How to Make Perfect Steamed Milk
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How to Make Perfect Steamed Milk

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How to Make Velvety, Naturally-Sweet Milk

Milk becomes naturally-sweet when heated to the ideal, not-too-hot, temperature. (Ever get warm milk before bed as a child... or even as an adult?). It quickly becomes scalded-tasting at too high a temperature. For this reason, it is imperative that the milk steamed for espresso drinks not be over-heated.

Excellent steamed milk vs. sloppy

Step 1: Use cold milk

For best results, use very cold milk and a very cold pitcher. Some baristas leave the pitchers in the refrigerator.

Step 2: Use the proper amount of milk

Pour only as much milk as you will need for a single drink into the pitcher (slightly more than 1/2 of the volume of the cup used). You should be selecting your pitcher based upon the drink you plan to make -  a 12 oz pitcher filled to a bit below the base of the pour spout for a cappuccino and a 20 oz pitcher filled to that spot for a latte.

Step 3: Position the pitcher

Position the pitcher parallel to the steam wand and put the wand into the milk so that the end of the wand is just submerged. Hold the pitcher with your non-dominant hand, with the weight of the pitcher held in your hand and with one finger touching the bottom and use the other to operate the steam knob and to gauge the temperature of the milk.

Step 4: Steaming, part one

Turn steam knob so that the steam is on full blast and stretch the milk for only a few seconds, allowing bubbles to form on the surface. Do this for a bit longer if making a cappuccino, for more foam. You should finish stretching the milk before it becomes warm to the touch, to ensure the smoothest, most fine foam.

Step 5: Steaming, part two

Turn the pitcher so that it is parallel to the floor, roughly perpendicular now to the steam wand, as you allow the steam wand to bury further into the milk (about one inch). The milk should begin circulating around smoothly in the pitcher, swirling from top to bottom like a convection current. Do this until the milk is just hot enough that you want to remove your hand from the side of the pitcher, then turn off the steamer and set milk on counter (remember to wipe the steam wand with a damp rag).

Step 6: Polish the milk

Polish the milk by swirling it a few times to make sure all foam is integrated and smooth. It will actually become shiny on top with this action. Tap the pitcher on the counter if any large bubbles remain. The milk should be shiny and smooth, with no visible bubbles, only tiny, frothy ones. It should taste creamy and be warm on the tongue, but not scalding – the right temperature to consume immediately at peak sweetness.

Step 7: Rinse pitcher

Rinse pitcher thoroughly and return it to a cool place.

Integrating your milk with your espresso:

  • Pour your desired amount of milk into the pitcher, and leave on the counter while you...
  • ...follow Steps to Pull an Excellent Espresso
  • As soon as you have pressed the button to start your espresso shot, begin steaming the milk. Milk should take about 20 seconds, espresso about 23-30.
  • Follow all steps to velvety, naturally-sweet milk.
  • As soon as your espresso is done, begin pouring milk into it. This should be done by tipping the cup so that the milk can pour slowly down the side, again making a convection-like current in the cup. When you have about 1” of room left, bring the pitcher tip close to the drink surface (which may require tilting the cup) while continuing to pour and tip the pitcher at a steep angle toward it, jiggling your wrist so that the foam piles onto the drink. No scooping with a spoon should be necessary.

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