Top 7 - Best Coffee Beans for Cappuccino in 2021

I have a confession to make. Before I tried a true cappuccino, I was a tea person. I simply couldn’t get over the bitter and sour tar-like swill they serve in Starbucks, and it took a coffee snob of a friend to change my mind.

Years later, cappuccino is still my favorite drink, and every sip of the smooth foam and sweet java takes me back to that tiny family-owned cafe where I first learned to appreciate coffee. Somewhat of a foodie myself, I’ve taste-tested dozens of blends to find the best coffee beans for a cappuccino, and today I want to share this hard-earned knowledge with you.

What Sets the Best Coffee Beans for Cappuccino Apart?

First, let’s set things straight and determine what we’ll call cappuccino for the purposes of this post.

Coffee + Milk = Cappuccino?

There’s much confusion when it comes to this particular beverage, and it’s challenging to make sense of all the conflicting facts. Still, I’m determined to get to the bottom of this and share my findings.

Plenty of sources, including Wikipedia, explain that cappuccino was created by Italian Capuchin friars. They wore light-brown robes (the color of cappuccino) and diluted coffee with milk to make it milder. Another theory claims Viennese cafes invented ‘Kapuziner’ – a coffee-based drink with cream and spices. 

However, neither of these drinks would pass for what we now call cappuccino. It became possible only at the beginning of the 20th century after Italians created the first-ever espresso machines to speed up the brewing process and make punchy, highly concentrated shots we all know and love. Steam wands were later added to heat up and froth the milk to be mixed into cappuccino and a variety of specialty drinks.

In short, adding a splash of milk to your regular drip coffee doesn’t make it a cappuccino. It calls for an espresso shot, steamed and frothed milk. Other combinations of the same ingredients include latte, macchiato, flat white, cafe au lait, cafe con leche, and more.

What’s the Difference Between Cappuccino and Latte?

To an untrained eye, both drinks are one and the same, a mixture of coffee and milk. But if you look closer, you’ll start noticing discrepancies that make a world of difference to the overall flavor and drinking experience. Let’s go over the differences one by one, and you’ll never get confused again:

  1. Espresso-to-milk ratio. The concentration of coffee in your cappuccino can be different, but the traditional Italian recipe calls for equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and microfoam. Latte variations don’t have the same strict ingredient proportions. Instead, a single or double shot of espresso is topped with steamed milk and covered with half an inch of microfoam.
  2. Volume. Cappuccino is a smaller drink of only 5 or 6 ounces. Latte is usually a tad larger, at up to 10 oz. Coffee chains now offer both drinks as 16-oz options too, but those have nothing to do with Italian traditions.
  3. Visual appearance. In a specialty coffee shop, you’ll be served a cappuccino in a smallish cup with or without latte art on top. Latte is served in a tall see-through glass, so you can enjoy the interplay of the drink’s layers.
  4. Nutritional value. If you go with a full-fat milk version of both drinks, latte will be a more calorie-dense option with over 100 calories per an 8-ounce cup. The same-sized serving of cappuccino is 20% lighter on calories. However, both drinks can be served with low-fat or non-dairy milk to fit your dietary preferences.

Other coffee-and-milk beverages share these four core differences, though exact numbers vary. For instance, cafe con leche is a traditional Spanish drink that uses brewed coffee with piping hot milk in equal parts. Macchiato is an espresso shot topped with a dash of milk microfoam, while flat white is similar to latte, but with a higher coffee-to-milk ratio. 

Unsurprisingly, every milk-based drink tastes different, even if you use the same beans and milk to build them. If you’re a purist and prefer your java black, it’s likely you haven’t found your perfect milk-based beverage yet. I recommend you give different variations a try, even if only to know for sure they aren’t for you.

The Perfect Cappuccino Recipe

It used to be the easiest thing in the world to nip to the cafe around the corner to enjoy a cup of cappuccino with your lunch. You could always rely on a professional barista to deliver a beautiful cuppa. But 2020 took this away from us too, so now it’s time to learn the art of pulling shots and steaming milk at home. It may seem overly complicated at first, but with my tips and a couple of YouTube videos, you’ll become a pro barista in no time.

First, you need an espresso shot. Ideally, you’ll use an automatic espresso maker that’ll do the majority of the work for you. You’ll need to fill the bean hopper and water tank and wait for the machine to do its magic. However, you can also try using a Moka pot or Aeropress to brew a shot. Though it won’t really be a true espresso, the taste and texture are close enough to pass for one. Besides, you can save hundreds of dollars on buying a super-automatic espresso maker, which is always a plus.

The second crucial component you need to make your favorite cappuccino is steamed and frothed milk. You can try to heat and whip it up with a handheld frother, though the results will likely be disappointing. Instead, use a steam wand and a stainless steel pitcher to warm up the milk and create those velvety bubbles. Mastering a steam wand takes time, so don’t be disheartened if your first couple of tries are underwhelming. Take pride in getting better with every cuppa, and you’ll soon enjoy a delicious cappuccino of your own making. 

And then you can graduate to latte art, but that’s another story...

Top 7 - Best Coffee Brands for a Cappuccino: Reviews

Death Wish

Death Wish

  • Brand: Death Wish Coffee Co.
  • Item Form: Whole Bean
  • Roast Level: Dark_roast
  • Flavor: Chocolate
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated

If you love your cuppa to be extra-punchy, super-energizing, and just plain delicious, Death Wish is the way to go. Their particular blend of Robusta and Arabica shines in an espresso like nothing you’ve ever tasted, and the same heady notes of chocolate and cherries are transferred into cappuccino without losing much of their intensity. In fact, the sweetness of milk lends additional depth to the flavor to make it addictive.

I adore this dark roast for the sole reason of it tasting nothing like ash or tar. Instead of being bitter, the brew is deep and rich, perfectly contrasting the creaminess of microfoam. Besides, Death Wish earns extra brownie points from me for being organic and Fair Trade. So I always feel good about buying a bag, even if it’s a bit of an investment at around $20 per pound. If you give it a try and fall head over heels in love, I suggest buying a 5-pounder but go with the whole-bean version to always have freshly ground coffee on hand for your cappuccinos. Besides, the ground version isn’t really well-suited for espresso machines, as it’s too coarse. 

One last thing: the brand promises a full refund if you don’t enjoy their coffee, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out.

Verena Street

Verena Street

  • Brand: Verena Street
  • Item Form: Whole Bean
  • Roast Level: Dark_roast
  • Flavor: Shot Tower Espresso (dark roast)
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated

The romantic in me swoons at the mention of the backstory of this brand centered around a street that’s no longer there. At the same time, I’d love to learn more about the idea behind the Shot Tower Espresso name, but alas, there’s no info I could find. This teensy disappointment aside, the coffee tastes delicious, rich, and velvety, with a strong body and lasting finish. Adding steamed milk only adds to the charm, and lends extra sweetness to the drink. Despite the dark roast, I couldn’t find even a hint of bitterness in the palette, so that’s a definite win for me.

Now for the less exciting part: this coffee is Rainforest Alliance Certified, so you can be sure the company adheres to sustainability principles when sourcing their Arabica beans. While Verena Street is a smallish family-owned business, they manage to keep the rates affordable at around $20 for a 2-pound bag.

The one downside I can’t in good conscience avoid mentioning is that the beans are extra oily. While it may seem like a sign of freshness to you, the oil does clog up the grinder and the portafilter in my espresso machine. The extra cleaning isn’t a big deal for me, but if you detest cleanup, consider other options on this list.

Koffee Kult

Koffee Kult

  • Brand: Koffee Kult
  • Item Form: Whole Bean
  • Roast Level: Dark_roast
  • Flavor: Smooth, Cinnimon
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated

I was a bit wary of giving this brand a try after a wave of recent negative reviews, but I should have known better. After all, we’re all special butterflies with our unique java preferences. IMO, the Dark Roast is just perfect for a cappuccino. The espresso shot is velvety and smooth, with pleasant spiciness and hints of cocoa. In a cappuccino, it tastes even better, becoming even milder with just a smidge of toastiness. But you wouldn’t believe the everlasting finish you get from a single shot!

If I had to guess, I’d wager the clever mix of Sumatran, Brazilian, and Guatemalan beans has something to do with the unique flavor. And small-batch roasting doesn’t hurt either! In fact, Koffee Kult pledges to deliver fresh coffee every time you place an order, though I’d still keep an eye out for the roasting date on the pack.

And for those of you who claim Koffee Kult isn’t the same anymore: remember that coffee is a crop, and the flavor hinges not only on the origin of the beans but the climate as well. A couple dozen extra rainstorms a year can make a huge difference! I say the Dark Roast is worth trying, especially at only $15 for a 12-ounce bag.

Lavazza

Lavazza

  • Brand: Lavazza
  • Item Form: Whole Bean
  • Roast Level: Medium_roast
  • Flavor: Super Crema
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated

Supporting local roasters is all well and good if you stumble upon pro roastmasters, but if you don’t – go with Lavazza, and you’ll never be disappointed. Consistency is the name of the game here. Every bag produces the same delicious results, year after year. Besides, who’s better at providing beans for espresso than the people who invented it?

Super Crema is a personal fave of mine, with plenty of character thanks to 40% of wet polished Robusta beans to shore up the milder Arabica. The result is a smooth, well-rounded shot with hints of brown sugar and hazelnut. Add steamed milk to the mix, top it with microfoam and you got yourself a yummy cappuccino.

Pro tip: be mindful of the Robusta in this blend. If you go with your usual extraction, the shot may come out bitter and undrinkable. If that’s the case, try speeding up your pull to 20 seconds, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

One last reason for loving Lavazza is the price tag. For high-quality beans, it’s super affordable at around $20 per 2.2-pound bag.

Cafe Don Pablo

Cafe Don Pablo

  • Brand: Cafe Don Pablo
  • Item Form: Whole Bean
  • Roast Level: Medium_roast
  • Flavor: Signature blend
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated

Classic Italian Espresso – the name says everything you need to know about this blend. It’s rich, smooth, with a strong, velvety crema and a punchy dark roast. The mix of Colombian Supremo and Sumatra Mandheling creates a powerful and complex palette with no unpleasant acidity or overwhelming bitterness. The lasting finish is made even better by turning an espresso shot into a cappuccino.

And at $15 for a two-pound bag, Cafe Don Pablo is a steal.

Quick reminder: although the beans come in a resealable bag, it’s not the best way to store them long-term after opening. Instead, pour your java into a glass or metal jar, seal the lid tightly and store it in a dark place at room temperature. This way, your coffee will remain fresh and delicious for a few weeks.

Jo Espresso

Jo Espresso

  • Brand: Jo Coffee
  • Item Form: Whole Bean
  • Roast Level: Dark_roast
  • Flavor: Medium Dark Roast
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated

If you’re like me and are always seeking better java, this brand should be on your shopping list. Their medium-dark roast is superb, with a chocolatey body, rich crema, and a long-lasting finish. It may seem rather mild if you’re used to the burnt Starbucks taste, but if your palette is more sensitive, you’ll love the flavor. Adding milk into the mix makes this blend even more mouthwatering thanks to the intermingling of intense coffee flavor and the velvety texture of the microfoam.

Micro-batch artisanal roasting and unique Arabica blend aside, there are other reasons to try this brand. If you’re worried about the state of our planet, you’ll be happy to learn that Jo Espresso beans are USDA Organic and Fair Trade certified. They are also kosher if that’s what you’re looking for. Finally, the price is very moderate for a gourmet java blend, starting at $12 for a 12-ounce bag. Money-saving two-pounders are also available. What’s not to like?

Two Volcanoes

Two Volcanoes

  • Brand: Two Volcanoes Coffee
  • Item Form: Whole Bean
  • Roast Level: Dark_roast
  • Flavor: Dark Roast Espresso Blend
  • Caffeine Content: Caffeinated

You won’t believe how good their Guatemalan Dark Roast is until you give it a try. You’ll get a super-strong espresso shot that’s surprisingly sweet while still intense and long-lasting. Adding milk into the mix results in a satisfying cappuccino that will make your head spin and keep you energized throughout the day. I guess the unique flavor is a result of roasting till the second crack and a blend of Arabica and Robusta grown in San Marcos, Antigua, and Huehuetenango. But I know for sure, Two Volcanoes hit the jackpot with this mix.

This brand barely got into my good books after the initial disappointment. You see, the java tasted bitter with an intense burnt aroma, and I was ready to toss it. Luckily, I stumbled upon a tip by a fellow coffee addict to add a charcoal capsule into the coffee jar to get rid of the excessive toastiness. And it worked like a charm! So if you find this blend too burnt, give this a try, and you’ll thank me.

I started with a 2-pounder, but I’m thinking of graduating to a 5-pound bag to keep the pantry stocked for a couple of months and save a few bucks. I’m all about keeping the caffeine fixation on a budget.

What Are the Best Coffee Beans for Cappuccino?

That’s a million-dollar question if I’ve ever heard one. For me, a cappuccino made from the espresso shot of Lavazza Super Crema is the creamiest and smoothest of all. Though when I need an extra-powerful kick, I go for Death Wish of Two Volcanoes. But every one of the seven options I suggest is delicious in its own right. Just remember that the best espresso shot doesn’t always translate into the best cappuccino.

Experiment and enjoy!

Renat Mamatazin

Renat Mamatkazin

2021/01/09

Founder and owner of Lion Coffee and 3ChampsRoastery, 1st place winner of Ukrainian Barista Championship 2017. Interested in travelling, football and Formula-1 (besides coffee, of course).

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