If you like to caffeinate yourself with lattes, you’re probably not a fan of how expensive they can be. It’s much cheaper to make your own, and not nearly as complicated as you might think. In its simplest form, a latte is espresso mixed with steamed milk that culminates into a foamy surface of sippable heaven.
While drawing the espresso itself is definitely important, this skill builder will primarily address the technique for steaming milk. Once you’ve mastered steamed milk, you can take it further by decorating with basic latte art and creating your own designs.
To make a coffee drink with steamed milk, you’ll need an espresso machine with a commercial grade milk steaming wand, a milk frothing pitcher, the milk of your choice, espresso, and a rounded cup.
KEEP IT CLEAN
You should clean your wand immediately after each use, and pulse it on and off a couple times before steaming more milk. This ensures that the duct is free of any particles. Careful though, that jet of steaming hot vapor can hurt you from about a foot away, so angle it away and keep yourself clear as you do this.
Fill your pitcher with milk approximately to the bottom of the spout and turn on the wand. Submerge the wand and then raise it up just to the point where you can hear a couple of hisses. If you’ve raised it too far you’ll see large bubbles forming, and it will start to sound like violent hiccuping.
You can tilt the pitcher towards you to see inside. The milk should be swirling evenly. In the video below from Whole Latte Love, they advise keeping the pitcher low but then raising it up as it becomes warmer, so that the wand is swirling deeper in the pitcher.
Turn off the wand once the milk has reached about 140°F–180°F. Some baristas tell the temperature simply by touch, others listen to the rising pitch of the steaming in order to know when it’s done. Use a clip-in thermometer for accuracy and experiment from there.
Give the pitcher a firm tap on the counter. This disperses any large bubbles, effectively giving you thicker foam. If you don’t fully submerge the wand, it can cause the steamed milk and the foam to form as two distinct layers, which makes latte art more difficult. You can swirl the pitcher around to incorporate the layers.
Latte art is easiest in a rounded bowl-shaped cup. Pour your espresso into the bottom of the cup and then add a small amount of your steamed milk and swirl to incorporate it. The main aspects of the pouring technique are speed and height above the bowl. Pour slowly and evenly at a fairly high distance. This allows the milk and espresso to continue incorporating. You can pour in a circular motion to ensure it mixes well.
The below video from Whole Latte Love is a good visual overview of the whole process. Fast forward to 1:10 for the instructional section. The barista advises pulling the espresso shot before steaming the milk, which is a better strategy for pouring latte art, although in order to preserve the best taste of the espresso, you should already have steamed milk ready to go — the flavor of an espresso shot can become bitter as soon as 10–20 seconds after it is pulled. As with any new technique, some experimentation is required to find what suits you best.
MAKING LATTE ART
As you reach the second half of the cup, bring the pitcher closer to the surface. This layer will not incorporate, creating a distinction between the white foam and the body of the latte. Starting on the side farthest from you, pour the foam into the cup and draw the pitcher towards you, creating a white circle. Once you reach the other side of the cup, quickly drag the pitcher back across the cup, “cutting” the circle into a heart. A leaf can be made in the same way, except that instead of creating a circle, you move the pitcher in a zig-zag motion before “cutting” it with the stem of the leaf.
Check out the video below to see some pouring demonstrations in slow motion. Now go experiment, and be sure to share your designs with us in the comments below!