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3 important things to know to improve your cappuccino

2020 October 12 - 861 words - 5 mins - coffee espresso milk

It's fun to make coffee with my simple espresso machine. The current work from home era allows me to learn a lot by practice.

And I've practiced my milk frothing a lot lately. In the beginning I usually ended up with big bubbles on top of half-warm liquid. Now I'm able to create nice micro foam. And I can even sort of determine the thickness of the foam. My latte macchiato, for instance, has thicker foam than my cappuccino.

To learn this, I've consulted quite a few online resources. I suggest you read some of the 'introduction guides to the best cappuccino' to first get the basics right.

Here I like to share the most important tips to improve your milk frothing with you:

1. Listen to your milk

"Does my milk talk?" "No, but it makes sound!"

Let me tell you what to listen for to improve your milk foam.

I've done extensive testing and I can tell you there are three distinct sounds your milk can produce. To learn to recognize these, please first read the next section and try for yourself.

Fill a pitcher with milk, half full, to right below where the sprout starts to form. Submerge your steam wand and open the steam valve.

Too deep scream

While the steam is flowing, submerge your steam wand completely, all the way to the bottom.

Listen. Do you hear a high-pitch screeching? Congratulations, you've learned to recognize the first distinct sound. The too deep scream.

This sound tells you, your wand is too deep in the milk. For nice foam your wand should never go in this deep. (Did I really just seriously write this?).

Silent Swirl

Now slowly move the pitcher down. The screeching stops.

Listen. Do you hear almost nothing, a soft swirl? Great, you've reached the silent swirl!

At this depth the milk gets swirled around. Sometimes quite violently. This heats the milk and distributes the air and bubbles.

Ripping sucker

Now slowly move the pitcher down again. To the moment where the milk starts to rip and the sound changes again. Don't move your pitcher any lower than this, or else milk will be splashed all around.

This is the ripping sucker, which sucks air into the milk.

You'll notice if you hear the ripping sucker your milk volume will increase. This is because the air is being pumped into the milk. This is often referred to as 'stretching the milk'. If you want thicker foam, stay longer in this position.

2. Only stretch cold milk

This is something I learned last and I want you to learn it first. Because this was the most usefull tip to me. Yet it is often buried deep in milk-froth tutorials you'll find around. And even then it usually just gets mentioned in passing.

But this tip deserves a paragraph of it's own. And here it is!

For a good froth, start with the last sound you've learned, the ripping sucker. Let the volume of the milk increase and move deeper to the silent swirl to heat the milk. Here come the most important tip to get nice micro foam:

Never go back to the ripping sound if the pitcher isn't cold to the touch.

Cold milk can take in air way better than warm milk. If you try to stretch warm milk, the air gets trapped in a hard foam with big bubbles. This looks like the foam most full-automatic machine create, at first I didn't even recognize I could improve on this.

This leaves you with just a few seconds with the ripping sucker. So you have to practice, and practice and practice again to get the feel right. After you open the steam valve, move to the ripping sucker position and after a few seconds transition in a smooth way to the silent swirl.

Once I knew I should stop to stretch the milk when it's warm, I finally was able to consistently create micro foam. The foam which looks like wet paint. You'll immediately recognize it when you see it.

3. Don't over heat, stop early

Your coffee is already hot. You are already some seconds into your milk exercise. So your milk is not cold anymore. Don't be afraid to stop.

If you continue too long, the sugars will transform and your taste and consistency decline.

I've never used a thermometer, only my hand on the outside of the pitcher. Stop right before the outside of the pitcher feels hot. The temperature of the milk will continue to increase even when you've stopped.

Practice practice practice

These tips were the ones which improved my cappuccino's the most. I've a simple single-boiler espresso machine, an Isomac Giada. This pitcher I most use is a small one, it holds just enough foam for one nice milk based coffee beverage.

Treat every cup you make as a practice session. Evaluate, even just for a few seconds, what you did, how the result looks and what you can change next time. Listen and improve your stretches and froths!

If you've learned something from this post, please drop me a note!