Texturing Milk for Latte Art » How-to Guide
The most successful cafés rely on not only serving quality coffee to their customers and ensuring their coffee shop has the perfect ambience that makes people want to linger (and order more coffee in the process!). They also strive to deliver memorable experiences every single time.
And for most people, witnessing the making of latte art and being served a delightful cup of coffee with, say, the likeness of a heart, tulip, swan, teddy bear or rose on top are some of the best café experiences that never cease to delight.
Of course, each impressive outcome of a barista’s latte art efforts is the result of painstaking training and a hallmark of technical expertise. This is why for barista neophytes, texturing milk or foaming milk for latte art is not without its challenges.
In fact, most fresh baristas or trainees consider mastering how to froth milk for latte art as one of the hardest skills to learn. Why? Because steaming and texturing milk correctly pose significant difficulties.
Aside from being technically challenging, you need to learn to use unfamiliar equipment. You’ll have to get comfortable with using a steam wand or milk frother, allay your fears of getting burned, and know exactly how properly textured milk looks like.
So, let’s cut to the chase, and dive right into it.
But be warned, if you’re in a hurry to learn latte art, that would be ill advised. Take time to get to know and enjoy it, so you become comfortable in the process.
Once you learn to do it, you can serve up and enjoy your own latte art creations.
Milk Frothing Beginners' Video Tutorial
So, we are now three weeks into our bootcamp. We've learned about freshly roasted specialty coffee, and how to extract the best out of those beans to give us a delicious espresso base.
From here, a majority of people then add a whole lot of milk. Again, there are just a few simple steps to getting good quality milk: using great milk to begin with, knowing how to texture it properly, and pouring it carefully into your espresso.
If you'd like to learn about this information with visual examples, check out the video below.
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However, if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of milk foam and how to steam milk for latte art (which I strongly advise you to study closely), feel free to read on.
How to Texture Milk for Latte Art [Step-by-Step Guide]
Among baristas and coffee aficionados, a fundamental skill to master is learning how to texture milk for latte art. After all, having perfectly steamed milk with the correct texture is key to the process.
To guide you through it, here’s an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide you can use.
Step No. 1: Select the right jug.
Choose the right milk jug or pitcher size based on the drink you intend to make.
To simultaneously steam milk for one caffe latte or two cappuccinos, use a larger pitcher (approximately 600 mL). You can use a smaller milk jug (around 400 mL) if you only need to steam milk for one cappuccino, flat white or regular-sized cup of coffee.
Fill the milk jug halfway with fresh milk. By controlling the amount of milk, you can have an appropriate volume of milk (half full in the jug!), without having lots of extra milk left over after pouring your coffee.
Step No. 2: Position the steam wand properly.
There are two main things you need to do when texturing milk: get a whirlpool going and adding air so you can make that perfect velvety milk.
The whirlpool is all about the positioning of the steam wand, as well as having the correct volume of milk in the jug or pitcher you’re using.
Sit a clean steam wand in the jug with the steam tip slightly submerged in the milk. Position the wand in the spout of the jug, and have the wand halfway between the centre and the edge of the jug.
Step No. 3: Turn on the steam wand.
You can now turn on your steam wand. You’ll notice the whirlpool start forming straight away.
Lower the jug so that the tip of the steam wand is now sitting on the surface of the milk. You’ll hear a sucking sound as air is added into your milk.
Keep an eye on the increasing volume of milk in the jug, and once you’ve added about 1 centimetre in volume, raise the jug so that the steam tip is back below the surface of the milk.
From here, just keep the milk spinning until you hit your desired temperature (60 to 65°C).
Step No. 4: Turn the steam wand off.
Once you’ve hit your ideal temperature, turn the steam off, sit your milk jug down, and give the steam wand a good wipe. Also, purge some steam out of the wand to make sure there is no hot milk stuck inside the tip of the steam wand. Repeat this procedure after every use.
Step No. 5: Break up bubbles in the milk.
The last thing you need to do before you’re ready to start pouring is to give the milk jug a knock or two on the bench or table to remove or break up bubbles.
Give the milk a good, vigorous swirl to ensure the foam is distributed evenly in the container. After this, the steamed milk should look like wet paint and it’s good to go.
If you steamed milk for two drinks, make sure you transfer half the steamed milk in another jug or pitcher. This way, you can ensure both coffees are allocated the same amount of foamed or frothed milk.
Time to Pour the Milk!
Now that you know how to properly froth milk for latte art, you can move on to the next exciting part: pouring the milk into the espresso.
Pour the milk foam carefully from a medium height, and be careful not to break up the crema. Once the crema has been set with the frothy milk, you can start pouring slightly faster until the cup is full.
Here again, you can check out the video for extra guidance.
Important Milk Foaming Considerations
Remember to always use a quality product for texturing milk.
You may need to spend more, but it’ll be more than worth it because you enjoy quality, freshly roasted coffee with milk foam.
To add 90% cheap milk to your cup would be a big shame as it can render all your milk frothing efforts useless.
Full cream milk is the best to texture, but you can certainly texture skim milk as well as quality alternative milk products.
Buy your milk from a quality-focused dairy company, or when it comes to milk alternatives – buy ones that are specifically designed for use with coffee. A number of milk alternatives can react badly with the acidity in the coffee, so make a note of this.
Best Milk Jug for Latte Art
Two vital abilities for any barista are milk steaming and latte art. Both are challenging to learn, especially at first, but using the proper milk jug for latte art can make a big difference.
The market is flooded with numerous varieties of products being touted as the best size milk jug for latte art or the best milk frothing pitcher for latte art.
They vary in colour, style, size, shape, weight, and kind of spout, and they are all created and sold by various manufacturers around the world.
So how can you choose the best milk jug for latte art when you have so many options? Your choice depends on what you require and consider a priority.
Some fundamental qualities you need to consider in a milk jug are as follows:
- Width: You want a jug that’s wide enough to create that desirable ‘whirlpool’ effect when steaming milk. Larger bubbles will deflate in this whirlpool, creating micro-foam. Milk that’s properly aerated and heated throughout forms micro-foam that gives milk a velvety smooth, silky, and shiny appearance. It has the ideal texture for free-pouring latte art creations in addition to having a nice flavour.
- Size: In general, milk jugs come in 360 mL (12 oz) and 600 mL (20 oz) sizes, although you’ll find smaller or larger pitchers. Usually, 360 mL and 600 mL milk jugs have similar base sizes, so width is not really a concern. What’s important is you have the right milk jug size for the coffees you’ll be making. Note that you also don’t want your milk jug to be too empty or too full. You won’t be able to use your steam wand properly if the jug has too little milk. But if it’s too full, the milk will expand and overflow during steaming.
- Material: Jugs made of high-quality stainless steel can help ensure a consistent temperature during steaming. There are also stainless-steel products with a Teflon coating designed to protect the fingers and hands of users.
- Spout shape: Milk jugs can have variations in spout shape, such as hearts and tulips, as well as classic spout pitchers. Your choice of spout can affect how you are able to control the milk flow as you design your latte art. Of course, seasoned baristas are not as dependent on the spout shape as neophytes.
- With or without a handle: Your decision to use a milk jug with or without a handle boils down to what you’re more comfortable with. For some, a handle-less milk jug offers greater flexibility when pouring. However, since steamed milk is hot, make sure to get one with an insulated wrap.
Best Milk Type and Milk Brand for Latte Art
When it comes to choosing the best milk brand for latte art to make fine, creamy and tasty latte art foam, whichever milk you have access to that has a high fat level would typically work well.
Personally, I recommend Brownes and Bannister Downs extra creamy. You can also choose from large milk companies that provide premium label milk.
When it comes to milk substitutes, the primary issue is how they interact with espresso. Because of this, using inappropriate non-dairy milks will always make latte art more difficult than using dairy milk.
Look for a brand that is created expressly for use in coffee shops or cafes if you want to use almond milk for latte art or any other type of milk alternative.
Regular Almond Breeze, for instance, doesn’t work with coffee at all. However, their café version performs admirably if you want the best almond milk for latte art. In my opinion, however, the best is still oat milk (e.g., Minor Figures) for latte art. The outcome textures nicely, has a great mouth feel and pours very well for making patterns on coffee.
Best Milk Frother for Latte Art: Steam Wand vs Electric Milk Frother
Knowing the steps on how to make micro-foam with a steam wand or creating latte art with an electric milk frother is not enough to guarantee the best results.
For consistency in quality, you also need to use the best milk frother for latte art. But which tool do you use: a steam wand or electric milk frother?
An electrical milk frother uses air to froth milk. Using it generates bubbles, which give the milk more volume and give it a fluffy, light texture. Meanwhile, a steam wand that looks like a small solid metal pipe is a component of coffee machines and is used to steam milk.
Both a milk frother and a steam wand can make milk froth, but only the latter can steam milk. It’s crucial to keep in mind that frothed and steamed milk are two different things. By injecting air into milk (which causes bubbles and foam), milk froth is created.
When you place the nozzle of a steam wand relatively close to the milk surface, you can create frothed milk. It can be steamed if the tip of the steam wand is inserted further into the milk, resulting in fewer bubbles. The milk will then be heavier and less dense and foamy than when it is frothed, but you will still produce a little head of foam. This is the micro-foam you want to make latte art.
So, in the battle between a steam wand vs electrical milk frother for latte art, the steam wand is clearly the better choice.
How Much Milk to Foam for Latte Art
When it comes to determining how much milk for latte art should be foamed, around 255 mL (9 fluid ounces) is usually sufficient. When the milk is heated, the 255 mL of cold milk will expand to around 284 mL or 10 fluid ounces. This is considered the optimal volume for making latte art.
To create a pour that is thick and frothy, you can use this ratio of milk to foam. Latte art is made possible by allowing the froth to accumulate on top after the milk has broken up the crema.
How Long to Froth Milk for Latte Art
One question you’ve probably thought of asking involves how long to froth milk for latte art.
The time it will take mostly depends on the steam pressure of your machine. Froth the milk for 20 to 45 seconds, focusing on adding air in the beginning for your desired coffee, and then keeping the whirlpool going for the rest of the time until your temperature has been reached.
Froth the milk for 20 to 45 seconds, or up until the desired consistency is reached (e.g., for a cappuccino, you want more foam than you would for a latte).
Make sure to raise and lower the frother as you froth the liquid. The texture should ideally resemble wet paint. To make stunning latte art, make sure you prevent shattered crema on the espresso by starting with a narrow stream.
Best Milk Temperature for Latte Art
Just like with storing and making great coffee, there’s an ideal steam milk temperature for latte art.
Turn off the steam wand once your milk has achieved the proper temperature, which is around 60 to 63 degrees Celsius or between 140- and 145-degrees Fahrenheit.
With the right milk temperature for latte art, you’ll achieve the optimal volume you need to create stunning images on coffee.
What Should Perfectly Steamed Milk Look Like?
To make amazing latte art, your goal is to produce perfectly steamed milk that has a silky, smooth texture. Also, make sure the surface of the milk is beautifully polished.
When the latte art foam is too thick, it’ll be difficult to draw or pour into the coffee. If it’s too thin, it will just integrate into the coffee.
Top 6 Mistakes You Can Make When Texturing Milk for Latte Art
Until you’ve mastered the latte art-making process, you’re bound to make mistakes, particularly in texturing the milk properly.
Here are 6 common ones you’d do well to avoid:
- Getting the texture wrong: Start with using full cream (whole) milk and making sure your finished milk texture resembles melted ice cream or wet paint. It’ll take a lot of practice to achieve a nice, silky milk texture, but with this, you can create tight, well-defined latte art.
- Waiting too long before pouring: Start pouring straight away once you’ve got your silky steamed milk. Waiting too long can lead it to separate into layers. When this happens, you’ll end up with blobs of foam instead of smooth, creamy milk. Also, the halfway point over the cup is the best place to start pouring and letting the pattern form.
- Pouring too fast or too slow: Like temperature, the speed of your can make or break your latte art goals. Pouring too fast can make the crema disappear, leaving you with a cup of coffee with lots of white stuff. Pouring too slowly can result in the crema rising all the way to the top, so you won’t be able to create any patterns on the coffee. Again, the adage practice makes perfect applies until you’re able to perfect your speed.
- Holding the jug at angles or in a crooked manner: Holding the milk jug at any sort of angle would be counterintuitive in latte art. Even if you’re trying to create a fancy or complicated pattern, hold the jug straight or in a vertical position so you can create symmetrical patterns.
- Not allowing the crema to set: Swirl or mix up the crema in the cup to get a smooth, even surface. This way, the silky steamed milk will flow evenly and get distributed symmetrically across the surface. Doing this will also result in a pleasant, richly balanced flavour.
- Pulling through too quickly: You may be off to a good start and want to finish the pattern as fast as you can. However, rushing through pouring can lead to the formation of strange shapes or patterns that you don’t want. So, relax and take it a bit slow until you finish pouring.
Other Milk Foaming FAQ & Pro Tips
Should you brew coffee first or steam milk first?
I always advise brewing the coffee or making the espresso first, if at all possible. The rationale behind this is that the texture of steamed milk can rapidly degrade. Allowing it to sit for too long can render it unusable for latte art.
Can you practise latte art without milk?
Amazingly, yes! You can practise latte art without milk.
You can substitute water and dish soap for practice. You can even use old espresso so as not to waste good coffee during your latte art attempts.
Does steaming milk make it sweeter?
Yes, it does. In lattes, steamed milk frequently results in a sweeter taste and it can also enhance the texture of the beverage. Boiling milk, on the other hand, leads to a bland and lifeless flavour.
The lactose disintegrates into glucose and galactose when milk is steamed. Now, both glucose and galactose are sweeter than lactose. The sweetness released during steaming thus explains why a latte made with steamed milk tastes a little bit sweeter than one made with boiled milk.
More Lessons to Help You Make That Perfect Cup
We are now half way through the 6-Week Home Barista Bootcamp, but there is still a lot to learn.
If you have any questions from the lessons so far, please contact me on Instagram and I’ll be sure to help you out.
You can find me on social media, and that will also make it easier for you to find the next episodes!
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