One of the best parts of drinking coffee is how it’s such a sensorial experience. From the warmth of the cup to the aroma of the brew to the first sip of frothy goodness, it all adds up to make coffee something we love to drink.
Out of all of these, the milk foam is probably the hardest to replicate if you don’t have training. Milk foam or microfoam milk is one of the best parts of drinking café coffee and wouldn’t it be great to have that same feeling at home? Today we’re going to have a crash course on how to make microfoam milk. Let’s dive in!
What Is Microfoam Milk?
Microfoam milk is a thin layer of frothy milk (usually whole milk) that’s added to the top of many coffee drinks, most notably lattes. Microfoam is light yet thick, with a shiny appearance and numerous small air bubbles. Microfoam is the base of latte art, so if you’re training to be a barista or simply leveling up your home brewing skills, this is something you’ll have to master.
Coffee with foamed milk is actually of two types: the microfoam we described just now which is also latte foam. And then we have macrofoam, which has larger bubbles and is used for cappuccinos. Microfoam is ‘wetter’ and not as foamy or viscous as macrofoam.
The easiest way to make good microfoam milk is to use the steam wand of an espresso machine. Other methods like hand pumps, whisking, and shaking can also work but this won’t be as controlled. You can also use dedicated milk frothers with a motorized whisk. Making good microfoam milk is a true skill that takes patience and dedication, especially if you want to create artistic latte foam. This is why microfoam is a marker of attention to detail and quality, making it a hallmark of the third wave of coffee.
The Science Behind Microfoam
To create foam, we need 4 things: water, gas, energy, and a surfactant (something that lowers surface tension). Water and surfactant are naturally occurring in milk, so the variables we have to work with are gas and energy.
When you use a steam wand in an espresso machine, it provides energy in the form of heat and gas in the form of steam. The interaction between the fat in milk and steam or air creates microscopic bubbles. These bubbles are strong enough to support themselves and can be submerged without collapsing, like as part of the milk. Microfoam is essentially these tiny, microscopic bubbles suspended in the milk. The smaller the bubbles, the smoother and more velvety is your latte foam.
How To Make Microfoam Milk
Let’s cover two ways to make microfoam milk: professionally and at home. But first, here are some basics you need to cover:
- Stick to whole milk- fat is really important when trying to create smooth and stable microfoam milk and whole milk is the best for this. Non-diary milk is hard to foam, but if it’s your only option, then oat milk works reasonably well.
- Fresh milk always- just like your coffee, fresh is always best when it comes to milk.
- Use hot milk- the temperature can change the chemical process of how foam forms. Before making your latte foam, heat your milk to around 65 degrees Celsius (use a food thermometer if you can). The milk should be hot but not simmering and definitely not boiling.
Making microfoam milk using an espresso machine
This is how professionals make their latte foam, so it’s the quickest and most fool-proof method.
1. Lower the steam wand of the espresso machine till it’s just below the surface of the milk. This breaks up the air, giving you creamier foam.
2. Now start adding air to your milk by bringing the tip of the steam wand up to the surface of the hot milk. You should hear a ripping sound. Be careful not to raise the tip of the wand too high or completely out of the milk, or you’ll end up spraying milk everywhere.
3. Once you’ve added enough air, submerge the tip of the steam wand again until it’s just below the surface of the milk. Hold the milk pitcher steady and let the milk roll. This makes the foam even and breaks up bubbles that are too large.
4. When finished, simply pour over your espresso and enjoy!
If you need a more in-depth guide, click here. Next, let’s see how we can make microfoam at home.
How To Make Latte Foam At Home
No espresso machine? No problem! You can still make good microfoam milk at home, with the right techniques and tools.
Foaming milk for lattes at home can be done in three ways: a milk frother, a whisk, or with a French Press.
Latte foam with a milk frother
While this won’t give you latte foam that’s as smooth as that made with a steam wand, it’s pretty close. Moreover, milk frothers are quite cheap, easy to clean, and easy to find in most stores. Here’s how you make microfoam milk with a frother:
1. Heat your milk (remember, not boiling but just hot to the touch).
2. Pour the hot milk into a tall container. Hold the container tilted at an angle and submerge the tip of the milk frother into it.
3. Move the frother up and down into the milk for about 20 seconds or so, till you see bubbles forming. If there are large bubbles, lightly tap the sides of the container to get rid of them.
If you’re making latte foam, don’t froth for too long and let the foam rest for about a minute before pouring it into your cup. You’ll need more foam for a cappuccino or macchiato.
Microfoam milk with a whisk
This is your most basic, last-resort method because it’ll give you foam, but it won’t be as smooth as with other methods. All you need is a whisk so it’s pretty simple.
1. Heat up the milk and transfer it to a pitcher.
2. Whisk the hot milk till it becomes bubbly and frothy.
3. Pour it into your drink.
Making coffee with foamed milk takes much longer with this method and requires some serious whisking.
Latte foam with a French Press
You might be surprised that you can make milk foam with a French press, and so was I! But this method is quite effective and really convenient if you already have a French Press.
1. Heat up your milk and add one cup to the French Press.
2. Pump the plunger in short, quick bursts till bubbles start to form. Do this for around 30 seconds.
3. Transfer the foamy milk to a pitcher and tap the sides to get rid of large bubbles. All done!
As you can see, you have a variety of options for foaming milk at home. Click here if you’d like more tips and tricks.
Now that you know how to make latte foam, what drinks can you make with it? Lattes, duh! But also cappuccinos, macchiatos (espresso with foamed milk), and mocha. Once you’re a pro at making microfoam milk, you could try your hand at making latte art. Give it a shot and you might discover a new skill or hobby.