There are few things that put a zing in your step as reliably and deliciously as a really good cappuccino, that happy collision of espresso and foamy milk. But, Luigi Di Ruocco says, there are a few tricks to making a really good one. Di Ruocco is the vice president of Oakland's Mr. Espresso, the coffee business his Italian-born father, Carlo, launched in the family garage in 1978, in an era when Folgers and Yuban ruled the demitasse. At first, neighbors thought the Di Ruoccos were setting their house on fire, but that fragrant aroma was the scent of coffee beans roasting. Soon the family was delivering espresso machines to restaurants such as Caffe Mediterraneum -- the East Bay's first espresso bar -- and supplying chefs such as Alice Waters, Paul Bertolli and Bradley Ogden.
The secret to a great cappuccino? Texture: "Our classic cappuccino is a 5- to 6-ounce drink, which contains a shot of espresso -- .75 to 1 ounce -- mixed with equal parts steamed milk and finely textured foam," Luigi says. "This type of foam is achieved by simultaneously adding air until the milk expands by 75 percent, which should happen before the milk reaches 100 degrees, and creating a whirlpool to break down the larger bubbles into smaller ones. The resulting mixture should be thick, creamy and wet with no visible bubbles." Temperature: What you're looking for is milk that is "hot enough so that the sugars in the milk are caramelized but not so hot that they are burned. At 135 degrees, give or take, you will achieve the best tasting milk, which not only complements the flavor of your espresso but also allows you to consume the drink within a few short sips, if you please -- i.e., standing at the bar as they do in Italy." Pour: Don't use a spoon. The milk should be poured directly into the coffee. "Before pouring, swirl your pitcher containing the milk/foam to prevent separation," Luigi says. "Once you've achieved a consistent texture, start pouring slowly but with enough speed so that the foam passes below the top layer of the espresso. Continue increasing the flow rate in order to prevent separation and lower the spout of your pitcher close to the surface of your drink -- without touching -- until it's full."