Among our most frequently asked questions is “how do you create perfectly frothed milk?” This question is often closely followed by, “how do I then use that milk to create latte art?” or “how do I incorporate that milk into a shot to make a latte, cappuccino, etc.?” This comes as no surprise, since one of the trickiest parts of making a great drink is getting the milk frothed just right. You don’t want your milk to be too frothy, but not entirely flat either. In most cases the goal you are trying to achieve is creating just the right amount of microfoam. To further help you achieve caffeinated bliss; we’ve decided to tackle all of these questions in this series of brew tips, starting with how to froth milk. After all, creating perfectly frothed milk is the one of the key components for creating all the other drinks.
Getting your technique down, and then practicing a lot, is an important part of successfully frothing milk. However, the type of machine you are using as well as the type of steam wand the machine has, will also impact how your milk turns out. For instance, inexpensive espresso makers and machines like the Saeco Via Venezia, often have panarellos, which basically foam your milk for you. This is great if you are an espresso newbie who isn’t used to using a manual steam wand or just want to have foamy milk and aren’t picky about what type of foam you get. The plastic models usually have four or more holes on the top, which bring in a lot of air and will make your milk bubblier. If you don’t like bigger, airy foam with a lot of bubbles, you might want to upgrade to one of the stainless steel panarellos that typically only have one hole.
When it comes to frothing milk on a machine that has a traditional steam wand, like the Nuova Simonelli Musica, the rules about the number of holes in steam arm change. Wands with four holes will give you a lot of steam power and will heat the milk really quickly. These wands will also create really amazing microfoam. However, the quality of the microfoam you get is partially based on what type of machine you are brewing on as well as the tip. For instance, the Musica naturally has a lot more steam power, as opposed to a machine like the Breville Dual Boiler, which is a bit slower when it comes to steaming. That being said, neither machine is better than the other, it just depends on what you are looking to create. The Dual Boiler is nice in that it gives you a lot more time to work with, and produce a lot of, foam. On the other hand, it can be tricky to get a lot of foam on the Musica because it heats up so fast.
Once you’ve got what machines and wands you will be using for brewing, it all comes down to practice as we mentioned before. However, we realize this can be harder than it sounds, so here is our cheat sheet for how to froth milk for a latte or a cappuccino.
11 Steps for Frothing Milk for a Latte
1) Start with a very cold pitcher and milk. This will gives you more time to work with your milk. If it is already warm already it’s going to heat up faster, providing you with less time.
2) Blow out the extra water in the steam wand.
3) Adjust the angle of the steam wand to suite your preferences. We typically keep ours at a pretty high angle, but you can play around with it to see what works best for you.
4) Hold the tip of your frothing pitcher against the steam wand; this will give you more leverage when moving the pitcher around.
5) You will also want to angle your frothing pitcher to the side, which will help you get the milk swirling around in a circle.
6) Submerge the tip of the steam wand in the milk. Don’t be alarmed if you hear a high pitch squeal followed by slurping. While it is loud at first, this is exactly what you want to hear. As soon as you hear that squealing noise, make sure you bring the pitcher down so you hear that slurping noise as you start to incorporate air. This will help prevent you from getting too much foam, since for a latte you want to create a smaller amount of foam.
7) Submerge the rest of the wand in the milk after a few seconds.
8) Once you can feel the bottom of the frothing pitcher get nice and toasty, almost too hot to touch, remove the steam wand from the milk.
9) Always wipe down and blow out the steam wand when you are done to prevent the milk from getting sucked back into the boiler.
10) Mix milk in by slowly swirling the milk around the pitcher, to get a rich and creamy consistency. The milk will look a bit more porous before you begin this process, but once you start mixing it in it starts getting a really shiny texture and that’s exactly what you want.
11) Combine the milk with espresso and relax with your drink.
7 Steps for Frothing Milk for a Cappuccino
1) Just like with a latte, you will want to start with very cold milk and make sure to blow out the extra water in the steam wand.
2) Start with the tip of your steam wand submerged.
3) Once you start hearing that high pitched squealing noise, you will want to slowly bring the pitcher further and further down to incorporate more air.
4) As soon as you feel the pitcher and milk get hot is when you stop frothing.
5) Tap the bottom of a pitcher on a table and swirl the milk around the pitcher to mix it in. You will notice that the texture of the milk is a lot thicker.
6) If you are creating a drier cappuccino (or a cappuccino with more foam and less milk), you will want to let the milk settle a little bit after you have mixed it, and it will separate out.
7) Combine the milk with your shot of espresso and enjoy.
If you would like to see the process in action and follow along step-by-step, watch as our resident milk frothing expert Dori teaches Sarah how to perfect her pour. If you live in the greater Seattle area, you can also learn how to froth milk with Dori in person if you stop by for her Sunday milk frothing or latte art workshops in our Bellevue store.