The Tip Jar- Milk Steaming Basics & 101

Tuesday September 23, 2014 // By Landon Christensen

Steaming milk is one of, if not, THE most crucial aspect of hot beverage preparation as a barista. If done properly, it has the ability to add the perfect level of sweetness and texture to any given drink. If done improperly, you can just as easily ruin a drink. Not to mention the time it takes to ruin your milk is just a mere matter of seconds. Properly steamed milk is the foundation on which beautifully executed latte art rests. If your milk is too foamy, you’ll end up with an undefined cup of blobs. On the other hand, if your milk is too thin, you’ll have a wispy cup of swirling confusion. Regardless of your free-pour technique, nothing will turn out without good milk. I’m here to teach you how to steam it right!

You’ll need a couple of things: a steaming pitcher, an espresso machine with a steam wand, and of course, milk. A kitchen thermometer is optional, but can help you accurately get the milk to the right temperature, removing any guesswork. Ideally, you want to heat the milk to no more than 155°F. Taking the milk any hotter will result in burnt, scalded flavors. Now, steaming pitchers are offered in a variety of sizes and styles, ensure that whatever you use is appropriate for the drink you are going to be making. For example, I wouldn’t try to steam 6 oz of milk in a 20 oz pitcher. I would use something similar in volume, still leaving enough room for the milk to stretch without overflowing. To get started, fill up your steaming pitcher with enough milk for the beverage you are going to make. If you are able, put the full pitcher in the fridge for a few minutes to chill the pitcher itself. The colder the milk is when you start steaming it, the longer it will take to arrive at the ending temperature, thus giving you more time to work with it while steaming. While the pitcher is chilling I typically will purge and wipe off my steam wand. This is important because milk residue and water will accumulate inside of the wand due to condensation and if you don’t purge the wand those stale elements can end up in your milk.

After the pitcher is chilled, you are ready to begin steaming. Submerge the steam wand into the milk no more than 1/2”. Turn on the steam to create a whirlpool in the pitcher. After the whirlpool forms begin adding air in short bursts by exposing the holes on the end steam wand. If you’re doing this correctly you should hear a slight hissing sound. Once the pitcher is warm, raise the pitcher up on the steam wand to stop adding air into the milk. Continue with the whirlpool until the pitcher is hot to the touch. Turn off your steam. Purge the steam wand and wipe it down. Examine your milk, there should be a nice layer of micro-foam on the milk. If you see any air bubbles, firmly tapping your pitcher on the counter should take care of them. Swirl your milk around in the pitcher, the milk should have the consistency of wet paint and should briefly stick to the side of the pitcher before sliding back down. If you have overly foamed milk or milk that is too thin, don’t be discouraged. Steaming milk consistently can take some time to get the hang of, especially to do it properly each and every time. A practice tip I recently learned is to fill a pitcher with water and add a drop of dish soap. This will produce results nearly identical to that of steamed milk, giving you a cheap alternative to going through gallons and gallons of milk while practicing. I speak from experience, it’s easy to do!

If you have any questions or comments regarding milk steaming or any other aspect of drink preparation please give us a call at 1-866-776-5288, we’d love to assist you!  Find more training and how-to videos on the Barista Pro Shop Youtube Channel.

  

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