The Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano (INEI), or the National Italian Espresso Institute, was born with the certification of quality standards for the Italian Espresso in 1998. Today they announced new certification standards for the Cappuccino: Agenzia Giornalistica Italia – News In English – Italian Products: Cappuccino Obtains Certificate of Quality.

Organizations such as the INEI really love their coffee, and one of their more commendable actions in recent years has been the development and publication of quality standards. Not that every espresso or cappuccino should taste the same. But it’s painfully clear that the great majority of beverages served under the “espresso” or “cappuccino” names are third-rate impostors at best. (Earlier this year, I published a book review on Espresso Italiano Tasting — a highly recommended standards guide developed by the Istituto Internazionale Assaggiatori Caffè [IIAC], or the International Institute of Coffee Tasters, for the INEI.)

According to the INEI, “traditional cappuccinos are made up of 25ml of espresso and 125ml of milk steam-whipped milk starting with cold milk (3-5°C) and brought to a temperature of about 55°C and then poured on Italian Certified Espresso in a cup of 150-160ml. The milk must be fresh bovine with a minimum of 3.2% proteins and 3.5% fat, and steam-whipped in a specific way.”

How many American cappuccinos would fail their test? Probably about as many that are substandard. Perhaps the Italians are laying defenses in anticipation of Starbucks‘ coming amphibious assault of mass-produced, diluted-quality espresso drinks.

UPDATE: January 1, 2007
Today’s Guardian (Manchester, England) picked up on this story and published an article of their own on the topic: Italy puts froth back into cappuccino | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited. In it, they underscore the INEI’s desire to counter the literal dilution of the cappuccino standard — as more recently re-defined by the drowning-in-milk cappuccino, popularized by café chains such as Starbucks.

UPDATE: Sept. 25, 2007
The Telegraph (UK) published a slightly updated take on this story: Italy aims to standardise the perfect espresso – Telegraph.