In previous blogs, I gave some tips for getting the best possible coffee out of your espresso machine. Once you have your perfect shot of espresso, many other factors come into play when making a great latte, cappuccino, etc. The consistency and creaminess of steamed milk is so important in finishing off a great espresso-style drink.
The fat content of the milk you use is directly correlated to the thickness of the foam you can create. I have always had a harder time foaming non-fat milk and Soy milk. Skim milk is slightly better, while whole milk and half and half are the best. I start foaming the milk with the tip of the steaming wand just under the surface of the milk. I turn the power of the wand up to a high setting and start heating the milk. I keep the tip of the steaming wand at a position where I hear the hissing noise of the bubbles starting to form at the surface of the milk. Be careful, because if you hold the tip of the wand too close to the top surface of the milk, large bubbles will form and milk may shoot out over the edges of the pitcher, or even onto you. Keeping the wand tip just under the surface is the key.
I tilt the milk pitcher at an angle of about 20-30 degrees from a vertical position and keep the tip of the wand close to the side of the pitcher. Doing this creates a twirling motion of the milk, which will help create a creamy, consistent texture. To stay consistent, you want to use a thermometer when steaming milk. When making a latte, once the temperature reaches roughly 80 ° F, I lower the tip of the wand to the bottom of the pitcher, which will continue to heat the milk without creating excess foam. When making a cappuccino, I keep the tip of the wand at the top of the pitcher the entire time, in order to have enough time to create a lot of foam. Turn the power to the steaming wand off once the milk reaches a temperature of 150° F. It may continue to warm slightly, which is fine. Try not to exceed 160° F once the milk is done heating up. If the milk has reached a desired temperature, but you think you do not have enough foam, try turning the wand on at a very low power setting. This will allow you to create extra foam without heating the milk.
Once you are happy with the temperature of the milk and the amount of foam you created, the next step is crucial. Take the pitcher and start swirling the milk in a circular motion. If any large bubbles are visible on the top of the milk, pound the pitcher down on a countertop and keep swirling the milk inside the pitcher in a circular motion. If done correctly, the steamed milk will have a creamy, velvety texture, perfect for making your favorite espresso-style drink. It is always important to keep your coffee brewing equipment clean, so be sure you always wipe down the steaming wand and blow out any excess milk from inside the wand immediately after steaming the milk.
There are so many types of espresso-style drinks that I will only cover the most popular ones. An “Espresso” is simply a shot of espresso with nothing else added to it. A “Latte” is a mixture of steamed milk and espresso, topped with foam. In a latte, the coffee and steamed milk mixture should be 80 percent of the volume, and the foam should make up the other 20 percent. You make a “Mocha” the same way that you make a latte, except that you add chocolate to the espresso shot before mixing the coffee with the steamed milk. Typically in a mocha, the foam is replaced by whipped cream. A “Cappuccino” consists of one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third foam by volume. Finally, an “Americano” is a shot of espresso that is topped off with hot water. An Americano is the closest thing to a cup of drip coffee that you can get out of an espresso machine.
Latte art is pretty popular these days, and I suggest spending time on YouTube to learn the best techniques. Just remember, when making latte art, your milk should not be too foamy, or the crema will be overpowered by the foam.
Happy 2011 to all!