The heat of the liquid warms your hands through the mug, the rich aromas float through the air and ignite your senses, your tastebuds are ready to indulge in the deep flavors. Oh, that first sip of coffee in the morning. There is nothing quite like it.
Morning coffee is a ritual, a ritual that not many people would be likely to give up for anything. It is one of the most essential elements of the morning routine. The day cannot begin without that morning coffee, and boy is it obvious when someone hasn’t had their fix. The day will run smooth, and you will be ready to take on everything and anything, but only once you’ve had that coffee. Unfortunately, or maybe not so unfortunately, there are coffee snobs out there. Instant coffee? Throw it in the garbage. Just not good enough. How dare you even consider that? A splash of milk straight from the carton in the fridge? Uh oh, no way.
Coffee snobs know what they want and where to get it, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But spending five dollars on a coffee every single day adds up. You’d probably be able to afford a week-long, all-inclusive 5-star holiday in a world-famous resort if you totaled up the money you spend on coffee over a year (everyone knows you have more than one a day sometimes, don’t try to hide it). Imagine the money you’d save if you could perfectly steam your milk in the comfort of your own home. And then imagine how much more relaxing and pleasurable it would be having your hit of coffee, with impeccably steamed milk, in the cozy confines of your duvet. Mhmmm, dreamy, right?
Even for those self-proclaimed (there is no shame in wanting and only having the best coffee you can get) coffee snobs, the dream can become a reality if you discover the best way to steam milk at home.
Baristas are overflowing with secret coffee knowledge: the right strength to give you that boost of morning energy, the beans that provide the richest flavors, how to steam milk to get those velvety microbubbles, the golden ratios of water and milk to coffee for each and every coffee concoction imaginable. Chances are you have already found your favorite coffee beans or ground coffee brands, and you definitely know how strong you need your shot for maximum productivity and communication. But before you can even begin to consider how to steam milk at home, it is absolutely essential that you know those golden ratios. You will not be able to create your coffee to the barista standard without this knowledge.
Let’s begin with water. Most people believe that to get the best espresso shot, the perfect amount of water to add to 1 gram of coffee is between 15 and 20 grams. Now, this completely depends on preference, but the golden ratio is believed by many a coffee connoisseur to be 1:18, that is 18 grams of water for every gram of coffee. For a more at-home friendly comparison, in tablespoons, that works out to be about 1:4. Everyone has different preferences, so get experimenting to find the ratio of water to coffee that produces your ideal strength and flavor.
Now for the milk. The golden ratio of milk to coffee depends on the type of coffee you take, and there are a lot of variations to choose from, each with a slightly different ratio. All milk coffees begin with the base of your perfectly ratioed espresso shot, which you now have mastered and perfected, obviously. Here are the golden milk ratios that all baristas use to create some of the most popular coffee drinks in the country.
Latte Translated, caffe latte literally means milk coffee. So, it is no wonder that this popular coffee contains the most milk out of all of them. The layer of smooth, bubble-free microfoam on top gives the latte its signature look, especially now latte art has become more popular. But the ratio of coffee to milk and foam is what really matters. The formula to remember when making the perfect latte is 1:3:1, espresso, milk, foam.
Cappuccino This classic Italian style coffee is enjoyed across the globe, and the Italians will have no problem telling you if you have to ratios all wrong. Of course, they know how to do it best. A cappuccino should be equal parts espresso, milk, microfoam, giving a 1:1:1 ratio.
Flat White Not quite a latte, not quite a cappuccino. Somewhere a little way in between. This coffee originates down under and calls for a simple 1:2 espresso milk ratio with a small layer of that magical microfoam that doesn’t quite make the ratio cut but cannot be forgotten.
When learning how to steam milk, you need to know the ratio you need for your favorite coffee. You achieve the milk to foam ratio through steaming, so if your go-to morning coffee isn’t on the list, you better do some research before you begin to steam milk at home.
People are becoming more and more environmentally conscious, and the dairy industry has had many lights shed upon it in the past few years. Alternative kinds of milk have seen a boom in popularity. In the not-so-distant past, finding milk alternatives was a little bit of a task, and it was rare for your favorite coffee shop to have anything available if you didn’t drink cows’ milk. These days, people are mad for milk alternatives. They provide you with an extra little bit of flavor and stimulation; who doesn’t want a velvety, coconutty kick in the morning? Soya, oat, and almond are some other popular milk alternatives that are rising in popularity. Some of them take different steaming techniques to produce the required ratios so some experimentation may be required if you decide to try one of these environmentally friendly kinds of milk. They taste great and are better for the planet (and the cows); it’s worth a shot!
Steaming Milk at Home
Steaming the milk not only makes it hot, but it stretches it, which means lots of tiny air bubbles are added to it. The more the milk is stretched, the more foam you will create. There are a few ways to steam milk at home, each with a different price and different outcome. It all depends on what you’re willing to invest for that perfect morning coffee.
Steam Wand Using a steam wand and a jug of milk is the best way to steam milk at home and achieve those golden ratios. Before you begin adding air, lower the tip of the wand to just below the surface of the milk and slightly tilt the jug. When you begin adding air, this will cause the milk to spin. To create that desired microfoam, lift the wand as close to the surface as possible. Life is too high, and you will just blow air onto the surface, too low and you won’t create that microfoam. Once enough air has been added, submerge the wand further and watch the milk spin. Do this until the jug becomes slightly too hot to touch and you will have the perfect velvety steamed milk and microfoam layer.
Pro tip: Swirling and stamping the jug of milk on the table after steaming will remove any larger bubbles that shouldn’t be there.
Automatic Milk Frother These are handy little devices that not only heat up the milk but can produce your desired level of froth in minutes. Some have different settings that you can use to accomplish that perfect amount of microfoam goodness; cheaper ones come with one setting, so it depends on how picky you are!
French Press This is a cheap and effective alternative way to get barista-style foamed milk at home, but it does not heat the milk itself. Gently heat your milk on the stove or in the microwave and once it is hot, pour it into the French press. Hold the lid down whilst moving the plunger up and down to add air and stretch the milk. You’ll be able to see how much foam you’ve created so can hit those ratios on the head.
Handheld Milk Frother These are generally not considered the best option if you are particular about your coffee and the quality of the foam but are still a great cheap alternative. They are super easy to use, you literally just submerge the wand and press a button. Like the French press method, they don’t actually steam the milk and heat it up, they just give you that foamy texture. But even so, the foam produced is more macro than micro, giving you bigger air bubbles and less of that velvety experience. Foam? Yes. Barista quality? Not quite.
It is totally possible to steam milk at home, and you can achieve barista-level quality now you know the best way to steam milk at home. But there are some cheaper alternatives that can provide you with steamed milk that isn’t half bad.