You can ask any barista what the key is to make great coffee or espresso, and most would probably tell you that it’s a good shot of perfectly steamed milk. The creaminess that milk adds to coffee makes the brew better and smoother, turning even casual drinkers to fanatics. Steamed milk is the result of milk that gets exposed to pressurized steam from modern latte machines. You can use your latte machine, espresso machine, or even your standard microwave in steaming.
Although the idea sounds simple, steaming can be challenging in practice and requires a sound technique and gentle touch. Here’s a guide to steaming milk from milk frothers, a steam wand, to a simple saucepan to help you make the creamiest brews at home.
Using Steamed Milk on Coffee
Baristas use steamed milk to make delicious drinks, including mochas, lattes, hot chocolates, cappuccinos, chai tea lattes, or flavored steamers, even more delicious. When you steam the liquid, you’re mostly doing two things simultaneously, including creating foam using highly pressurized air and heating the milk. Although most coffeehouses use modern espresso machines to steam the liquid and create that creamy milk foam layer for espresso-based drinks, you can use a saucepan, microwave, or milk frothers to create that perfect milk foam.
Milk pairs perfectly with brews because it offers a creamy foam layer of flavor complexity, smoothly complementing the robust flavors of coffee. When you add the creamy steamed foam to the caffeinated drink, it creates a profound and complex flavor profile that brings out the natural caramel, floral, and roasted flavor notes of the beans.
That’s because of the milk’s chemical composition that consists of sugar, proteins, and fats, helping to develop the taste and texture many people love in their drinks. The milk’s protein reacts with the pressurized air to create foam, or micro-foam, a collection of tight and small bubbles that produce a creamy layer. And once proteins get heated, they help to stiffen the bubbles, holding air in the milk, giving it a lighter body, a smooth velvety appearance, and mouthfeel.
Is Steamed Milk and Frothed Milk the Same?
Froth milk and steamed milk are quite similar, but they have distinct differences, with froth milk having more air incorporated into the milk, giving you more substantial and stiffer bubbles. However, frothing and steaming follow similar principles. You can use your classic coffee maker with milk frother or a modern Nespresso machine with milk frother to make frothed or steamed milk, giving you richer and smoother brews at home. But, if you want to learn latte art or enjoy velvety brewed coffees, it’s best to opt for the best handheld milk frother for the creamiest brews.
To help you understand more about frothed milk and steamed milk, and see which one works best for your favorite espressos, here are their differences.
Baristas create froth milk by aerating milk, adding air bubbles to the surface of the milk. The aeration process is what makes creamy milk foam or froth, and the purpose of frothing the milk is to create a velvety texture that adds a creamy and airy mouthfeel to your favorite espressos. When you froth the milk, it should be dense and fluffy for the best results, especially for drinks where froth is essential like cappuccinos.
If you want to create frothed milk at home, you can use a standard whisk, jar, or milk frothers, making it easier and more accessible. Because basic milk frothing doesn’t involve heat, you’ll need to heat the milk separately if you want to brew hot espresso drinks like lattes.
A notable difference between steaming and frothing is that steamed milk is always hot, and it produces a more delicate foam called microfoam. Although it produces foam, it doesn’t act like the fluffy foam you’d find in cappuccinos. Steaming makes the milk slightly aerated, creating tiny bubbles, giving the liquid a denser and velvety texture. This type of milk is a crucial component to a plethora of drinks like mochas, lattes, hot chocolate, and baristas use it as a base to create intricate art in latte drinks.
Traditionally, you can heat the liquid with a steam wand, a built-in part for many espresso machines, or high-end brewers. You can also opt for home remedies such as using a saucepan and stovetop or microwave.
Frothed milk produces more volume and more copious amounts of foam, while steamed milk is heated and produces small microfoam quantities. The latter is also more widely used in different coffees, while frothed milk is dedicated to foam filled drinks like a cappuccino or macchiato.
How to Steam Milk
After learning how to use a coffee machine, you need to brew the best drinks at home to know the right way of steaming milk using your trust brewing machines. Although the technique differs on the beverage you’re making, such as a latte, cappuccino, or a flat white, the steps are the same.
Follow the steps below to create perfectly steamed milk for fluffier and creamier drinks.
- Fill the Pitcher
Pour cold milk into the machine’s metallic jug designed for steaming. If you want to make sure you achieve the best results, it’s best to use whole milk as it produces creamier results. However, it’s essential not to use too much milk since it can drastically increase its volume.
- Milk Stretching
Submerge the tip of the steam wand of the machine below the surface of the milk. Start pulling pressurized air into the liquid. How long you keep the wand in this spot will depend on what drink you’re preparing for, but the general time only takes five seconds. During this time, the fat present in the liquid expands to create fluffy foam.
After pulling sufficient air into the whole milk and stretching it to your desired volume, move the steam wand to pass the surface. You can tilt the pitcher slightly and determine the sweet spot that would help you spin the liquid ideally in a whirlpool, incorporating the bubbles into the rest of the milk.
- Stop the Steaming
When the liquid reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit, stop the steaming process and tap the pitcher to get rid of some stray bubbles and swirl it around. The result should look shiny and creamy, resembling melted ice cream.
The first pour of the liquid should be into the espresso or coffee itself to incorporate it with the drink, and the next pour should glide the foam on top.
How Long Does it Take to Steam Milk?
The steaming process time depends on the type of drink you’re preparing, from intricate cappuccinos to trendy lattes. However, the normal steaming process can range from 20 to 40 seconds, including the boiler’s time to heat up. It’s best to practice diligently as the process can be tricky. When the boiler of your brewer or frother heats up, place its steam wand below the milk surface to keep consistent heat coming throughout the steaming process.
Is Steamed Milk Healthy?
When planning on steaming your milk, it’s best to use brewers like Mr. Coffee cappuccino maker for the creamiest results. It’s relatively healthy and can bump the nutrition you get with coffee. However, if you’re concerned about the extra calories it adds to your drink, you can request your local barista or opt for healthier versions, and use skim or low-fat milk than the conventional whole milk for a less or fat-free creamy foam layer.
How to Steam Milk at Home
If you don’t have coffee makers with frothers or fancy espresso machines at home, don’t fret because you still can create your favorite lattes and cappuccinos with the methods below.
Saucepan and Stovetop
You probably have these at your kitchen already, and you can use them in steaming milk. Pour the milk into a saucepan, turn on the stovetop at low heat, and using a balloon whisk, beat the liquid rapidly until you achieve a frothy consistency. But if you need faster results, you can use a hand blender, but it can result in a milk-based disaster in your kitchen.
Pour cold milk into a glass mason jar with its lid and start shaking it before placing it in your microwave to achieve a smooth and frothy consistency. You can also do the opposite by heating the liquid first and start shaking the jar.
How Do You Steam Milk at Home?
Can you make espresso in a French press? Can you create steamed whole milk in a French press? Yes to both! Apart from brewing delicious and robust coffee drinks, the classic French press is another home remedy that you can use to heat your milk. You can do this by preheating your milk in a microwave, pouring it into the French press, repeatedly pushing and pulling its plunger up and down until the liquid doubles in volume, creating a dense and velvety microfoam.
How to Steam Milk Without a Steamer
Home remedies of steaming your favorite milk include using a microwave and mason jar until you reach the desired froth consistency or warming up milk on your stovetop and letting your French press do the rest. You can also invest in the best quality handheld or automatic frother if you want to create creamier brews at home with ease and efficiency.
Baristas create steamed milk by gradually introducing steam into the milk until its natural fats expand, create milk foam consisting of a layer of tiny bubbles, and pairing it with your favorite coffees. You can now create it using everyday kitchen items. Never settle for bland coffee and get the luxury drink you deserve by steaming your favorite milk, giving you better and creamier brews.