If you know your coffee, then you know that popular cafe drinks such as the cappuccino and latte won’t be complete without the foam on top. What’s the purpose of the foam? Does it make coffee taste better? The real reason may be surprising.
From a coffee shop owner’s point of view, the purpose of the foam on the top of coffee drinks has a lot to do with tradition and profit (both in terms of reduced cost and higher prices from the perceived value add)
In terms of reduced cost, the microfoam is cheaper than milk and so topping the cup with microfoam reduces the unit cost of the coffee cup.
Also, it can take about 30 seconds for the naturally created milk foam to separate from the milk liquid after the steaming process which in a busy cafe is a labor/production cost that impacts heavily on the bottom line.
A good barista should be able to make 50-60 cups per hour with foam included, but this would be reduced significantly if the barista were required to delay producing coffees due to the wait time for milk foam separation.
In terms of perceived value-add, the microfoam provides a platform for coffee art which can lead to higher prices due to a perceived value-add from the customer’s point of view.
Also, done properly, the microfoam mixes with the aromatic rich golden crema that is created from a perfectly extracted espresso to produce a taste experience that is in addition to the coffee drink itself.
This blend of microfoam and creme provides the customer with an additional and longer lasting tactile/visual value-adding experience that is missed from a coffee made without foam.
Furthermore, the art of creating perfect microfoam is not easy and is identified by discerning customers as a reflection of the high skill of the barista which in tern keeps these customers coming back.
Finally, there is a long-held customer expectation for drinks like Cappuccino and Flat white (in Australia) to include microfoam in the product delivery, so failing to do so would not be good for securing repeat customer business.