What goes into making the perfect cup of coffee? Is it the coffee blend or the barista? The secret is that it’s a little bit of everything – including getting the milk right! Even the perfect coffee blend may not taste as flavourful if steamed milk isn’t done right.
The amount, texture and temperature of the milk and even the milk jug plays an important role in the overall flavour and mouthfeel of your coffee. This is why professionally trained baristas take special efforts to learn how to steam milk for that perfect cup of coffee.
In today’s blog post, we will explore the difference between steaming and frothing, ways to steam milk correctly, and a few tips on milk steaming.
Steaming vs Frothing
If steaming and frothing feel the same to you, you are not alone. Most people don’t really pay attention to the differences between these two methods when they are their local cafe getting their coffee fix. While both steaming and frothing are used to generate foam, they do so with different techniques. The major difference is that pressurised steam is used for steaming milk whereas frothing doesn’t involve the use of pressurised steam.
Steamed milk is more watery and always hot whereas frothing milk tends to be thicker. Steaming results in the creation of a more delicate and finer type of foam known as microfoam. Frothing milk involves adding air to it which can be done with the help of a handheld frother. You would also froth milk by aggressively shaking milk in a jar. This is why beverages prepared with frothed milk are termed as dry by experienced baristas whereas beverages prepared with steamed milk are labelled as wet.
Moreover, steaming milk involves making use of a steamer that releases hot steam through a wand. Many espresso machines have steam wands but there are also stand-alone steam wands available in the market.
How To Steam Milk Correctly
Steaming milk is a skill which means you will eventually learn to steam it like a pro with a lot of practice. Here’s everything you need to know about steaming milk correctly:
1). The first step is to take cold milk into a milk pitcher that is specifically designed for steaming. You’ll need to be mindful about using the right amount of milk because having too much will give poor results. As a general rule of thumb, keep pouring the milk until it reaches the bottom of the V nudge of your pitcher.
2). The next step in this process is known as stretching or adding air to milk. To stretch the milk, it’s important to keep the tip of the steam wand just below the top surface of the milk. Start releasing steam and you will hear that hissing sound.
Usually, it’s enough to add steam for around 5 seconds though the amount of steam to be added depends on the type of beverage you’re trying to prepare. This steam will expand the fat particles in the milk to create foam.
3). Don’t take the wand out of the milk yet. Once you have added enough air and stretched it to increase its volume, move your pitcher up to bring the steam wand deeper into the milk jug. Make sure you do not move it too much. Around 1/5 of an inch is fine.
Keep adding steam and tilt your jug at an angle (around 45 degrees) to allow the air coming out of the wand to spin the milk. This step will make sure that bubbles are evenly added into the remaining milk. It will also heat the milk evenly and you will get that creamy, smooth and velvety texture.
4). Be prepared to stop the steaming process once the milk reaches a particular temperature. If it’s too hot to touch, you need to stop steam immediately. Slowly swirl the milk around in the milk jug. What you should end up with is something like freshly melted ice cream.
5). Now, it’s time to pour the milk. This will be done in 2 stages. The goal of the first pour is to put creamy milk into the coffee. The next stage is to delicately glide the microfoam on top of the cup of coffee. This microfoam is necessary if you wish to create latte art on top of your coffee cup.
Milk Steaming Tips
Nobody achieves perfection with just a few tries. It will take you some time and a lot of effort to get it just right every time you steam milk. Here are a few tips to help you reach that professional level quickly:1). Make sure you always start the steaming process with a cold jug and cold milk.
2). Don’t make the mistake of trying to reheat milk that has already been steamed.
3). Only steam the amount of milk that is needed for the beverage. If you keep the steamed milk standing for too long and want to reuse it once it has become cold, you’re not going to get good results.
4). Learn to control the temperature. If the milk gets too hot, it will break down the proteins inside and you won’t be able to get those perfect bubbles.
5). Learn to control how much air needs to go into the milk. The process is really quick, but if you keep adding air for too long, the big bubbles will disappear and you won’t get that creamy texture.
6). Make sure you are always moving the milk jug after removing it from the steam wand so that the foam remains with the milk and doesn’t separate from it.
The biggest difference between good and great baristas is that they take time to master even seemingly simple skills. Steaming milk is something not everyone gets right but it often makes the difference between a good and a great cup of coffee. It’s going to take a lot of practice but eventually, you will get close to perfection.
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