getting ready to steam milk

October 07, 2011

This is the next in a series of installments on properly frothing milk.  This one will focus on getting the machine and milk ready for frothing.  Obviously all of these phases are actually done consecutively in short sequence and not with large gaps between them.


Here is the basic outline of how you should approach it.


Start with the machine’s boiler fully heated up and ready for steaming milk.  On heat exchangers and double boilers as well as on lever machines, this happens by the time the machine is ready for pulling shots of espresso – in fact quite a bit earlier - but on a machine like the Rancilio Silvia you generally have to pull your shot of espresso and then flip a switch that further heats up the machine to steaming temperatures.  The problem is that the temperature that works for steaming milk well is far too hot for creating espresso that isn’t terribly bitter.


Fill your pitcher with roughly the amount of milk you want to use, but perhaps a little more as it is easier to steam a lot of milk than a little and make sure the milk is not above the bottom of the spout on the inside of the pitcher.


Once the machine is at a proper temperature take a towel or even a damp paper towel, wrap it around the steam nozzle and let off a blast of steam to clear out any moisture inside it.  If you are lucky enough to have a huge drip tray and a flexible steam wand you may blow the steam into the tray.


Now turn it back off and submerge the wand just enough under the milk that you will not create big bubbles and turn the machine on.  It is far better to be too far down right now than too close to the surface or worse still, not under the surface yet.  Now turn on the steam as high as you are able to handle and get ready for the next phase of actually steaming the milk.


When frothing milk even if you do not aspire to create latte art it is crucial to stop at the right temperature.

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