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Frothing milk properly is one of the most envied of all barista skills. While espresso aficianadoes will tell you that the joy of espresso is in the bean, there are many folks who simply enjoy that lovely, velvety thick foam top on their coffee. Frothing milk for a cappuccino shouldn’t be a difficult process — you’re just injecting steam into milk, after all! If you’ve tried to follow instructions to froth milk for cappuccino and ended up with something that just isn’t right, these tips can help you figure out what went wrong so that you can correct it.
Problems with the Steam Wand
If you’re using a steam wand connected to your espresso machine, there are a number of things that can go wrong.
If there’s no steam — or not much steam — from the steam wand, check the nozzle of the wand for clogging. With the steam valve turned off, gently wiggle a pin into the hole or holes at the tip of the steam wand to clear any clogs. Turn it back on and let it heat, then allow a burst of steam to clear the rest of the clog.
If you’re not getting enough steam from a regular consumer espresso maker, the boiler may not be hot enough. This can often happen if you’re steaming milk after making an espresso. Give the boiler a few minutes to allow the heat to build back up and try again, or try frothing the milk before you pull your shot.
If you’re using the steam wand on a small espresso maker that has an air tube attached to the wand, make sure that the air tube isn’t clogged. The air tube helps pull more air into the mixture to achieve a better froth. If, on the other hand, your foam bubbles are too big, try removing the air tube and frothing milk for cappuccino with the naked wand.
Using a stovetop frother and not getting enough steam? Try this. Leave the steam valve open while the water heats, placing a cup beneath it to catch the water. When it begins to steam, close the steam valve and bleed off the watery steam. Repeat the process once or twice until you have a fairly dry steam before you begin frothing.
Troubleshooting Frothed Milk
Getting that delicious microfoam is a matter of heating the milk to just the right temperature while introducing air into it to plump up the volume. The ideal you’re aiming for is a velvety foam with tiny bubbles, similar to whipped cream. If your frothed milk for cappuccino goes flat or is too “bubbly”, there are a couple of things you can do.
The frothed milk and foam should pour out together unless you hold the foam back with a spoon. If the milk comes out and leaves the froth behind in the pitcher or if the froth plops out instead of pouring, you’ve oversteamed the milk. Try working with a thermometer until you get a feel for the right temperature at which to stop steaming your milk — about 150 F.
If the flavor is too “milky”, the temperature didn’t get hot enough. Steam a little bit longer next time. If the cappuccino is bitter, you may have oversteamed the milk which kills the milk flavor and lets the espresso dominate. Steam a little less time next time.
If your next shot of espresso tastes burnt, you may need to let your machine cool a bit between frothing and pulling shots to make sure that the water reduces back to the right temperature for making espresso.
Tips for Better Frothed Milk for Cappuccinos
Start with cold milk in a cold stainless steel pitcher.
Bleed off any watery steam before placing the steam wand into the milk pitcher. To do this, open the steam valve momentarily to let out any hot water or wet steam, then close it again.
Place the tip of the steam wand just at the surface of the milk before turning on the steam valve and let it “slurp” across the milk to aerate it.
Insert the tip of the steam wand just below the surface of the milk, close to the side of the pitcher. If you tilt the pitcher slightly — or insert the steam wand at a slight angle — the steam pressure will create a swirling whirlpool that mixes the microfoam into the milk.