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MOUTHING OFF : The Cappuccino Connection

February 14, 1988|RUTH REICHL

There may be other distinctions, but the really important difference between New York and San Francisco is the way they top their cappuccino. New Yorkers dust the foam with a powdering of light brown cinnamon. San Franciscans sensibly take another tack and sprinkle a layer of grated chocolate over the top.

Los Angeles, of course, is another matter. Until recently when you ordered cappuccino in our town you got an absurd concoction filled with some sweet liqueur, topped with a blizzard of whipped cream--occasionally even iced. It was terrible stuff, and it was a great day for L.A. when you could finally order cappuccino in a restaurant without worrying about getting drunk.

And that, for the past few years, is exactly what you have been able to do. Occasionally, even, you were able to get the real thing--dark bitter coffee afloat with an airy layer of steamed milk and topped with the faintest whisper of chocolate. It was a good brew, and drinking it made you glad to be alive.

But lately cinnamon has started sneaking into the formula, ruining the recipe. What is going on? When it comes to cappuccino , we are following the wrong town. For San Franciscans know that chocolate is the perfect complement to coffee, rounding out the edges, smoothing out the flavors. They know that putting cinnamon and coffee in the same cup is asking for trouble: The two flavors bring out the worst in each other and always start a fight.

This is a terrible development. Now that we've finally got cappuccino you can drink in Los Angeles, let's not ruin it. After all, we West Coast coffee drinkers have to stick together.

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