Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Foamology: The study of foam. Way before the coffee joint that employs me came to town, indeed, before Starbucks hit Stockton, we got our first espresso place that I know of, House of Shaw, a (I thought) snooty pseudo-intellectual coffee joint. I wasn't at all interested in coffee, but when Safari opened up years later near my house, serving cafe mochas, that was a revelation. I developed a taste for espresso and naturally, strong coffee at home with half and half and sugar. Safari ultimately hit the skids and Starbucks came to town and I was seduced by their mochas. Looking back I realize now that when you decline the whipped cream your drink is served flat - that is just steamed milk, no foam. When I started working at my coffee house I learned something new about coffee drinks - the concept of finishing off the latte or mocha with a little foam on top.

Learning how to make good foam was very challenging for me; the first time I tried it I ended up spraying milk everywhere! However, since I was informed that I had to become a functioning barista I soldiered on. My dogged persistence paid off and now my foam is real purty! In fact I love making foam and am right disappointed when the customer wants her drink "flat," that is, foamless! Good foam is creamy and looks downright decadent. Who needs whipped cream when you can have a frothy head on your latte without adding extra calories.

Now let's talk cappuccino talk. They are the royalty of espresso drinks and the hardest to master. When Paul and I cruised the Mediterranean in 2007 we spent some time in Italy, la mamá of the cappuccino. We bellied up to the bar in Rome, Genoa, Ravenna, even in Malta (an island not part of Italy) and drank molto buono traditional cappuccinos. So much fun and such wonderful, wet foam! (Don't get me started on the gelato.)

How to order: a traditional cappuccino should have lots of creamy foam and be fairly light. There really shouldn't be any milk on the loose in your cup, although it will separate from the foam soon enough. When the barista calls you to come get your capp you better come runnin' - your drink will visibly shrink real soon just sitting on the bar. A dry cappuccino is a feather weight wonder that I don't really understand. But some people like getting a snootful of basically just air and espresso, so god bless'em. A wet cappuccino has some milk at the bottom, maybe 1/4 to 1/3 at the most, and the rest foam.

In my last blog I mentioned stopping in at mom and pop place in Mendocino. I asked for foam and received it not. Since I had grown accustomed to bad drinks on that trip I didn't bother to argue. But I have an idea; next time you go to Starbucks or some other coffee joint ask for foam and see what happens!