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How to Steam Milk for a Latte

 

  1. What do I need to steam milk for a latte?
  2. How much milk should I add to the pitcher?
  3. How do I use the steam wand?
  4. How deep in the milk should the steam wand be?
  5. How do I clean the steam wand?
  6. Pouring your latte
  7. What's the difference between a steam wand and an electric frother?

 

What do I need to steam milk for a latte?

Making a delicious latte, cappuccino, machiatto, or any number of popular coffee drinks will require freshly roasted coffee meant for espresso, like the Tigerwalk Espresso we use in our cafes, and milk. Whole milk is the standard choice for steaming due to its high fat content and creamy texture, but do keep in mind that non-dairy milks like almond, cashew, and soy are all perfectly viable substitutes that will just yield different tastes and textures.

Steaming milk using the techniques we describe below will also require (1) an espresso machine equipped with a steam wand, like the Breville Bambino, and (2) a frothing pitcher.

We recommend using a standard 12oz pitcher to give yourself enough volume for any type of beverage you may like to make— the Frothing Pitcher by Barista Basics is a great choice.

If you are making a latte and need a refresher on how to brew your espresso, check out our easy espresso brew guide and then re-join us here when you're ready to steam your milk.

 

How much milk should I add to the pitcher?

When you're steaming milk, it's important to start with a clean pitcher every time, and you should only steam enough for one drink. If you have a measuring cup on hand, we'd recommend measuring out about 3oz of milk for a macchiato or cappuccino, and about 6oz of milk for a latte or mocha.

In a pinch, you can also approximate the right amount of milk to steam by using your fingers as a point of reference on the outside of your 12oz pitcher.

If you're making a traditionally smaller coffee beverage, like a cappuccino or macchiato, place two fingers horizontally along the outside of your pitcher, starting from the bottom up. This "two finger" height will be your perfect quantity to steam.

And if you're making a coffee beverage that uses more milk, like a latte or a mocha, add milk until its height is about one finger below the bottom of the spout of the pitcher.

Regardless of the beverage size you are going for, always be mindful to not over- or under-fill your pitcher. Filling your pitcher to the top with milk will be likely to overflow during the steaming process. And on the contrary, make sure you always have a minimum of that "two fingers" of milk in the pitcher. Otherwise, the milk in your pitcher will heat up far too quickly, and you won't get those fine, nice bubbles we want for our latte— the coveted micro foam!

 

How do I use the steam wand?

Let's say you're making a latte—this is when you'll want to fill your pitcher up just a finger below the spout. Before you steam any milk, make sure to purge your steam wand to get rid of any condensation by briefly turning the dial on your espresso machine counterclockwise. Always remember to be very careful with the steam wand (it's hot!) and only move it by touching the rubber grip.

With the dial in the "off" position, insert the tip of the steam wand below the level of the milk. Always anchor the nose of the pitcher to the shaft of the steam wand. This will help keep your angles consistent so you're not moving your pitcher all over the place. Turn on the steam wand fully by turning the dial on your espresso machine counterclockwise and leaving it there.

Once the steam wand is on, tilt your pitcher just 45 degrees to the right (your right side should be tilted lower, the left now titled higher) . This will allow the steam to push the milk around in a circle, creating a vortex. This will pop the bubbles smaller and smaller, giving you smooth, velvety microfoam.

If you've yet to see the vortex form, keep adjusting the angle of your pitcher until you do. This circular movement of milk will be essential to the frothed texture you need for your latte.

 

How deep in the milk should the steam wand be?

You want the tip of the steam wand just below the surface of the milk. You should hear a very quiet, whispering-like noise as you're adding the air. If you hear loud grumbling, you know you're adding too much air, which will create big bubbles. A shrieking noise happens when the tip of the steam wand touches the bottom of the pitcher.

Let your milk swirl around, slowly adding air, just until the pitcher is slightly too warm to touch.

Make sure the steam wand is fully off before you remove the pitcher. Remove the pitcher of milk, set it aside, and (temporarily) forget it.

 

How do I clean the steam wand?

Before going any further, you'll want to prevent any milk from drying on your steam wand. Taking care of cleaning right away is essential, as any residual milk on the wand will become very difficult to clean after it dries. If possible, use a wipe meant for breaking down coffee oil and milk fat like Urnex Coffee Wipes; otherwise, a wet clean rag or paper towel will suffice. Clean the steam wand completely and purge it again. You'll likely see a little more milk come out. Now you're ready to make your drink!

 

Pouring your latte!

You should now have your milk with a beautiful micro foam. Give it a swirl to reincorporate the foam. Once it's shiny like wet paint, you're ready to pour.

Now, enjoy your delicious latte, and try your hand at making a latte heart using our beginner's guide on how to make latte art.

 

What's the difference between a steam wand and an electric frother?

In the method above, we've described how to steam (heat) and froth your milk using a steam wand, which is a standard attachment for the majority of home and commercial espresso machines. Steam wands are able to both heat and froth milk to create the micro foam you need to make a latte.

Alternatively, an electric milk frother, or electric milk whisk, is a standalone home appliance that uses a small motor to mix or froth your beverage. Many do not have a heating element, making them only suitable for mixing your coffee or matcha.

If you do not have an espresso machine with a steam wand, electric frothers that are equipped with a heating coil can be used as a substitute to heat and froth your milk. If using an electric frother instead of a steam wand, we still recommend using our directions above about the wand depth, angle, and timing as a rough guide for use.

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