If you've ever had a latte or cappuccino you would have tasted microfoam. But what is microfoam in coffee? In this article I'll give a barista's opinion on what it is and how to make it.
What Is Microfoam?
Microfoam is very small milk bubbles made by steaming milk with an espresso machine's steam wand. It is that top layer of milk you taste when you have the first sip of your latte or cappuccino. It is creamy, smooth and textured small milk bubbles.
Below I have taken a photo of some microfoam I have made with my coffee machine. If you look closely you can see the small layer of microfoam created that sits on top of my frothing pitcher above the steamed milk. This microfoam is what is poured into lattes and other frothy coffee drinks.
How To Make Microfoam?
Microfoam is made by introducing hot steam into milk at high pressure to order to aerate the milk and heat it up to expand the natural fats within the milk. The result of this heat and steam creates the very small bubbles that is microfoam.
If you want a detailed explanation on how to make microfoam with a espresso machine, click the following link to read my how to steam milk guide. It is a very detailed step-by-step explanation on how to make microfoam and steamed milk. I guarantee after reading it you will be able to make better microfoam for coffee and latte art.
Is A Steam Wand Needed To Make Microfoam?
If you want to make micro foam like in the drinks found in your local cafe, then you will need an espresso machine with a steam wand like the one I have below. This is because you need a steam wand to heat, froth in air, and spin the milk in the correct way to create micro foam.
However you do not need to splurge on an expensive coffee maker to make foam. Most budget espresso machines under $1,000.00 have a steam wand. You need make sure your espresso machine has a wand like the one I am holding below.
Can Milk Frothers Make Microfoam Milk?
You may consider getting an automatic milk frother like the one I have below from Nespresso to make microfoam. However, these automatic milk frothers cannot make the same microfoam like that of an espresso machine.
They can however make something similar.
The milk froth that these frothers make are more like milk foam, rather than microfoam.
If you are a fan of a very frothy cappuccino, then these may be a good fit for you as you won't have to spend a lot of money on an espresso machine (these go for $50 or so). Handheld ones go for even cheaper ($10 or so). But if you want to make the same microfoam like the ones in a cafe, then you will need a proper machine.
Can Coffee Machines With Automatic Milk Frothers make Microfoam?
There are only a few coffee machines with automatic milk frothers that make good microfoam. These are the ones that have an automated steam wand. You want to avoid the ones that pour the milk directly into the beverage. The best of the bunch is is the Breville Oracle. You can check it out by clicking on the following link to my Breville Oracle review. If however you like very frothy drinks, then most automatic machines can make what you are looking for.
What Coffee Requires Microfoam Milk?
There are many different types of coffee that need micro-foam to create the beverage. Pretty much every milk based drink requires micro foam. Some include: latte, cappuccino, magic coffee, flat white, and piccolo latte. So it's a good idea to learn how to make it if you want to make cafe quality drinks at home.
Foam Coffee Questions
Below are some coffee foam questions people have. If you have any question you need answered please leave a comment below and I will add it to this list.
Latte foam, how much is needed?
When making a latte, you only need about 0.5-1 cm (less than half an inch) of microfoam in the beverage. The easiest way to see if you've made the current amount if using a clear glass is to use your pinkie finger as a ruler. Your latte foam should be the size of your pinkie.
Does certain milk produce better microfoam?
Yes milk with higher level of protein produces better micro-foam (i.e. dairy and soy milk) I've written a guide here about what is the best milk to froth for latte art.
How much microfoam is needed when making cappuccino foam?
A cappuccino needs about twice the amount of foam as a latte. So you should aim to have 1-2cm (4/5th of an inch) of milk foam in your beverage.
How to make microfoam milk at home?
We've answered this question earlier in this article. If you want cafe quality microfoam, then you need an espresso machine. If you are looking for frothy milk, then a milk frother is a cheaper option that can get the job done.
What is the ideal temperature for micro foam?
To make the best microfoam, you want to make sure your milk gets up to 60 degrees celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) and no more than 70 degrees (160 degrees Fahrenheit). If you go higher than this, then the milk will overheat and expand too much, which results in larger milk bubbles. You can use an espresso thermometer to make sure you get the right temp.