Ask the Experts: What’s a Panarello?

Creating a silky microfoam can be a challenging enterprise: Even with the higher end prosumer machines we sell, it is arguably the most difficult skill to learn and sometimes takes more practice (and patience!) than folks expect from the outset.

The technique involves infusing the right amount of air and steam at the right pace to ‘stretch’ the milk, ultimately resulting in that wet paint texture that can be used in latte art, if you’ve got the skillz. You rest the tip of the steam wand on the surface of the milk and ‘ride’ it as the milk is slowly expanding with tiny air bubbles and coming up to temperature via the machine’s steam. You’ve got to keep a steady roll going, the bubbles to a minimum and eventually you’ll submerge the wand completely once you’ve achieved the amount of foam you want and need to simply bring it up to temperature.

Achieving good results is part skill and part equipment: Sustained dry steam that is served up from the boilers of large commercial espresso machines make the creation of microfoam a little bit easier. Also, the milk’s consistency (how much fat it has), age and temperature definitely play a part — you always want your milk to be cooled in the refrigerator until right before steaming in a pre-chilled pitcher.

So, yeah, there are a lot of elements — part art, part science — to keep in check when attempting to produce that lovely shaving-cream like texture. Understandably, many people that don’t want to make a career out of their espresso creation just don’t want to put in the time to learn how to do this.

In answer to their frustrations, several manufacturers over the years started to release adapters on their steam wands — called panarellos, auto-frothers, froth enhancement systems, the great fluff n’ stuff (okay, maybe not that one, but it could be) or any variation thereof — designed to simultaneously infuse a small amount of air with the steam so you don’t have to do a thing. Some of them do it better than others, and you end up with everything from super spongy meringue-like foam to nearly microfoam quality, depending on how the manufacturer designed the adapter. And even if you’re getting big bubbles and not the silky, dense foam you’re looking for, with a little bit of work (scraping off the top layer, spinning the milk around in the pitcher and tamping it from the bottom to burst larger bubbles, etc.), you can often get a suitable consistency.

You most often see panarellos and their like on the lower end machines that don’t have a lot of steaming power available (smaller boilers) so try to maximize the frothing potential by infusing more air into the milk. This can be good or bad, depending on what you’re trying to achieve, and occasionally you can adapt the wand to function more like a standard steam wand if you find the panarello action is not working for you.

People seem to either really love or really hate panarellos and we’re mixed about them; we have seen good and bad versions and so we don’t just dismiss them out of hand. In fact, more high tech versions are often deployed on high end commercial machines to facilitate efficient and consistent foam. So it’s not that systems that infuse air and steam without the operator’s assistance are essentially bad, but — like with most things to do with espresso machines — you get what you pay for.

Most importantly, know what you’re getting into. The majority of semi-automatic machines under $500 have these adapters on them, and nearly all superautomatics employ some form of this technology. So if you’d like to pick up a machine in one of these classes, you’ll need to either learn to love or learn to work around it.

10 comments for “Ask the Experts: What’s a Panarello?

  1. May 4, 2010 at 6:06 am

    My Le’lit PL041 has a relatively small boiler but it makes enough great steam to froth a 20oz pitcher of milk and quickly reheats in between pulls. It is my first prosumer level machine and found it very easy to learn to produce seriously great quality foam. The models shipping now have a long wand with a regular tip and no froth enhancer. That’s what you want. Last year they had a different tip that no one liked.
    A great buy for $379 shipped from Clive Coffee.
    Its easy to learn to steam milk. Practice, practice! The ingredients are cheap and much more consistent than espresso, which can be effected by countless variables. The most important two things were mentioned above, cold milk and pitcher make a big difference.
    Be sure to try different pitchers too, and watch what your favorite barista uses. A pointed spout will allow you to control the milk to foam ratio easier as you pour.
    Good luck!

    • Kat
      May 4, 2010 at 6:58 am

      I will have to look into the Le’lit machines — we’re always on the look out for machines under $500 without panarello…few and far between :) Thanks for your comment!

  2. Jose
    June 5, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I’m pretty happy ( still) with my Ascaso Basic machine. I use the stock adapter, the one with a hole to the side , and it helps to froth the milk although it’s tricky at times. At least the results are better than most of the regular places where I drink coffee ( mostly clients). But, after reading David Schomer book, the Wannabe-Barista-in-me is trying to tweek my machine without buying anew one…SO.. would the 3 holes tip from Ascaso do a better job frothing than the stock adapter? Regards, Jose.

    • Kat
      June 7, 2010 at 11:03 am

      Well, I am not sure if the steam boiler will have enough power to make a difference with the 3-hole tip. The Basic’s boiler size is smaller so you might find that you don’t get enough oomph from using the 3-hole tip. But it’s worth a shot — we haven’t tried it so I can’t be certain. :)

      - Kat

  3. Rory
    August 16, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    I’ve got a Bugatti Diva and don’t like the panarello tip with the froth aiding hole… I’ve removed the sleeve/tip and trying to use the naked wand, but it’s very short… would you be aware of any replacement tip that would be an extension, have a small pressurized hole and no air intake aid?

    If I could find the size of the sleeve, maybe it could be simply replaced?

    • Kat
      August 17, 2011 at 10:49 am

      Unfortunately, I am no help here, as we have not tested, repaired or sold these machines so we’re not really aware of any available mods you might be able to make to the wand. Sorry! :(

      - Kat

  4. Mike
    January 18, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Since you have a panarello upgrade for the Saeco with a smaller air hole, have you considered trying to make one that functions like a traditional steam wand? That is, have the air hole at the bottom instead of the top so we can try to do it right?

    • Kat
      January 19, 2012 at 8:11 am

      We don’t manufacture it; it’s a stock Saeco part from the Sirena manufacturing. We may attempt to produce something down the line, depending on how easy it would be to retrofit a different style of tip. We’ll see :)

      - Kat

  5. Andrea
    April 21, 2014 at 10:46 am

    I have a saeco via venezia and just replaced the panarello with the stainless steel one. I noticed that the steam wand seems to be irregular, and it is not possible to get a steady stream of just hot water or just steam. Any tips?

    • April 21, 2014 at 11:41 am

      Hi Andrea,

      You should certainly get a steady stream of water, and while the steam could be viewed as a little bit irregular, the water should be pretty steady. It will sputter a little bit at the beginning,and every time that you finish steaming, when you switch to hot water to refill the boiler, it will sputter before turning to a steady stream. The fact that you never can seem to get a steady stream of water makes me think that there might something impeding the flow, like scale,so you could try descaling to see if that clears up the problem. I hope that works, let us know if not.

      Thanks,

      Brenna

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