Now that you have brushed up on pulling the perfect shot of espresso, let’s learn some milk-steaming basics. Let’s leap into the world of milk steaming and complete that latte or cappuccino!
Keep in mind as we work through these steps that the purpose of steaming milk is two-fold.
We want to created the desired amount of foam for whatever drink we are making, while at the same time, heat the milk to the desired temperature.
Sometimes it is helpful to think of heating the milk to the desired temperature as the amount of time you have to get the foam to the right level.
It is possible to heat a pitcher of milk while creating no foam, some foam, or a lot of foam, but once the milk is hot, the opportunity to create foam has passed.
Before You Start
You will need…
- a pre-chilled, appropriately-sized steaming pitcher for the amount of milk desired
- a towel designated for the purpose of cleaning the steam wand
- cold whole milk
Hint: Keeping the milk and steaming pitcher as cold as possible before beginning to steam is helpful. This extends the amount of time you have to work with the milk to get the foam right.
Step 1 – Pour the Milk
Pour the appropriate amount of milk into the steaming pitcher, leaving room for the milk to expand without overflowing the pitcher during the steaming process. At Sourdough Cuppa Joe, we use a 20-ounce pitcher for our “Regular” size, 12-ounce hot drinks. We use a 32-ounce pitcher for our “Large” size, 16-ounce hot drinks.
We can also steam for two regular size drinks at the same time using the 32-ounce pitcher. You want to steam just enough milk to fulfill whatever orders you currently have, but not a lot more.
Step 2 – Time to Steam
Before you begin you will want to purge your steam wand by activating it for a brief period. This allows any trapped condensation or milk buildup to be purged from the wand before before you insert it into your milk to be steamed. The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II is a great in-home espresso machine with an integrated steaming wand.
Now you are ready to steam your milk!
Submerge the steam wand just beneath the surface of the milk in your pitcher, keeping both at an angle. This angle is helpful in creating the whirlpool effect in the milk while steaming it, which is how you create great microfoam. It also keeps the microfoam created evenly distributed in the milk.
Now, keeping the tip of the steam wand just below the surface of the milk, and keeping the angle consistent, begin introducing steam into the milk.
You should see a whirlpool form.
Listen for intermittent chirping sounds indicating the slow, gradual introduction of air into the milk, creating the microfoam. You may need to adjust your pitcher up or down slightly to achieve these intermittent chirps.
Keep the pitcher and steam wand in this position in relation to the surface of the milk until the milk is warm, between 5 and 10 seconds. For me, this usually happens around the 9 second mark.
You will need to move the pitcher down slightly as you do this to accommodate for the expansion of the milk. Focus on keeping the tip of the steam wand just below the surface in the “chirping” position.
Once the milk is warm, slightly move the pitcher up on the wand so that the chirping stops. Keep the angle consistent so that the whirlpool continues. Keep the pitcher and wand in this position until the milk is hot.
It is extremely important to stop the steam flow BEFORE you take the pitcher away from the wand. Pulling the pitcher away from the wand before you stop the steam will result in hot milk being sprayed everywhere, including all over you.
Now, stop and reread the previous two sentences again. I know you’re eager to put your new knowledge to the test, but seriously, read them again.
Purge the steam wand just like you did before you started steaming, and this time, also wipe off the steam wand with a towel to remove the milk foam residue left on it after steaming. You will be glad you did this now, before the milk dries on the steam wand.
Check the temperature of your milk with an instant-read digital thermometer. Here are the guidelines we use for drink temperatures. Yours may differ depending on what you or your guests prefer…
“Kid Temp” for us is 140℉
No Special Temperature Requested is 152℉
“Extra Hot” is 165℉
After you have been steaming milk for a long time, you will not normally need to use the thermometer every time. Spot checking yourself from time to time is always a good idea.
Step 3 – Tapping, Swirling, and Pouring
If you have some larger bubbles in your milk, tapping your steaming pitcher on the counter can help pop those. Simply tap it repeatedly with some force on the counter until the large bubbles are all popped.
Now the milk should have a smooth velvety texture when swirled in the pitcher.
Swirling does two things. It redistributes any foam which may have floated to the top layer of your milk throughout the milk, making the mixture more homogeneous. This ensures that when you are pouring it you will get both liquid milk and foam together, not just one or the other.
Swirling also gives you an idea of the texture of the milk. As you gain experience, you will be able to tell if you created too much or too little foam just by swirling the pitcher. Experience is the best teacher when it comes to steaming milk.
Steam and swirl, steam and swirl, steam and swirl. It’s the only way to get better.
Believe it or not, there is a right (and wrong) way to pour your freshly steamed milk into your espresso. Pouring too quickly will create large bubbles in your drink. After all of the effort we have already put into steaming the milk in a way which avoids this, that’s the last thing we want to happen.
Pour the milk slowly and evenly into your espresso. Pour from about 5 or so inches above the rim of the mug or cup. The milk will pass through the espresso, and make a nice canvas for practicing your latte art, which we will cover in a future post.
Now, enjoy your drink!
Subscribe to our blog for more coffee-making tips! There is much more available and much more to come!