I have had a lot of conversations, via email and in person, about espresso since I wrote this post. And I realized I left a big question unanswered: What about making cappuccino, or any other coffee drink that takes frothed milk?
It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I rely on another low-tech number, what we refer to as the “schiuma” (say skyoo-ma) in my house. Schiuma just means foam in Italian, but it’s also what everyone in Italy calls these little heatproof pitchers with the frothing top. You can get super-cute ones in Italy, made by Alessi and its imitators, but you can get inexpensive, totally functional ones here in the States too.
Here’s how it works: pour about halfway full with milk, and heat on the stovetop slightly (try not to forget about it and get that gross milk-skin from overheating). Then, take it off the heat, put the top on, and pump the plunger up and down—fast, not slow, like you’re making French-press coffee. Finally, voila, you have warm and frothed milk, which you can top your cheap homemade espresso with. (N.B. Don’t bother using skim milk. You need 2% or whole to get a really nice foam.)