How to Steam Milk for a Latte

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For espresso newbies, steaming your own milk for a latte can be really difficult. Giant bubbles, big messes, and burnt milk are just a few of the seemingly unlimited things that can go wrong if you don’t know how to steam your milk.

Fortunately, with just a little bit of practice you will soon be steaming milk like a professional barista. Well, maybe not quite that good, but you won’t be disappointed with yourself.

First things first: what kind of drink are you making?

This is an important question to ask because believe it or not, not all foam is the same. In fact, if you’re making a Cappuccino you are going to require more froth than you would in a regular latte. I’d suggest you read this article on how to froth milk for a cappuccino, as the process is a bit different.

Making a latte or a mocha? Keep reading!

Preparation for steaming 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 (I’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. Perfect.

Pour the milk a little less than half 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 halfway 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).

Step 4: Watch and listen

The problem that most newbie steamers 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 steamed milk should look a bit like white paint. Of course, it won’t taste anything like paint…unless of course you make some serious mistakes.

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: Stretching by listening

Your milk needs to “stretch” until the milk is about 100 degrees fahrenheit. To “stretch” the milk, your wand needs to be just under the surface of the milk and you should hear a bit of a ticking noise. Watch the video below from the 1:46 mark until about the 1:54 mark.

Step 6: Heat milk until 150 degrees fahrenheit

If you have a thermometer, this will be easy. If not, you should stop steaming shortly after the pitcher becomes unbearably hot. As in: “If I hold this pitcher for 1 second longer I’m going to drop it!”

Step 7: Remove, wipe and purge wand

We already know how to do this from previous steps.

Step 8: 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 pour.

Step 9: The pour

This could be an entire post in itself. No, I’m not kidding. Pouring latte milk is the foundation for creating beautiful latte art. For now however, it’s fine to just slowly pour in the milk and spoon the foam on top of your now-finished latte.

Congratulations!

You hopefully have done a pretty good job with steaming your milk. If not, don’t be discouraged…it takes some practice!

I would love to hear how your first steaming experience went. If you don’t mind taking a minute and leaving a comment, I would really appreciate it. You can find the comment box right below this post.

Thanks for reading!

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  • Excellent explanation of the steamed milk process!!! I am new to making my own lattes and appreciate the expertise & experience you provide. Try asking a barista about steaming milk or anything related to the latte you just
    ordered! 🤣

  • This was informative. Thanks. What I don’t understand is why the internet confounds the latte (a product of steamed milk) with frothed milk created by a rotating wand or a milk warmer that uses a built in wand… NOT THE SAME RESULT! Also I am curious why no one makes a small steamer only unit? I don’t need the cappuccino maker – I only want a milk steamer. Any sources?

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