cinnamon, cocoa powder, and chocolatey sauces make the cappuccinos taste more like dessert than coffee.
Not only do cappuccinos have coffee in them, but they contain a good dose of strong coffee. Cappuccinos are usually made with a double espresso shot, but big sizes can hold up to three shots.
Steamed and frothed milk, cappuccinos’ other ingredient, tames espresso’s intensity, creating a velvety texture and mild, sweet flavor with just a hint of coffee.