How to Froth Milk for Espresso Drinks

Tips to Help You Froth Milk and Create Great Microfoam

When it comes to creating a pitcher full of warm, sweet, frothy milk, an espresso machine can't be beat. If you want to learn how to froth milk, you can try to heat milk in a pan or the microwave, but if you have an espresso machine you should definitely use the steaming apparatus.

Milk that has been steamed actually tastes sweeter than milk that is heated any other way. This is because the steam heats up the milk at such a rapid rate that the chemical makeup of the milk actually changes. We don't need to get into all the complicated chemistry. You can try it for yourself. Heat milk in the microwave and steam some. Then do a taste test and see for yourself.

Now you're convinced that steaming is the best way to go, but where do you start? That steam wand on your espresso machine may look intimidating and downright dangerous if you aren't sure what you're doing. Don't fret. If you have the proper tools and some patience, you will be fine.

frothing pitcher for latte art First, you need a frothing pitcher. Stay away from anything plastic, as it will probably melt with the heat from the steam wand. You can use a pitcher made of glass or ceramic, but the most foolproof option is a stainless steel pitcher. As far as size goes, anything between 10 and 30 oz should do the trick. Just keep in mind that the milk is going to expand when you steam it, so you don't want a pitcher that is too small.

frothing thermometer Another tool that will set you on the right track to frothy milk perfection is a thermometer. Look for the kind with a long stem that will reach down into your pitcher and clip onto the side so that it doesn't get in the way of your steaming action. This will allow you to steam your milk to the temperature that you like best. You can also avoid scalding the milk by getting it too hot, so watch out for 185 degrees. Going above this mark is asking for trouble.

steaming pitcher with thermometer Now that you are all set up with a good stainless steel pitcher, a thermometer and an espresso machine steam wand, all you need is some milk. If you really want to get good at frothing milk, it is a good idea to stock up on milk and plan to spend an hour or two working on your skills. To begin, pour milk into your pitcher to fill it about half way. Remember, the milk is going to expand as you steam it. Next, put the tip of the steam wand below the surface of the milk. Open the steam valve to start heating your milk.

If you stop here, your milk will be heated, but you won't have any of that lovely foam on top. The type of foam that is considered ideal for espresso drinks is called microfoam. From the name, you can probably infer that microfoam has very small bubbles.

Some espresso machines come equipped with a froth aider that will do the work of frothing for you. Simply insert the frother into your pitcher of milk and wait for the bubbles to appear. In most cases these devices will produce some tasty foam, but the froth will tend to have larger bubbles than a true microfoam would have. Beginning espresso drinkers or folks without a lot of time to practice producing perfect foam might really appreciate one of these froth aiders, however.

Figuring out how to create microfoam with a steam wand alone is going to take some time and patience. You need to carefully lower the pitcher until the wand is right at the surface of the milk. This is the part that is going to take practice. If the steam wand comes too far out of the milk, you will create huge bubbles. You also need to use your ears when practicing, because when you get to that sweet spot of steaming the small bubbles, you will hear a swishing, whooshing sound that is quite distinctive.

Even if it takes you awhile to create the perfect microfoam for your cappuccino, have fun and enjoy the process as you learn how to froth milk.

Further Reading

How to Froth Milk Without an Espresso Machine
Boiler Types for Espresso Machines
Planning to Buy Espresso Machine: Things to Consider