Have you ever wondered how to steam milk? This guide is going to provide all of the answers. The history and correlation between milk and coffee drinks is an interesting one. The modern coffee cup has been transformed into an icon of the times, and a large part of that is thanks to the steamed milk leading the charge. If you don’t have time to stop at a coffee shop before the day begins, and you want to replicate the professional style at your own leisure in your kitchen, there are ways to achieve it. Here is how to steam milk, and why it has become such a staple component in our daily caffeine pot.
The Origins of Steamed Milk
Steamed milk is most closely associated with the cappuccino and the latte coffee drinks. The history of steamed milk began all the way back in the early 1900s with experimental coffee enthusiasts unintentionally starting a drinks revolution. Coffee, as we know it in modern times, was in fact shaped and molded by those ancient baristas, and we can thank them for the many varieties from bean to cup that we are able to enjoy today. Experimenting with ways to heat milk that complement the coffee flavors, while seemingly a modern trend, is nothing new. These early methods paved the way for the staple drinks we know and love.
The Science Behind It All
Milk is essentially 90% water and 10% lactose sugars. The lactose sugars are the component that offers color, flavor, and texture while the water makes up the remaining consistency. Within the water and lactose are fat, calcium and magnesium. To describe the science most simply, we will use the example of a steaming wand to guide the explanation.
- When a steaming wand is introduced to the milk, it shoots steam into the liquid. This steam interacts by forcing air bubbles into the equation which in turn creates the steam or foam depending on the height of the steamer.
- While creating air pockets, the milk is also being heated up.
- During this heating process, the hydrophilic and hydrophobic proteins interact by both clinging to and repelling against the water in the milk.
- This solidifies the presence of air in the mixture. The result of this is foam or steam.
Which Coffee Drinks Have Steamed Milk?
Of course, not all coffee drinks have milk in them. So, which ones made it a popular trend and why? It is mostly acknowledged to have begun with the cappuccino, but the latte remains a dominant force alongside the more quirky mocha too.
A cappuccino drink is made up of espresso and steamed milk. It is usually served in a bowl shaped mug and is equal parts dreamy and tasty. The cup is extremely important for cementing the correct balance of flavor and texture that comprises this famous drink. The trick to a cappuccino is to make sure that some steamed milk is poured in first, followed by a shot (or two) of espresso. Do not stir as this will ruin the integrity of the drink. After the first two steps, spoon on the remainder of the frothed or steamed milk on top of the cup.
The latte is probably the most popular coffee drink in the world. It is featured in every café, and anyone who loves coffee will want to know how to replicate it perfectly at home. Thankfully, it is straightforward to concoct. It requires a tall glass (or cup), a shot or two of espresso, and some latte milk steaming.
Pour in the espresso first, and then it is time to add to steamed milk. Once steamed, pour on top of the coffee liquid. Make sure you don’t add the foam to the main body of the drink as this will ruin the structure and compromise the authenticity.
How to Steam Milk for Latte
When it comes to steaming milk for latte drinks, there are several methods you can use. These are all explored in more detail below. The key takeaway is to ensure that the steamed milk latte does not become a foamed milk latte! This is crucial because if this bit goes wrong, the result won’t be authentic and will instead be an espresso shot with foamed milk like a cappuccino.
The mocha is a less common drink, but a taste sensation nonetheless. It is a small drink served in a miniature coffee cup, just like a basic espresso. The mocha is different as it includes a shot of espresso, and a shot of drinking chocolate and is then finished off with a portion of steamed milk with some froth on top.
Milk Steaming Methods
There are five methods to explore when it comes to steaming milk at home. These are all inexpensive and easy to learn if you follow the steps. The process never takes too long, and is also intuitive but will take a few trials runs to perfect the output.
What Kind of Milk to Use
The best kind of milk is the one with the most fat and the coldest temperature. As long as you tick these two boxes, it really doesn’t matter what the brand is or how much you paid. Cold milk is the easiest to manipulate and will be the freshest to work with, with the boldest taste waiting to be released. Creamy milk gives off the best flavor and contains the best lactose content to be steamed or frothed.
The microwave method requires a tight-fitting jar to first shake up the milk. Measure out what you want and pour it into the jar, making sure to fasten the lid on tight to avoid a big mess. Shake up the jar as vigorously as you like to create bubbles and a messy texture. Once finished, pop it into the microwave, and the heating process will interact with the shaken up proteins to create some fine steamed results.
The saucepan method is the most straightforward. It requires a pan and a hob or heat source.
- Measure out the milk, as much as you want in your cup of coffee.
- Pour it into the saucepan.
- Take out a whisk as you turn on the heat source (medium heat so as to not burn or overboil).
- Whisk rapidly as the milk begins to warm and the results will happen within a few minutes.
- Pour the milk into your coffee, and enjoy!
A frothing wand is a good tool to have if you plan on styling your coffee with steamed milk on a regular basis. It is not too expensive to source a reliable product and make the task a lot easier. They are electric whisks with a bespoke format with the sole purpose of frothing up smaller quantities of milk. Heat the milk first, and switch the frother on into the pan as it heats up. It won’t take long, and can simply be poured into your cup once the process has been completed.
Coffee Machine Steaming Wand
Lots of coffee machines come readily equipped with a handy steaming wand. Simply switch this on and insert it into the measured out milk, and it will do all the work for you.
- To use this method, you will need to source and purchase a French press.
- First heat your milk in a pan, making sure it does not bubble too high. When it begins to simmer with smaller bubbles, take it off the heat. Pour it immediately into the French press.
- Do not pour too much milk as this will render the process useless.
- Pump the press up and down rapidly to create air bubbles in the container. Keep going until you have the right consistency.
- This step can take up to five minutes, but when finished your milk will be ready to pour into the coffee and enjoy.
Steamed Milk vs. Frothed Milk
Yes, there is a difference! Frothed milk is more associated with coffee art, as it is easier to manipulate. It sits on top of the coffee and is, as the name suggests, frothy by its very nature. Frothy milk has much larger air bubbles than steamed milk, and therefore steamed milk is much more subtle in the cup. It is denser, and less prominent but still retains all of the flavors. You may not get the staple milk mustache after drinking a steamed milk beverage, but if you have frothy milk, you definitely will.
So, steaming milk at home is quite easy if you have the right tools and knowledge. It is important to not overheat the milk so as to not overagitate the proteins because this will create a complete breakdown in consistency. A milk frother is the most common tool, and extremely useful, but it is not the only method to achieving steamy dreams. It will take some practice runs to get it right, but when you get the hang of the method (whichever route you chose), there will be no stopping you from creating that magical barista style steamy coffee in your own kitchen.