The Quest for the Perfect Cappuccino

Coffee Shops | | February 22, 2007 at 14:26

If you want to find cappuccino in Las Vegas and don’t want Starbucks, you have to make a serious effort. I have been on a quest for the perfect cappuccino and come up empty so far. Starbucks dominates every major intersection, most grocery stores and almost every hotel. I did locate a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at the Venetian. The Coast hotels feature Seattle’s Best, which I’m told is owned by Starbucks. Clearly the independent coffee house culture so prominent elsewhere is not flourishing in Las Vegas. Maybe it came and didn’t make it.

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I am not particularly fond of Starbucks coffee. Maybe it’s because I drink cappuccino and not the other exotic concoctions of seasonal mixings, both hot and cold. I don’t order the straight American brew either, so my judgment and standards are limited to the flavor of the espresso and the quality of foam. I have very high standards when it comes to my steamed milk – it must be thick, but not like a meringue that floats on top. There must be cohesion between the surface of the coffee and the froth, a graduated blending like fine watercolor brushwork, no clear delineation where liquid and lather meet.

Black Horse Coffee HouseMy standards were set by the best cappuccini outside of Italy, served in a lovely little coffee house now called Blackhorse Uptown formerly “The Home of the Velvet Foam,” now “The Home of the Blackhorse Foam,” found on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo, CA.  And Velvet truly is their Foam. The search for its equal drives my quest for the perfect coffee shop in Las Vegas. I’ll concede that Starbucks can manage a reasonable foam, but to my palate, the flavor of the espresso lacks depth and richness.

I compare to the queen of coffees, Illy. The Illy family from Trieste has been working on their brand since 1933, creating an espresso recognized by coffee connoisseurs as the world leader. So far I’ve found Illy served at two places in Las Vegas: the coffee shop at Bellagio’s and The Hilton.

I personally want to savor the experience in all its aspects, and am put off by a paper cup with lid. What is the point of the foam when you can’t see it or spoon it? It needs a proper surface area to develop and be appreciated. Coffee shops that don’t offer ceramic cups are not doing their jobs, and I don’t count mugs. As any Italian will tell you, they are the wrong shape.

Bellagio serves a beautiful cappuccino in a glorious cup, complete with raw rock sugar swizzle stick. The coffee shop itself is elegant, decked out like a 16th century Florentine reception hall, enlivened with colorful Italian city-state flags and family crests. The air is filled with a cacophony of languages and the service is impeccable. A classy cup of joe by any standards.

You can get a very decent cap in a real cup at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf across from UNLV on Maryland Ave; the flavor is better than Starbucks, but not quite Illy. They turn out a pleasing foam and the service is very friendly. I like the coffee shop; it’s lively with students and faculty, people working on laptops and having intelligent conversation. The music can be too loud though, but I found them gracious about lowering the volume when asked.

The reJAVAnate Coffee Lounge provides comfy leather sofas and arm chairs to give you that relaxed homey feeling. The owners are trying to create a community atmosphere with every night of the week devoted to a different expression of talent – music, poetry, comedy, film. It’s fun and has a vision. You’ll find it tucked away in the Renaissance Shopping Plaza at E Flamingo & Pecos.

Related reJAVAnate – a Coffee House with Community