How to froth milk with a steam wand

In this new article, you will find a step-by-step guide on vaporizing milk to obtain a creamy and silky texture to serve with your coffee and, why not, make incredible latte art. In addition, I’m going to give you some tips based on my experience so that when vaporizing milk, you get perfect results every time.

What is needed to froth milk?

Before frothing milk, it is necessary to know a few key things, such as what we will need to froth:

1. Fresh, quality milk

We need milk, but you may be wondering which one I recommend. The truth is that you can use any milk you drink, but it should always be fresh and of high quality. You can make latte art and texturize milk with all types of milk.

Now, with which one are we going to get the best results? We will obtain the silkiest texture with whole cow’s milk, which has the highest fat content. Because of the amount of fat it has, it stabilizes the microbubbles much better. With skim milk, for example, we obtain more foam, but it is less dense or silky.

Milk for vaporizing
Milk for vaporizing

2. A milk pitcher

We also need a milk pitcher, but will any jug do? The first thing to look at is the size; most of the ones we see have two sizes: 12 ounces and 20 ounces. The one we choose will determine the number of drinks we want to make and the size of these drinks.

As a general rule, we use a milk pitcher with twice the volume of the drink; for example, for a medium cup like a cappuccino that generally has 6 ounces, we will need a 12 ounces pitcher, and for a large cup of latte or two cappuccinos, we will use a 20 ounces pitcher.

I do not recommend using, for example, the 20 ounces pitcher for a single cappuccino because there is a minimum amount of milk that we need to fill in each pitcher to get the best results; the pitcher itself sets this limit. Always fill just below the curve of the pouring lip.

Jug for vaporizing milk
Jug for vaporizing milk

Step by step to froth milk correctly

1. The first thing we will always do is purge a little steam before using the steam wand. This is very important because it is common that there to be a little bit of water, which can spoil the milk.

Then, we raise the steam wand, pointing it directly toward us. You can use the pouring lip of the jug to guide you and place the wand there.

How to purge and set up the vaporizer
How to purge and set up the vaporizer

2. At the beginning and before turning on the steam wand, we will sink the steam wand’s tip under the milk; we do this so that it does not splash everywhere when we turn it on.

3. The wand will be at an angle to the jug. It should not be in the center of the surface of the milk, nor touching the wall of the pitcher, but in an intermediate of these two. For this, you can tilt the jug slightly. This position is necessary so that a whirlpool is created in the pitcher, and the bubbles we will add are integrated with all the liquid underneath.

4. It is advisable to hold the jug with both hands, first to have more stability since we are going to make precise movements, and second to feel the temperature of the milk.

Position of the steam wand inside the jug and how to hold the jug
Position of the steam wand inside the jug and how to hold the jug

5. Once positioned with the wand´s tip just submerged, we turn on the vaporizer. If yours is operated with a knob, turn it to fully open.

6. Once we have the steam on, we will lower the jug a little bit so that the tip of the wand is just on the surface of the milk; when we are in this position, we will notice the particular sound it makes. While we keep in this position, we are adding air to the milk in the form of small bubbles.

7. Once we feel the milk is warming up, we raise the jug again by joining the vaporizer’s tip below the milk’s surface. This temperature change will be the maximum limit for adding air.

8. By sinking the steam wand, we are creating this whirlpool where the microbubbles mix with the rest of the milk and heat it to the desired temperature.

9. When we notice it is hot and can’t keep our hand in the jug for more than three seconds, we turn off the steam and stay in place until the steam has ceased.

10. We remove the pitcher and leave it on the table for a second since we must clean the steam wand. We always wipe the wand with a cloth and purge the vapor.

Cleaning the vaporizer
Cleaning the vaporizer

At this point, we have our vaporized and texturized milk, so… is it ready? Can we serve it for our coffee? No, wait because there are a couple of other things we can do to take this milk froth to the next level:

  • After frothing the milk, we give the pitcher a light tap to pop any little bubbles we may have left.
  • Move the milk in circles; turn firmly until we see how the foam releases a shine and a texture that looks like silk.

Now, with this incredible texture, you can pour the milk into your coffee, make latte art and prepare a delicious coffee barista style. If you want to learn how to do this, I leave you with a short but effective article where we show you how to make the three basic latte art figures.

Latte Art
Latte Art

Some useful tips for frothing milk

A recommendation to keep in mind that will help you a lot is the following:

  • We need to keep everything as cold as possible, so besides keeping the milk in the refrigerator, if you can, I recommend keeping the pitcher there too. This will give you more time until the milk warms up so you can better control each step.
  • Another very important issue is the temperature of the milk. I told you that when we feel the pitcher hot and can’t hold our hand for more than three seconds, we turn it off. This happens around 140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit; if we exceed 160 degrees, we spoil the milk.
  • A chemical and physical change occurs that we cannot reverse, so it is very important not to overheat it. With this change, we notice a dry and astringent foam with a rather unpleasant taste. But it is also the perfect temperature to drink it. If you need to, you can preheat the cup with hot water to maintain the temperature for longer.
Preheat the cup to maintain the temperature for a longer time
Preheat the cup to maintain the temperature for a longer time

Do all espresso machines froth the same?

The difference will be in the machine’s steam pressure and the wand’s tip; the higher the pressure, the better.

Many machines indicate this with a pressure gauge. Above one bar, it is workable, but below one bar, it is quite low and does not have enough power to make the swirl that we need to incorporate the microbubbles, so it can be foamier.

The number of holes in the wand’s tip varies from machine to machine. From 1 to 4, this generally gives you more or less steam, which is seen in the time it will take to texturize.

For example, one or two holes are ideal for beginners, giving you enough time to control each step. If you are more experienced, you can move to a four-hole tip, where you will be able to froth the milk faster.

Holes in the vaporizer tip
Holes in the vaporizer tip

To summarize

Finally, I leave you with a simple step-by-step summary so that you will remember more easily how this frothing process happens:

  1. We place steam, position ourselves, dip the tip, turn on the steam wand and lower the pitcher.
  2. We add air between the pitcher’s wall and the center.
  3. When we feel it gets warm, we raise the pitcher, sinking the wand’s tip. When we can no longer hold our hand, we turn it off.
  4. With a cloth, we clean and purge steam, tap the milk pitcher on the table, and make several movements in a circle before serving.

With this, you have the key steps to follow to texturize perfect milk; as I always say, this takes time and lots of practice. Something that baristas struggle with for a long time.

Once we master the milk, we can enter the world of latte art. For that, I recommend reading the article I mentioned above and the one about the five most common mistakes in latte art, where I not only give you some keys to correct the technique but also show you how you can practice without milk, just with soap and water.

Written by Pablo Barrantes Nevado
I am Pablo Barrantes, a coffee lover. I decided to start this website to solve all the doubts that arise every day when preparing our favorite drink: coffee. I am an industrial engineer by profession, but I have worked in coffee shops for many years, where I have learned all the secrets about coffee machines and coffee. My passion for coffee has led me to investigate and study beyond the obvious, and thanks to this, I can offer solutions and give news about coffee and coffee makers. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I research, document and write here.

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