Four (all too) Common Mistakes When Steaming Milk For A Latte

Well-steamed milk doesn’t necessarily make the latte but it can CERTAINLY break the latte.

Whether you’re making it or buying it, your latte milk should resemble wet paint when swirled with little to no bubbles and achieve a defined contrast on top where the micro-foam sits in the crema.

The result is a naturally sweetened and creamy taste that compliments the espresso and perfects the drink.

Steaming amazing milk, however, takes time, practice, and ultimately finesse. If you’ve tried it before, you’ll know it’s not as easy as it sounds to get a barista-worthy outcome. Here are the top four mistakes I see that make me mutter a eulogy to all the lattes that could’ve been.

1. Aerating the milk too little or not at all

When I hear the steam wand scream (that screeching sound that makes the hair on every customer’s neck stand up?), I immediately regret my purchase because I know something is wrong. That something is the barista’s failure to aerate the milk properly.

Start the tip of the steam wand just below the surface of the milk and immediately lower your pitcher so that you hear a tss tss noise. That sound is a result of the steam wand introducing air into the milk, creating a collection of tiny bubbles (known as micro foam) that come together in silky goodness.

2. Aerating the milk too much

I often see lattes with chunky milk (really foamy) or milk with bubbles so big you could fly to Oz in one of them. If you’re guilty of this, you need to scale back your aeration.

Too many large bubbles could mean you are too aggressively introducing air into the milk. Try not lowering your pitcher so much after turning on the steam. You’re looking for a pleasant tss tss sound.

Chunky milk is telling you to not aerate the milk for quite as long. Three to five seconds will provide the right amount of micro-foam.

3. Failing to roll the milk

Once you’ve properly aerated the milk, immerse the tip of the steam wand and tilt the pitcher so that you achieve a whirlpool. This rolls the beautiful micro-foam into the milk, making it a unified success. Not doing this will make your latte more watery than creamy.

4. Pouring incorrectly

Don’t worry too much about latte art until you’ve mastered milk, but you should try for contrast on the top. Follow the low-high-low principle.

Start with the spout of your pitcher close to the cup. Quickly raise the pitcher, allowing the milk to dive beneath the crema. Then, when the cup is about half to two-thirds of the way full, bring the pitcher low again.

In the end, the quality of your steamed milk is what takes your mediocre latte to great. Take the time to get it right so that it looks and tastes absolutely amazing.


What’s your favorite milk-steaming tip?

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