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      08.03.2001 02:31
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      After a particularly abysmal effort one wet, cold Tuesday morning, my quest began. It was a quest born of frustration, and it has taken me the length and breadth of the country. I have travelled over mountain and through dale (well, between London, Berkshire and Manchester anyway!), undergone great hardship, extremes of temperature and malnutrition (I travelled by Virgin Trains), risked physical harm by great, lumbering and unpredictable animals (or, put another way England fans at Birmingham New Street Station) all to fulfil my goal, to find the perfect cappuccino! The Tuesday morning in question I had just purchased a cappuccino from a coffee bar in Reading and had been completely underwhelmed by the experience. Someone had had the cheek to charge me £1.75 for a cup of lukewarm milk, with a hint of brown liquid and a sprinkling (a very light sprinkling I might add) of chocolate powder. This wasn't the first time I've bought a poor excuse for a coffee, it was just the straw that broke the camels back. Anyone who, like me, is a regular purchaser of coffee at one of the many cafes that have sprung up over the last few years will understand my frustration. Making decent coffee isn't exactly rocket science, but there are many so called Barrista's out there (supposedly 'coffee experts') who really aren't up to the job. We walk into their shops, handover our hard-earned cash and what do we get in return? Often, it is rubbish, there are times when you wonder if your dog could serve better coffee (actually, my dog CAN serve better coffee, she really is very talented!). I have suffered all sorts of poor cappuccino, those with too much froth, not enough froth, cold milk, burnt milk, weak coffee, bitter coffee, the list is endless (what can I say, I drink a lot of coffee!) So what goes wrong? Well, I'd better start with what a cappuccino is. Now, I'm sure I'm teaching you all how to suck eggs, as my gran used to say, but bare with me. The vast majority of the aforementioned barristas say true cappuccino is made from 1/3 good quality espresso coffee, 1/3 steamed mild and 1/3 frothed milk. There is one chain of coffee houses I have been to that swears a true cappaccino is 1/3 espresso and 2/3 frothed milk, but whichever you prefer, it doesn't seem that difficult does it? You take some quality coffee beans, grind them up, force hot water through and add milk, EASY. So why do we keep getting served with rubbish, I'm at a loss. The main problem is one of consistency. From most of the big chains and coffee shops, it seems that you can get a reasonable cup one day, and a poor one the next. Sometimes the coffee is fairly fresh, sometimes it tastes stale and tasteless (if that's not a classic ?Colemanball?, tasting tasteless!). The other problem is companies not putting enough coffee in the drink to begin with, or adding too much milk if you want to put it another way. This gives a rather lifeless and soulless cappuccino, with no kick, and believe me, some mornings I need a kick! But the best Cappuccino, in fact I would call it the perfect cappuccino, I have finally found. My quest has been fulfilled, my goal achieved. I found it in the Caffe Alba chain, Reading branch. This is the chain I mentioned earlier, the one that believes a true cappuccino is 1/3 espresso and 2/3 frothed milk. This is an unusual way of making cappuccino, and I confess I have not heard a cappuccino made this way before, but it certainly seems to work. Without the frothed milk you get more of the flavour of the coffee, which was strong, but not burned or bitter. The frothed milk on top kept the coffee hot for the ten minutes it took me to drink it! I think part of the key to this drink was it's small size. This meant that you got quite a concentrated espresso, topped by a relatively small amount of milk. The drink did not taste too milky, and the small size meant the coffee was not weak. £1.25 for the small size seemed expensive to begin with, but after drinking I though it well worth it. I have returned several times and the cappuccino has always been of consistently high quality. Certainly a lot better than the milky drivel I have been served up by some so-called Coffee Houses! As well as a great Cappucinno, they also served me a rather devine sandwich. Now I know it's difficult to get divinity into a sandwich, but this really was quitel ovely. I had a Panini filled with roasted vegetables and mozzarella cheese, toasted for about five minutes, and served with a little sprig for parsley to garnish, how sweet! It cost £3.00, but was well worth it, toasted to perfection, with the vegetables nice and hot and the chesse satisfyingly gooey. A perfect accompaniment to the perfect cappucinno. They sell quite a range of these panini's somehting to suit all tastes, (unless of course you don't like panini!) as well as pastries, filled croissants, ice-cream and some very naughty cream cakes! The service was pretty good, although I did have to wait a few minutes for my sandwich, but seeing as they had to toast it fresh, I'll let them off this time! So, the definitive recipe for the perfect cappuccino, 1/3 good quality espresso, with freshly ground beans, not over-roasted to give espresso that tastes smooth, but with a bit of a kick, and depending upon your tastes, 1/3 steamed and frothed milk, or 2/3 frothed milk. The important thing here is to have the milk frothed at high pressure to 'give good head' as they say! It is also important the rations are correct, otherwise you can end up with a very weak coffee indeed. Finally, drink in, ratter than purchasing takeaway. Cappuccino always seem to taste better when drank from a wide brimmed cup, maybe it's a psychological thing but I always prefer to drink in when I can. So there you have it, a lifetimes work in 700 words, good eh!

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