In this guide you will learn how to steam milk for barista made coffee. Whether you need to improve your milk steaming skills for work or just want to make steamed milk at home - I guarantee after reading this article you will produce much better milk!
What Is Steamed Milk?
Steamed milk is the end result of milk being exposed to high pressured steam from a espresso machine.
It's made by introducing steam gradually into milk until the natural fats within it expand to create ‘micro-foam’, which is a layer of very small milk bubbles.
The end result is a smooth, silkily beverage perfect for espresso based drinks. The idea sounds simple enough but in practice it requires a gentle touch and sound technique.
How To Steam Milk For Lattes and Coffees
1. Fill The Jug With Milk
The first step is to fill your jug with milk. While this may sound like an obvious step, it’s actually quite important to get the right amount of milk in your jug. Not only to produce the best steamed milk but for conserving milk.
Fill the milk half way up the jug until the surface of the milk hits the lower nudge or ‘v’ of the jug spout.
2. Stretch The Milk
The second step is called ‘stretching’ and is when you turn the steam on and have the nozzle of the steam wand below the surface of the milk to make a hissing sound. This processes creates micro-foam by letting air gently into the milk.
The key is to have the nozzle just a fraction under the surface of the milk in order to create foam while making the milk spin in a whirlpool motion.
I find that the milk stretching stage lasts about 5 seconds as you only need to introduce a little bit of air into the milk. Once you create enough foam for your coffee — more for a cappuccino less for a latte — you move onto the third stage.
Note: The type of machine you have at home may affect your ability to make textured milk. If your machine is not cranking out enough steam I recommend upgrading your gear. Check out our guide on the best latte machines for this.
3. Keep Spinning The Milk In A Whirlpool Motion
The third stage is called ‘spinning’ and is when you submerge the steam wand nozzle another fraction below the milk — literally half a centimetre (1/5th of an inch) — and continue to spin the milk in a whirlpool motion.
You should hear no hissing sound other than the occasional leftover bubble being eaten up by the steam wand.
This spinning process mixes the micro foam with the milk in order to ‘polish’ the milk. The key to spinning the milk is to tilt the jug a little to get the perfect whirlpool.
You’ll need to find the sweet-spot which is a little off-centre and try to keep it there from start to finish. You can see me doing this below.
Keep spinning the milk until the jug becomes too hot to touch or around 60 degrees celsius (140 fahrenheit) then turn off the steam and wipe your steam wand with a wet, clean cloth.
However I find when steaming milk for latte art it’s better to have the milk a little cooler around 50 degrees celsius (122 fahrenheit).
4. Rest And Polish The Steamed Milk
Once the milk is made give the jug one solid THUMP on the counter to disperse any big bubbles and then leave it to sit whilst you put the espresso shots on.
Then, before pouring, swirl the milk around the jug to polish the milk and to make sure the milk and micro-foam is together. The more shiny the milk the better, but don’t be too rough otherwise you’ll make new bubbles.
You want the milk to look like wet paint.
5. Pour The Milk Into Your Coffee
When the milk is well-spun, the foam will pour out of the jug first because it sits near the top. You want to pour the milk into the coffee at a steady pace.
The key is to pour the milk along the side your cup by resting the spout of the jug on the top of your cup.
If you used a big jug you will want to distribute the foam between the different coffees. The general rule is to pour cappuccinos first, hot chocolates second, lattes third and flat whites last.
A handy tip is to ‘split’ your milk by pouring half of your milk into a smaller jug. This lets you have more control of how much foam you add to your milk-based espresso drinks -- this is very handy to make latte art like me below.
6. You've Steamed Milk!
Congratulations you’ve now learned how to steam milk! Make sure to match it with our guide on making espresso. Or if you want to take a short cut to steamed milk check our top milk frothers post.
To recap what we’ve learned below is a quick diagram of the above steps:
Milk Frothing FAQ
Below are some common questions people ask about frothing milk. If you have any extra questions, please leave a comment below and I'll add it to this list.
How to steam milk for a cappuccino?
When steaming milk for cappuccinos you want to add extra air into the milk when texturing / stretching the milk. You will know more air is going into your milk as you will hear more hissing sounds and the milk will grow. Once you've gotten more air into your milk, then you continue with spinning to combine the micro foam with the milk.
What type of milk jug is best for latte art?
In my opinion there's no best brand, rather what you want to look for is who the jug is constructed. For more intricate designs, you want to make sure you have a pointier spout. If you want to do big hearts or tulips, then a wider spout is better.
How to steam milk without a coffee machine?
The two easiest ways to steam milk without a coffee machine is by either using a automatic milk frother or a manual frother. Please note however you will not get the same milk as you would from a coffee machine - it will be very frothy and not properly combined and not suitable for latte art.
How to steam milk for latte art?
When steaming milk for latte art you want to make sure you do two things. Firstly, you don't want too much micro foam. You want to have just enough to be able to cut through your espresso. I find about 3-5 seconds for milk texturing is enough. Secondly, you want the milk to be on the cooler side, 50 degrees celsius (122 fahrenheit). I find cooler milk does better when cutting through the espresso to create designs.
Steam milk vs foam milk, is there a difference?
In my opinion when I say steamed milk, it describes the process in this article of steaming milk with an espresso machine to create micro foam, and then combining it with the milk to create textured milk needed for lattes and cappuccinos. Whereas foamed milk is just that, foam, before it is incorporated into the milk to create steamed milk.