When preparing authentic coffee beverages, you might also want to master the art of milk steaming. But, isn't hot milk just hot milk? No! There's a subtle difference between steaming milk and frothing milk for the perfect cappuccino, latte and more.
In all coffee shops, both steaming and frothing is done with the steam nozzle of the espresso machines. But there is a subtle difference. Steaming is done near the surface of the milk to create velvety "micro-bubbles" and increase volume. For frothing, the steam nozzle is immersed deeper to only heat the milk with a thin layer of froth forming on the surface.
Mastering the art of milk frothing and milk steaming at home takes patience that’s why I’ve put together a guide to get you started!
Understanding the Milk
Before we get into how to steam milk, you should first understand that milk is a food and adding heat changes its properties significantly. Milk exists as a protein-rich source of nutrients for newborn mammals and is not just something soft, creamy and delicious when mixed with coffee.
The proteins that make it functional as this food source are primarily what reacts and changes when steam heat is added to the liquid, and understanding it is key to achieving the perfect texture.
The way these proteins react with air helps create foam—preferably microfoam, or a collection of incredibly dense, small bubbles that form a creamy top over the finished liquid. This is the smooth, silky foam that's essential when attempting to create any type of latte art.
The fact that milk is a food is the main reason you should never steam milk twice, nor should you top up steamed milk with cold milk and steam again. No cheating! Start with fresh, cold milk every time and only steam what you need, when you need it.
The best way to foam milk at home with an espresso machine
The absolutely best way to foam milk is by using an espresso machine, no question about it! There are only two rules you need to follow when you are starting off with steaming milk with your espresso machine.
Rule number one: don't be afraid. Espresso machines can smell fear. Always approach the steam nozzle with confidence and try not to freak out when it gets hot.
Rule number two: it won't be perfect the first time. Keep trying, you will make it!
Here are the steps you need to follow:
Step 1: Get Started
Hold the handle of your milk jug with your less dominant hand. Take your jug of cold milk and insert the steamer wand tip so that the holes are fully submerged in the liquid but not touching the bottom or side of the jug and with your dominant hand, turn the steam wand to full speed.
Step 2: Add Air
Once the wand is fully up, take your dominant hand off the steam wand knob or lever and place it on the side of the milk jug so you can feel the temperature of the milk as it heats.
Once your hand is on the side of the jug, lower the jug until you hear an assertive, repetitive hissing sound: this is the sound of air being introduced into the milk. You also want the milk to spin in a fast circle, almost like a whirlpool.
Step 3: Stop aerating
Hold the jug where you hear the hissing sound - it should be reminiscent of tearing paper, very controlled and firm - until the jug is no longer cold but not yet warm . It should feel the temperature of your hand.
This is the golden rule for preparing perfectly frothed milk: once the milk is no longer cold, around 100°F, stop adding air by gently lifting the milk jug back up until the tip of the steam wand is again submerged in the milk and the hissing sound stops.
Step 4: Heat until done
Even though you have finished frothing, you are not yet heating the milk. And nobody wants to drink a lukewarm cappuccino! Submerge the wand just below the surface of the milk until the side of the jug becomes to hot to touch.
The metal should be just hot enough to the touch that you don't want to hold your hand on it for more than a second or two. If the milk jug gets too hot, turn off the steam wand. Do not pull the steam nozzle out of the milk until you have shut it down completely or you risk splashing hot foam on your face. No fun!
Step 5: Keep it Clean
Always—always!—mop and "flush" or let your steam wand steam out a little to make sure it's free of milk spills. Don't even look at your milk before doing this. Clean that thing!
Step 6: Smooth microfoam
If there are large, visible bubbles on the surface of your frothy milk, lift the jug and drop firmly on the counter to pop them. "Nourish" the milk to achieve a uniform texture by swirling the jug around and again wetting the froth with liquid milk: The finished product should look like a just-opened can of paint with a glossy sheen.
Other milk steamers for home use
The best milk steamer should be easy to use, have a variety of features, be reliable and durable. There are many types of milk steamers available for home use. They vary in price, features, durability and ease of use.
Some models are easier to clean than others while some have their own heating coils that can be used with different types of containers. The best milk steamer should have all these qualities so it can provide convenience for the user.
So, depending on what kind of result you are looking for in your milk you should ask yourself the following questions:
- What type of coffee drinks would you like to make with the milk steamer?
- Do you prefer steamed milk or frothed milk?
- Is it worth buying a big electric milk frother or will a handled one do the job?
- Are you going to use your milk steamer for anything aside from making coffee drinks?
- What’s your budget?
Once you know the answers to these questions, it will be easier choosing a milk steamer based on its characteristics and functionality.
Can I microwave milk?
Microwaving your milk can cause it to explode or boil over, so make sure you use a microwave-safe container and stir the milk before heating it.
The best way to heat up your milk is by using a pan on the stovetop. This will allow you to control how hot your milk gets and prevent any possible explosions from happening.
If you're in a hurry, microwaving your milk for 10-15 seconds will be enough time to heat up your drink without risking any potential dangers that might come from boiling over or exploding.
Can you froth milk without a frother?
Yes, one of my favorite ways to do that is to use a French press! Simply pour hot milk into your French press, plunge up and down vigorously with a spoon or whisk until you see bubbles forming on top of the milk, then remove the lid and enjoy your frothy milk!
What is the best way to heat up milk on the stove?
The best way to heat up milk on the stove is by using a pot. A pot is a container that can be used for holding liquids or other items. It has a handle and usually comes with a lid, which can be used to cover the contents.
A pot is often made of metal, ceramic, glass, or plastic. They are usually used in cooking food over an open fire or on the stovetop. The pot should have enough room for the milk to boil without spilling over or burning onto the stovetop.
The milk should be heated on low-medium heat for about 10 minutes or until bubbles start forming around the edges of the pot. This will help avoid scalding the milk and will also ensure that you don't end up with any lumps in your cup of tea or coffee.
What is the best milk for steaming?
The best milk for steaming is the one that has the most fat in it. Whole milk, for example, is better than skimmed or semi-skimmed milk or any other types because it has more fat. Dairy-free options are also not great for steaming due to low fat content and they also get hot really fast as well.
If you have reached the end of this article you might feel as if this is a lot of information regarding milk steaming and that is ok! I used to work as a barista and it took me about 2 weeks of steaming milk every day countless times, until I finally got it right. My best advice is to just have fun with it and eventually it will be a piece of cake!