In the world of coffee, the cappuccino is an underdog. In 2014, digital news outlet Quartz published a map featuring unusually popular drinks in 17 major cities. The cappuccino did not make the list. The map was created with data obtained from Starbucks analysts, a rare treat from a company that likes to keep its data trends largely private. However mum Starbucks keeps as to its numbers, the actions of its executives speak volumes.
The flat white was recently added to the chain’s menu in January of this year, which was created in Australia in the 1980s. With espresso shots and milk steamed to a microfoam, the new beverage is very similar to a cappuccino. The cappuccino was even removed from Starbucks menus temporarily during the summer to make room for new drinks—the flat white included. While the coffee chain claims the cappuccino will never permanently go away and the drink has since been reinstated, it is no coincidence that the cappuccino was the drink of choice to be quietly removed. A removal of the pumpkin spice latte would not be taken quietly. A removal of any seasonal latte would be trending on Twitter in less than five seconds.
What exactly is a cappuccino? It is traditionally served as an espresso shot with a bit of steamed milk and a lot of foam. It became popular in the 1930s in small outdoor cafes in Italy. The name comes from Capuchin friars—Catholic monks who wore habits of dark brown with white belts, resembling the color of the cappuccino. Interestingly, Capuchin friars themselves were so named because they resembled Capuchin monkeys, who are also dark brown and white.
Why is the cappuccino so unpopular that Starbucks is trying to phase it out completely? I have speculations.
The drink is not sweet and America is obsessed with sugar. It does not come in seasonal flavors like the latte (egg nog!) and the Frappuccino (mocha coconut!) which eliminates the psychological appeal of a special treat. It is traditionally a small drink and America loves all things big (trenta, anyone?). You can order a venti cappuccino, but you are paying $1.10 more for mostly milk foam, which is near impossible to drink out of a paper cup as it is. This latter inconvenience touches on the cappuccino’s lack of portability. The milk foam is best drank from a short, wide, ceramic cup, necessitating the need to sit down and drink it. Judging by the line of cars that wraps around Starbucks in the morning while the interior remains virtually empty, Americans like drinks they can take with them during their busy, busy days. Bitter, plain, small, and stubborn—why should anyone order a cappuccino at all?
The cappuccino is desirable for precisely all the reasons it is not popular. Seasonal flavors—admittedly delightful—add one ingredient and one ingredient only to your drink: sugar. A trip to the nutritional information section of the Starbucks website will reveal the calorie content of all their food and beverages, as well as the fat content, the carbohydrate content, even the protein and the sodium content. Noticeably absent: the sugar content. This is probably because a venti white chocolate mocha with nonfat milk and no whip cream has 74 grams of sugar while a venti green tea Frappuccino has 88 grams of sugar. You would literally be better off just drinking a 20 oz Coke. The very worst you can do with a cappuccino is 14 grams of sugar. Cappuccinos help you to avoid extra sugar in your beverages so you can rest easy letting it infest all of your food.
The age and simplicity of the cappuccino gives it a retro vibe for maximum hipster appeal. Its small size fits perfectly with today’s small attention spans. Why lug around a huge drink all day? You can finish a cappuccino before it gets cold and before you get tired of drinking it. Cappuccinos are to drinks what Instagram is to Facebook: just the good stuff.
If you drink cappuccinos from non-disposable cups as they should be drank, you will be decreasing your amount of paper waste. Furthermore, having to use a mug will promote going inside a coffee shop and relaxing for a short minute. As the most overworked developed nation in the world (according to the Center for American Progress) I see this as a great opportunity.
Last but not least, they’re quite inexpensive. You can get a cappuccino for $3 from Metro or Anthem and $3.15 at Starbucks (of course). This holiday season, try something new by trying something old. Get yourself a cappuccino.