Mmm. Cappuccinos. Bringing the best out of both coffee and milk, and combining the two to make one fantastic beverage.
From the days, months, or years it has taken you to create the perfect espresso, you feel it is now time to focus your efforts on frothing milk to perfection.
Good news for you is that it won’t take a lifetime to achieve perfectly frothed milk. In fact, with just a little bit of practice you will be on your way to near perfect cappuccinos every time.
Oh, and I say “near perfect,” because we all know you’ll never be 100% pleased with the espresso shots you pull. Hats off to a fellow coffee fanatic.
Froth you say?
Why yes, I do. The difference between a cappuccino and its popular sister, the latte, lies in the way the milk is steamed. The latte is mostly comprised of steamed milk, whereas the cappuccino is mostly comprised of espresso, with a little bit of frothy milk spooned on top.
Frothed milk is basically milk that has more air bubbles as a result of the way it has been steamed.
Now that we’re clear, let’s froth
The steps here are going to be very similar to the ones you would follow when steaming milk for a latte, but please note the difference when you get to step 5. First, let’s prepare.
Preparation for frothing milk successfully
- Your milk is cold.
- Your milk is in the 1-2% milk fat range.
- Your steam wand is clean.
- Your espresso machine has been warmed up.
- Your frothing pitcher is in the freezer or fridge (we’ll explain).
- A thermometer (if you have one). I recommend the Rattleware 5-Inch Easy Steam Thermometer.
OK. Now that we’ve gone over preparation, let’s walk through the steaming process.
Step 1: Prepare your steaming pitcher
I like to leave my pitcher in the freezer for 5-10 minutes while my espresso machine warms up. So after turning your machine on, go ahead and put your pitcher in the freezer.
After 5-10 minutes you should have a nice, cold pitcher and a nice, hot machine (depending on your machine). Perfect.
Pour the milk about a third of the way to the top.
Step 2: Purge your steam wand
Before you steam, you need to make sure the steam wand is completely clean and clear. So after wiping the wand down with a warm wash cloth, turn the steamer on for about 2 seconds so everything gets cleared out of the wand.
Pretty much every espresso machine has a little knob that you turn to start the steamer. Some espresso machines may even require an additional step, such as pressing a button. Make sure you refer to the instruction manual before trying to steam anything.
Step 3: Submerge steam wand
No matter how you activate the steamer, it is important to remember not to turn the steamer on until the wand has been submerged into the milk. If you start steaming before the wand is in the milk, you’re not only going to make a mess, but your milk will also look like dishwasher soap (not good).
Make sure your wand is submerged just below the surface of the milk. I’d say half an inch is a good starting point.
Step 4: Watch and listen
The problem that most newbie frothers have is that they don’t know what they should be looking for. In other words, how is the milk supposed to look? Well, you already know from a few sentences earlier what it is not supposed to look like (dishwasher soap). So if we’re going to stick to similes here, properly frothed milk should look a bit like white paint. Of course, it should not taste anything like paint (hopefully).
But the real question is how you get your milk to start looking like this elusive white paint.
So what’s the trick? You need to use your ears.
Step 5: Frothing by listening
To properly froth the milk, the steam wand needs to be just under the surface of the milk and you should hear a bit of a ticking noise. You don’t want to hear loud, screeching, banshee noises, but you should hear a little bit of something. So what’s that “something?” Watch the video below from the 1:46 mark until about the 1:54 mark.
This is the noise you should be looking for throughout the frothing process.
Step 6: Froth milk until 140 degrees fahrenheit
If you have a thermometer, this will be easy. If not, you should stop frothing shortly before the pitcher becomes unbearably hot. As in: “If I hold this pitcher for 5 more seconds I’m going to drop it!”
Step 7: Heat milk until 150 degrees fahrenheit
Now that most of the milk is nice and frothy, go ahead and heat up the rest of the milk by moving your steam wand further toward the bottom of the pitcher. Once your thermometer reaches 150 degrees, you’re done steaming.
Step 8: Remove, wipe, and purge wand
We already know how to do this from one of the previous steps.
Step 9: Remove excess bubbles
Your first few times you will get bubbles. Don’t worry about it. All you gotta do is move your pitcher in a circular motion (like a fine glass of wine) and tap the bottom of the pitcher against the counter top (definitely not like a fine glass of wine).
Once the bubbles are removed, you are ready to spoon your beautifully frothed milk on top of your espresso.
Step 10: Spooning
No, not the kind you do with your significant other or best friend, I’m talking about spooning your frothed milk on top of your espresso. You could add two table spoons, one table spoon, one teaspoon; it’s entirely up to you!
You can also add some of the excess heated milk, but be careful if you do, you would be risking one of your dinner guests calling your beautiful cappuccino a latte. The cappuccino hates being called by his sister’s name, even if they do share a ton of genes.
You hopefully have done a pretty good job with frothing your milk. If not, don’t be discouraged…it takes some practice!
We would love to hear how your first frothing experience went. If you don’t mind taking a minute and leaving a comment, we would really appreciate it. You can find the comment box right below this post. Thanks for reading!