Foaming Milk: A Step-by-Step Instructional

How to Froth Milk - Latte Art


We've all been there. You've tried to froth milk at home but it always comes out as hot milk with a thick layer of separated foam. If this sounds familiar, don't worry, you're not alone, and you're on the right track! With a little instruction and a lot of patience, you'll be creating amazing microfoam in no time flat!

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What is Microfoam?

Frothing (foaming, steaming, stretching) milk properly is essential for creating a genuine espresso drink like a cappuccino or macchiato. We are, after all, talking about what many consider to be an art, which is why we call it "Latte Art." Beverage artists take great pride in the ability to produce microfoam correctly, but it takes time and lots of practice. If you have been frustrated with big soap-bubble milk or stiff meringue-like froth, we are here to help.

Good microfoam will be thick with foam throughout, something that will pour out like wet paint and tastes both sweet and rich.

By micro, we mean that the foam is truly part of the milk, not just a layer of foam on top. The layer method is the first stage of the learning process (perhaps where you are right now). With a little practice and the right equipment, you will soon be enjoying frothy concoctions in no time flat.

Very fine microfoam in a frothing pitcher


Before we delve into the details, if you are looking for a quick fix without the learning curve, we recommend an automatic frothing device, or if you want to go all out, a fully automatic machine that does it all for you.

Know your Frothing Device

Most of the time, the "frothing device" is the steam wand on an espresso machine, such as the perennial favorite Rancilio Silvia. Your frothing device will have a valve on it which releases pressurized steam from a steam wand. Check the bottom of this wand. If the tip is a very small hole (or multiple small holes) follow the directions immediately below for manual milk frothing. If the tip is a wide opening or you see what looks to be misplaced hole on the side of the wand, you have a froth-assisting wand; skip ahead to the "Frothing Milk with a Froth Assisted Tip".

Frothing Milk with a Steam Wand

First, you will need something that produces steam, and plenty of it, with a nozzle or tip to deliver the steam to your milk; typically an espresso machine starting at $100 and going up into the thousands. Price isn’t pertinent to this discussion, but note that more powerful equipment will yield the desired results more quickly.

What You'll Need:

How to Froth Milk with Steam

Fill your frothing pitcher just below the pour spout with cold milk
Fill your milk pitcher right to the bottom of the spout with cold milk. We recommend storing your frothing pitcher in the fridge, as this will give you more time to work with the milk while frothing. If you’re using a thermometer, fully submerge it into the milk.
Turn on your machine’s steam function and purge the steam wand
When you’re ready to start, turn on your espresso machine and allow it to heat to its normal brewing temperature. You want to ensure that your espresso machine will dispense not only ample steam to froth your milk, but also the right kind of steam. Wet steam adds unwanted water to your milk, making it less sweet and harder to froth. To get the dry steam, you need to purge any residual water from the steam wand. When you turn on your espresso machine’s steam mode (for machines that do not have always-on steam), wait about 5 seconds and then open the steam valve briefly into an empty container until the water turns to steam. Wait 20-40 seconds for the boiler to heat up just below steam temperature and purge again. You now have dry steam!
Place the steam wand just below the surface of the milk To keep the steam coming throughout the process, you need to begin frothing your milk before the heat turns off. If your machine is a heat exchanger or other kind with always available steam, this will not be a concern for you.
Open the steam valve to full blast With the steam wand in place and dry steam at the ready, turn your steam to full blast and begin frothing. During the frothing process, you need to keep the tip just below the surface of the milk so that you occasionally hear a ripping, sucking sound. You will also need to have the tip in the correct horizontal position. If your steam tip has one hole, keep it to off-center and at an angle to swirl the milk; if it has 3 or 4 holes, keep it in the center and pointed straight down. When done correctly, your milk will create a vortex that incorporates larger air bubbles into the milk until a velvety smooth microfoam is achieved.
Expand the milk 100°F - 115°F As you incorporate more air into the milk, you will notice its volume increase. This process is called stretching and is why you don’t fill your pitcher full of milk. Take note of the type of bubbles you see; if they are big and stay big, move the wand tip a little lower into the milk. Remember to keep that vortex whirling around as you go. Continue to stretch the milk until the temperature reaches around 100° to 115°F. If you’re not using a milk thermometer, a good way to estimate this temperature is by feeling when the sides of the pitcher start to get warm.
Lower steam wand and emulsify up to 160°F At this point, you can lower the wand tip below the surface of your milk. Make sure the angle and position of the wand stay the same to keep the milk rolling in a vortex. Heat the milk all the way up to a maximum temperature of 160°F. You don’t have to hit 160° precisely, but you don’t want to go over that mark because you will scald the milk and destroy all that yummy froth you just made. If you don’t have a thermometer, you’ll know you’ve reached a good temperature when the pitcher starts to become uncomfortable to touch but not scalding hot.
Cleaning Up When finished, close the steam valve and wipe down your steam wand with a damp cloth. Without proper cleaning, milk foam residue will stick to the steam wand and clog the steam hole. Purge the wand one last time to ensure all milk residue is purged.If you notice any larger bubbles in your milk, give it a tap on the countertop and swirl the milk around. Your final result should be a velvety smooth texture that resembles wet paint.

Frothing Milk with a Froth Assisted Tip

To identify that you have a froth assisted tip, simply look for either some sort of contraption at the end of the wand or what looks to be a misplaced hole on the side of the tip. This is the air-intake hole, and steam should not come out of it. The purpose of this hole is to inject additional air into your milk to compensate for the reduced steam power that some smaller or fully automatic espresso machines possess. Every brand has its own specially trademarked name for it like Pannarello or Cappuccinador. In general, you will still want to place the tip in the milk in the same manner as directed above, but there are exceptions depending on the style of tip. If that breather hole is located closer to the end of the wand (usually a half inch or less), you will need to keep that hole just at the surface of the milk/foam as you froth. If you submerge the hole, it can’t breathe. Continue to monitor the temperature as you froth milk using one of these devices. After milk passes the 100° to 115°F mark, you still need to raise the pitcher so as to lower the tip into the milk and end the frothing phase of the process. You will likely have an easier time making your froth with this device and will enjoy more consistent results, but it will typically produce a slightly inferior microfroth. Most things in life involve a trade-off, and in this case, you are trading a steep learning curve for a less artful latte. No big deal in our book. Please don’t lose hope if you cannot successfully pour the froth on your first few attempts. The silver lining is that you’ll enjoy drink after drink of espresso while you develop your skills. Word to the wise: late at night might not be the best time to start drinking your failed attempts. Give us a call at 877-554-8336 (JLHUFFORD), and we’ll be happy to assist, but you must promise to share when you finally nail it!

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