Advanced Milk Frothing Techniques
Basics - How to Steam Milk
Start by filling a stainless steel frothing pitcher 1/3 full of cold milk if you are making cappuccino. The amount may be increased to 1/2 full if you are making milk for lattes. Although many people claim that skim, 1%, 2%, or homogenized (whole) milk is best, proper technique is more important. Equally important is making sure that the milk is well chilled, that is to say, the colder the better.
Lower the pitcher until the tip of the wand is just below or at the surface of the milk. This is very important. The tip of the wand should be positioned so that the force of the steam is making a 'dent' in the surface of the milk. If the wand position is correct you will hear a smooth, but loud sucking sound as steam/air is blown into the milk. As the milk volume expands, it will be necessary to correspondingly lower the milk pitcher, in order to maintain the position of the wand at the surface. This is called the stretching phase.
NOTE: This phase will be longer if the pitcher was filled 1/3 for cappuccino - this is to make more 'foam'. If the pitcher was filled to 1/2 for latte milk this phase will be shorter.
After the stretching/frothing phase, which as mentioned, will be longer for 'cappuccino milk', lower the wand into the pitcher to finish heating the milk to the desired temperature. Make certain that you turn the steam valve off before you remove the wand from the milk. If you did not stretch (aerate) the milk long enough, you will hear a jet engine like sound while the tip is submerged.
If you are using a frothing thermometer, 150F (medium hot) to 165F(hot) will be the desired range. Milk starts to scald at 175F and can be seen visually by large bubbles forming on the surface. Professional Baristas seldom use thermometers but instead rely on the fact that stainless steel transmits temperature virtually instantly. For the majority of people, the instant the side of the pitcher becomes too hot to touch - that is 165F. This of course can be checked with a thermometer, but just as easily by taste!
Always ensure the tip is submerged before turning the steam valve on and before turning the steam valve off. Hot milk splattering can cause burns!
If you feel that the techniques required to stretch, froth, and heat milk are too complicated for you, we recommend taking a look at the Espro Toroid frothing pitcher.
Have you mastered the art of steaming milk to produce beautiful microfoam every single time? Perhaps it is time to take the next step and try out some latte art techniques!