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16 October 2014
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Belfast - 'The Cappuccino Quest!'

At one time it would have been a rare sight to see people sitting outside a Belfast café on a summer’s day enjoying a meal or a coffee...

Cappuccino

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This Article has been submitted by Stan Howes and reflects his personal experiences and findings in August 2006.

At one time it would have been a rare sight to see people sitting outside a Belfast café on a summer’s day enjoying a meal or a coffee. Now, possibly through the growth of foreign travel, a more clement climate and a new joie de vivre, this continental custom has become commonplace. Café culture has arrived!

So with this in mind a couple of colleagues and I set out in our lunch breaks to find the city’s best cappuccino. It was very much a pleasure, a fun and almost frivolous project second only to discovering the best cocktail! However, in compiling our survey we tried to be fair and open-minded and take in the whole café experience since we did not believe it was possible to separate the tasting from the ambience. Inevitably it is personal, subjective and random and based on a sample of only ten cafés, so our results are in no way definitive. Because of the obvious time restraints our tasting was limited to a small area of the city, a few tree-shaded streets stretching from the City Hall to Ormeau Avenue, a haunt of office workers and stray, map-reading tourists. Despite this it is probably a representative cross-section.

It also coincided with a period of brilliant sunny summer weather this year, when temperatures soared dramatically, which is untypical of the city. A perfect time, in short, to sit outside a café, watching the people and chatting in a lazy kind of way while savouring a cracking cappuccino.

Should you have ever wondered how the beverage came about the story begins (and it sounds like a tall one!) when a Capuchin monk, Marco d’Aviano, led the Christian resistance against the Ottoman Turks in the 17th century. Following the victory of the Christians the Viennese found supplies of strong coffee which had been left behind by the Turks. To make it palatable they diluted it with cream and honey. The white colour of the drink matched that of Capuchins’ habits so they named it cappuccino in d’Aviano’s honour, derived from the Italian word cappuccio for hood. The first recorded use of the word in English dates to 1948.

In seeking the best cappuccino, a frothy concoction of expresso coffee and steamed milk topped with powdered chocolate or cinnamon, it seemed to us it was important to set a benchmark, an ideal. Flavour obviously is the primary factor. A good cappuccino we thought must have a certain bite and character without being bitter and be served at the right temperature. We had considered the appearance of the drink, the aesthetics of it, but thought that a discussion on froth would be taking the matter too far and might seem a tad esoteric.

Tepidity and blandness were the main flaws we encountered as in the case of the Holiday Inn, the price clearly not indicative of quality. While some cafés provided a good cappuccino they were sometimes let down by a lack of atmosphere. The consensus was that this is an area where some cafés could do more. Music would be nice and some provided it along with a suitably chic décor. On the other hand Café Vaudeville for instance which scored the highest on atmosphere, was marred by the mediocrity of its cappuccino though it has to be said we particularly enjoyed the opulent furnishings and a great music selection. (It was nice to hear Them again!)

Disappointingly, as can be seen from the table there was no overall winner but on cappuccino grounds (!) alone Oscars came out tops, achieving a full 10 marks. The balance of ingredients and temperature were perfect. However, when atmosphere and service were also taken into account it was a tie between Snax, Ruby’s and Deanes. Essentially they got the formula right for what makes for a good café experience. It also convinced us that café culture is not all media hype and that café owners and staff are taking serious strides in promoting it. It was also suggestive, we felt, of deeper changes in society at large and this was not a bad thing.

Crucially, the experience has left our palates unjaded and eager for more. So overlooking the survey’s arbitrary nature we hope it provides a starting point and a stimulus to others to embark on a tasting adventure and make their own nominations. The whole city awaits you. There could be other great cappuccinos out there!

 
Price
Quality
Atmosphere
Service Overall
Snax
1.70
8
8
16
Holiday Inn
2.70
4
6
10
Morrison’s
1.60
8
6
14
Rubys
1.50
8
8
16
Deanes
1.90
8
8
16
Urban Retreat Coffee Co.
1.70
8
7
15
Bagel Factory
1.80
7
7
14
Oscars
1.50
10
5
15
Celebs
1.40
7
7
14
Café Vaudeville
1.70
5
10
15




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