Cappuccino has been called the ultimate drinkable coffee. I don’t disagree.
If you like espresso, only not at full force, you might love it too. The addition of milk lessens the intensity and bitterness of the coffee.
It enhances the texture of the drink and adds sweetness to the cup.
These days, you could argue that cappuccino isn’t a single drink any longer. It exists on a spectrum.
Variations on the traditional recipes are aplenty. Each one emphasizes a different quality of the original drink.
A dry cappuccino is foamier, bolder, and has more bite. The wet espresso is more sweet and creamy.
If you’re looking for even greater extremes, the bone dry cappuccino and super wet cappuccino versions will take you to the outer reaches of the cappuccino spectrum.
Each one emphasizes the unique aspects of wet and dry even further.
This article will take a closer look at the cappuccino spectrum and the differences between dry vs wet.
I’ll also share some tips on how to order one to your personal specifications and how to prep at home.
But first, let’s go back to the basics. Here’s a brief Cappuccino 101.
For everything we call a “cappuccino” these days, the traditional drink is actually quite simple and specific. It’s a 5-6 fluid ounce coffee-and milk drink originating in Italy.
The drink’s name is derived from the robes worn by the Capuchin monks, which were a tan color that closely resembled the shade of the coffee. People used “cappuccino” to describe how strong they wanted their drink prepared.
A classic cappuccino is prepared using a rule of thirds. It’s equal parts coffee, milk, and foam. The cup always starts with a 2-ounce espresso doppio, with foam and milk added on top.
Cappuccino is the foamiest of the traditional milk-espresso drinks. It’s served at a warm and very sippable temperature.
The most common variations on a classic cappuccino are achieved by adjusting the milk-and-foam ratio.
A dry cappuccino is prepared with mostly foam and very little steamed milk.
Most baristas will include about 1 ounce of steamed milk to hold back the bitterness of the espresso doppio. Even so, the result is a bolder flavor, less sweetness, and more kick.
Baristas use a few common tricks to create a dry cap. First off, the milk selection is usually lower fat.
This makes it easier to generate bubbles. And the amount of time the wand is placed on the surface of the drink during steaming is extended.
A dry cappuccino is a great choice if you’re looking for maximum foam and a robust espresso flavor that is only slightly subdued.
To take a dry cappuccino to the next level, go “bone dry.”
A bone-dry cappuccino is only espresso and foam. There is no steamed milk.
Depending on where you order, there may be some variation in how much (if any) steamed milk is added by the barista. But it’s usually none.
The barista focuses only on frothing until the milk reaches temperature during preparation. Foam is usually spooned from the top of the pitcher and into the cup.
If you compare it with a classic cappuccino, the bone-dry variation is even bolder and more bitter than a dry cappuccino. The texture is less silky and can even be gritty sometimes.
Based on my description of a dry cap, you may have already guessed that a “wet” cappuccino has more steamed milk and less foam than the traditional ratio.
This drink tends to be sweeter and more creamy than a classic cappuccino.
To achieve this result, a barista will spend less time frothing and more time steaming the milk until it comes to temperature.
A “super-wet” cappuccino is quite similar to a latte. Sometimes identical. Compared with a classic cap, this drink uses all steamed milk and very little (if any) foam.
This approach emphasizes the sweet and creamy aspects of the drink. It also tones down the bitterness of espresso more than any other cappuccino version.
So…is a super-wet cappuccino actually the same as a latte?
Not exactly. A super-wet cappuccino always uses 1 part coffee and 2 parts steamed milk.
Unless you’re at a very traditional establishment, a latte is usually prepared with a greater % of milk. In many instances, the coffee-milk split is more like 1:7 or more.
Wet vs Dry Cappuccinos – What’s the Main Difference?
Dryer cappuccinos have more foam. Wetter ones have more steamed milk.
At the end of the day, and for most people, the preparation ratio probably matters a lot less than the aesthetic characteristics of the drink.
A wet cappuccino will be a sweeter, creamier, and less foamy texture.
You’ll get more of that bitter and robust espresso flavor with a dry cappuccino. You also get a bigger portion of light and fluffy foam.
Bone-Dry and Super-Wet are slightly more extreme versions. Order one, and the aesthetic characteristics will become more pronounced.
How To Personalize Your Drink
The best place to start is by learning your preferences and experimenting with how dry you like your cappuccino.
To any barista, “wet” and “dry” communicate directions, not magnitudes. Once you know what works for you, be specific in how you order it.
For example, if you like an almost bone-dry cappuccino, explain that you expect only a teaspoon of steamed milk added to your order.
Here are a few other levers you can pull to shape the taste and texture of your order.
Type of Milk
Most classic cappuccinos are made using whole milk, but this isn’t always the case.
Changing the type of milk you use can create a noticeable impact on the body and flavor of the drink. It can also shift the consistency and mouthfeel of the foam.
Sometimes a barista will substitute reduced-fat milk for dryer drinks. This makes it easier for them to prepare a more voluminous foam.
Comparing dairy milk by fat content is a great way to get started in fine-tuning your order. While I don’t prefer it, some people even use eggnog.
If you are avoiding dairy for diet, ethical reasons, or as a matter of personal preference – there are a lot of great plant-based milks and blends.
Plant and nut milk are fascinating because they provide a huge variety of flavors and sugar profiles.
Cappuccino is naturally sweet because lactose sugars from the milk break down as they warm to body temperature (and beyond).
Even so, some folks enjoy adding sweetener to further subdue the bitter tones of espresso. There are a hundred options, but honey, agave, maple syrup, and sugar in the raw are some of the most popular.
Topping a cappuccino with shaved or granulated chocolate is popular in some places.
Flaky sea salt is another nice addition. It helps to neutralize the bitterness of the espresso. It will also cover up common chemical additives, like chloramine, found in unfiltered city water.
Cinnamon, nutmeg, molasses, and marshmallows are other seasonal favorites.
Flavor Inclusions & Art
Flavor inclusions and art are more traditionally reserved for the preparation of lattes. Even so, plenty of baristas are willing to try both on a wet cappuccino.
The thick foam of a classic or dry latte makes art difficult to perform.
Pumpkin, vanilla, hazelnut, and caramel are a few popular inclusions. They’re intended for a latte but can also work in a wet cappuccino.
How To Make A Dry Cappuccino At Home
First off, you’ll need an espresso machine (here’s our top De’Longhi picks!) to make a cappuccino.
Unfortunately, there’s really no way around it.
In theory, you could brew coffee from one of those methods and combine it with stove-whisked milk. But it’s not really the same thing, trust us.
- Espresso Machine
- 2 oz Espresso
- Reduced Fat Milk
- Prepare Espresso Doppio
- Prepare for Steaming
- Steam the Milk
- Combine Espresso, Foam, and Milk
Step 1: Prepare Espresso Doppio
To begin, pour a 2-ounce espresso doppio into a cappuccino cup. For best results, make sure the cup has been pre-warmed.
Learning how to prepare espresso is a lesson in itself. If you’ve never done it before, I’d recommend practicing your espresso extraction before taking on steamed-milk drinks.
Step 2: Prepare For Steaming
Before you begin steaming the milk, it’s always important to prep your station.
Clean and fill your pitcher. Position a thermometer so you can monitor the temperature of the milk. Purge the steam wand to remove condensation.
For cappuccino, be sure to use a big pitcher that leaves adequate room for foam. Use reduced-fat milk for the easiest results.
Step 3: Steam The Milk
With the steam wand positioned at the surface of the milk, begin air frothing.
The volume of the milk and foam will expand as it heats. Adjust the wand’s position as needed to keep it on the surface of the liquid.
For a classic cappuccino, the steaming process usually takes 5-8 seconds. During this time, the volume of the milk should increase by 50-80%, and its temperature should hit 140 F.
Position the steam wand on the surface of the milk for about 30% of the total heating time, about 2-3 seconds. Then submerge and steam the milk.
To create a “dry” result, the wand should remain on the surface for a longer % of the total time. Anywhere from 4-8 seconds, depending on how dry and foamy you’d like the drink to become.
Always stop the steaming process once the temperature hits 140 F.
Step 4: Combine Espresso, Foam, and Milk
Properly finished milk should be very thick and look similar to wet paint. Dense and foamy.
Looking into your pitcher, you should only see foam at the surface. Depending on your preparation, more or less steamed milk may be beneath it.
Pour from the pitcher to add steamed milk into the espresso. For a dry cappuccino, start with 1 fluid ounce of steamed milk.
Using a spoon, scoop foam off the top of the pitcher to complete your cup.
If you want a bone-dry cappuccino, then skip pouring the steamed milk. Only spoon off the foam instead.
A macchiato is a pull of espresso with a little dollop of steamed milk added to the top. It’s the smallest traditional espresso-milk drink. A cappuccino is a 5-6 ounce drink made using equal parts espresso, foam, and milk. When ordering “dry,” the cappuccino has more foam and less milk. It’s still a much larger drink than a macchiato, with a higher percentage of milk content.
A cafe latte is prepared using 1 part espresso and 2 parts steamed milk. It’s usually served as a 6-8 ounce drink. A wet cappuccino is similar but is usually served as a smaller 5-6 ounce drink with slightly more foam. It’s also worth noting that many cafes now serve a modified version of the traditional latte that uses a higher ratio of milk – often 1:7 or greater.
A traditional cappuccino is served using the “rule of thirds.” This means equal parts (by volume) of espresso, steamed milk, and foam. When preparing a dry cappuccino, the barista adjusts the classic ratio to include more foam and less steamed milk. On the extreme, to make bone dry cappuccinos includes all foam and no steamed milk.
Yes, bone dry cappuccinos is just espresso with some foam on top. Some coffee shops also include extra-dry in their menu. In general, extra-dry is somewhere between a dry and bone dry cappuccino – it has a small splash of milk between the espresso and foam.
Want more cappuccino fun? Head on over to one of these coffee guides!