is it harder to steam milk or pull shots?

Steaming milk is one of the real challenges most new baristas have when they are first trying to learn to make great espresso drinks.   People want to make latte art and wonder why they cannot pour it after watching a video or two and the answer is almost always the same: “your milk just is not good enough for it.”   

Steaming milk is in some sense harder than pulling great espresso, but in another sense it is much easier.  If you read up on what you need to do to do both well, it takes a lot longer to learn to steam great milk than it takes to pull your first great shot of espresso.   On the other hand it takes a lot less work to learn to make amazingly good milk essentially all the time than it does to learn to make amazingly good espresso all the time.  In fact if you ask the very best baristas in the world most of them claim that they do not always pull great shots of espresso.  They have to dial the shots in to their taste when they start with a new coffee and even once they have done that even the greats like James Hoffman claim not every shot will be ideal.  On the other hand they can produce great milk for latte art every time without dialing in the milk.  The result is just much more predictable.

Since I focus more on my espresso than my milk, and I pull about 3 shots without milk for every milk drink I pour, I think I probably am better at pulling great shots than at steaming milk, but even so I can’t remember the last time I steamed milk that was not good enough to use, but I do not have to think back far to remember the last shot I pulled that I decided to pour out.

Here is what godshot blog author Chris Tacy says about what percentage of his shots are worth drinking versus pouring out…

“If you include "seasoning" shots and shots from when I'm dialing in a new coffee or experimenting - then I probably average around 3 or 4 shots out of every 10 I either don't drink or reject after one sip. In general, I rarely get below 3 out of 10 that are not consumed - and there are some times where it's more like 5 or 6 out of every 10 on average.”

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