Ever wonder why some cappuccinos and lattes taste better than others even when they are made from the exact same ingredients? Chances are the taste variation is in the froth or foam that sits on top. A good froth has a smooth texture because it’s created with the smallest of bubbles, referred to as microfoam. These little bubbles are so small you have to look close to see them. The collection of large bubbles you often see on your morning drink is what leaves the froth dry, flat and tasteless.
There’s not much you can do about the froth if you’re purchasing from a coffee house, except maybe suggest that someone teach the baristas how to create great froth. However, you certainly can create steamed milk with smooth froth at home, with very little effort.
A great latte (coffee, steamed milk and a little froth) or cappuccino (coffee, little milk and lots of froth) starts with having the proper milk temperature; 150-160 degrees Fahrenheit (65 -70 C). So it’s important that you use a thermometer to get it right. Also note that when using an espresso machine, you will want to turn the steam off at approximately 5 to 10 degrees before reaching the desired temperature. Since the thermometer doesn’t adjust instantly, it will continue to rise for a few seconds after turning off the steam.
If you’re considering purchasing an espresso machine for your home be sure to do your research. Read user reviews on several models before you make your purchase. Most machines will produce a decent coffee and can steam milk well enough but a good espresso machine will be able to create great froth with its built-in steam wand.
While a good machine will go a long way towards creating a great drink, there is a little more to it than simply turning the steam wand on, heating the milk to the desired temperature and spooning the froth onto your drink. Rather than just sticking the steam wand into the milk, you want to keep the froth hole at the surface of the milk. If you look closely at your steam wand, you should see a small hole on one side. This is what we’re calling the froth hole. Keeping this hole at the surface of the milk will allow milk to be drawn in, creating a denser, smoother froth.
You may want to hold the pitcher at a slight angle so the steam wand is resting at the side of the pitcher. This allows the milk to swirl around the pitcher helping to create great froth.
Many baristas think that during steaming that the froth should always be at the top of the milk. This isn’t true. During this step, you want the froth and milk to intermingle. As the milk expands into a froth, you will need to gradually lower the level of your pitcher so the froth hole stays at the proper level. The more you work the milk, the more froth you will create. When poured into your cup is when you want to see the froth sitting on top.
So to recap how to make a great froth, here are the steps.
1. Start with cold milk and a clean, cold pitcher
2. Only use as much milk as you need – never try to re-steam milk
3. Use a thermometer to achieve the right temperature (150-160 degrees Fahrenheit)
4. Keep the froth hole at the surface of the milk
5. Work the milk until you get the amount of froth you are seeking. Traditionally you want the milk volume to expand by 1/3 for lattes and 1/2 for cappuccinos
6. Pour the desired amount of milk into your cup then spoon on the froth
Here are a few more tips to help get a great froth.
Milk – Start with cold milk. You can froth just about any type of milk, including soy, rice and almond. The fat content in milk directly impacts the results. Non-fat milk foams the best whereas whole milk is much harder to coax good foam from. However, there’s nothing quite like a cappuccino or latte made with whole milk.
When you turn off the steam wand and before you pour, tap the side of the pitcher several times, give it a couple of quick spins and then let it rest for just a moment. This will help pop some of the larger bubbles and create a smoother texture.
If you don’t own an espresso machine you can froth by hand. Start by warming the milk on the stove or in the microwave to reach the desired temperature. Pour the warmed milk into a coffee cup. Insert a small hand whisk into the cup. Place your hands on either side of the whisk handle and quickly ‘roll’ the handle back and forth between your hands until you have the desired amount of froth. You can also purchase stand-alone frothing machines and even battery operated whiskers if you prefer.
Getting the proper froth will take practice so don’t get discouraged. Since you are enjoying each cup with or without perfect froth, you have plenty of time to get it right.