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I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro foam!
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Discussions > Espresso > Latte Art > I've got hot...  
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JFitzpatrick
Senior Member


Joined: 8 Feb 2012
Posts: 22
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Mon Mar 5, 2012, 5:27pm
Subject: I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro foam!
 

I think my old espresso machine has ingrained some bad habits into my milk frothing style and I'd really like to break those habits (or learn new ones) to get some awesome latte-art-ready microfoam out of my new machine. My old machine was a Estro Vapore (the Starbucks Barista) and I tended to heat the milk and then froth it hard at the end to create cappuccino style foam. I was pretty excited it did that well and so I stuck with it. I never attempted to do anything different. It was.. heat the milk until 120F or so, froth like crazy to 150F'ish.

Now that I have the Expobar Office Lever, which has a vastly better steam wand/steam pressure, I'd like to start playing around with latte art. I've watched tons of videos on YouTube, read a bunch of comments here and at Home-Barista... but I'm getting close-but-not-good-enough.

Here's the primary technique I've been trying based on the videos/comments: I do my best to surf the milk line with the steam wand tip, avoiding the fffft-ffffft-ffffft sound (the fish-fish as people seem to call it) and aiming for a steady and low hiss of air into the milk. This seems to do a pretty good job incorporating air. Once I get close to 90-100F, I sink the wand down and try to (succeeding most times) in creating a little vortex of milk swirling around the pitcher.

At the end I bang the pitcher on the bench and swirl it gently. I never have any big bubbles at all and any visible bubbles are tiny (1mm or less in diameter). When I go to pour the latte, however, I almost *always* have what amounts to hot milk and a cap of foam. No matter how I swirl it about and even if I dunk a spoon in to see exactly what consistency the milk is and it seems come out (and drip off the spoon) with an almost paint-like consistency.

When I pour and attempt anything resembling latte art there is this brief moment where something looks like it's happening, but it all falls apart. Essentially the first part of the pour totally lacks that milky white awesomeness you see in a good pour, it kinda-sorta gets a hint of a rosetta starting about 4 seconds into the pour, but right about that time this thicker foam plops out and destroys that tiny bud of a rosetta (if it was even one to begin with).

What gives? I'm practicing but my results are consisent (but consistently not what I want!)
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JtothaR
Senior Member
JtothaR
Joined: 20 Dec 2010
Posts: 683
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Faema D92/A1 Smart
Grinder: B VARIO, Krups Conic
Drip: Manual Pour-Over, Bodum...
Roaster: Redbird, Metropolis
Posted Mon Mar 5, 2012, 6:15pm
Subject: Re: I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro
 

JFitzpatrick Said:

I think my old espresso machine has ingrained some bad habits into my milk frothing style and I'd really like to break those habits (or learn new ones) to get some awesome latte-art-ready microfoam out of my new machine. My old machine was a Estro Vapore (the Starbucks Barista) and I tended to heat the milk and then froth it hard at the end to create cappuccino style foam. I was pretty excited it did that well and so I stuck with it. I never attempted to do anything different. It was.. heat the milk until 120F or so, froth like crazy to 150F'ish.

Now that I have the Expobar Office Lever, which has a vastly better steam wand/steam pressure, I'd like to start playing around with latte art. I've watched tons of videos on YouTube, read a bunch of comments here and at Home-Barista... but I'm getting close-but-not-good-enough.

Here's the primary technique I've been trying based on the videos/comments: I do my best to surf the milk line with the steam wand tip, avoiding the fffft-ffffft-ffffft sound (the fish-fish as people seem to call it) and aiming for a steady and low hiss of air into the milk. This seems to do a pretty good job incorporating air. Once I get close to 90-100F, I sink the wand down and try to (succeeding most times) in creating a little vortex of milk swirling around the pitcher.

At the end I bang the pitcher on the bench and swirl it gently. I never have any big bubbles at all and any visible bubbles are tiny (1mm or less in diameter). When I go to pour the latte, however, I almost *always* have what amounts to hot milk and a cap of foam. No matter how I swirl it about and even if I dunk a spoon in to see exactly what consistency the milk is and it seems come out (and drip off the spoon) with an almost paint-like consistency.

When I pour and attempt anything resembling latte art there is this brief moment where something looks like it's happening, but it all falls apart. Essentially the first part of the pour totally lacks that milky white awesomeness you see in a good pour, it kinda-sorta gets a hint of a rosetta starting about 4 seconds into the pour, but right about that time this thicker foam plops out and destroys that tiny bud of a rosetta (if it was even one to begin with).

What gives? I'm practicing but my results are consisent (but consistently not what I want!)

Posted March 5, 2012 link

The milk must spin in a circular motion in order to incorporate the foam into the milk. If there is no spinning, there is no art.

 
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JFitzpatrick
Senior Member


Joined: 8 Feb 2012
Posts: 22
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Mon Mar 5, 2012, 6:37pm
Subject: Re: I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro
 

JtothaR Said:

The milk must spin in a circular motion in order to incorporate the foam into the milk. If there is no spinning, there is no art.

Posted March 5, 2012 link

Given that it's so white/milky in the pitcher (and the thermometer is in the way) it's really hard to see if I'm swirling it in a circle or just sloshing it about. =/
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JtothaR
Senior Member
JtothaR
Joined: 20 Dec 2010
Posts: 683
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Faema D92/A1 Smart
Grinder: B VARIO, Krups Conic
Drip: Manual Pour-Over, Bodum...
Roaster: Redbird, Metropolis
Posted Mon Mar 5, 2012, 6:45pm
Subject: Re: I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro
 

JFitzpatrick Said:

Given that it's so white/milky in the pitcher (and the thermometer is in the way) it's really hard to see if I'm swirling it in a circle or just sloshing it about. =/

Posted March 5, 2012 link

Yeah, Ditch the thermometer. When the milk quiets down to a low rumble it's time to turn off the steam.


It's obvious when its spinning cause there will be an "eye of the storm", if you will, in the center.

I might have to make a video on this one of these days.

 
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ewolfe
Senior Member


Joined: 27 Feb 2011
Posts: 16
Location: Grand Forks, ND
Expertise: I like coffee

Posted Wed Mar 7, 2012, 9:23pm
Subject: Re: I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro
 

JFitz:

What kind of milk are you using?  I've read that some people can create microfoam with skim, but I can't do it (and I ask, because my attempts to do so sound a little bit like what you're describing).  I use 2% now, which works well for me, but as you probably know most people recommend whole milk as the easiest to work with.

I'm no expert by any means, but I'm getting reasonably consistent results by now--after quite a bit of practice.  It's always hard to describe these things (which is why videos help so much), but from your description, I would suggest trying to slow down the incorporation of air at the beginning and making sure that you're getting the whirlpool going from the very outset.

I'm using a slightly bell shaped, 16 oz Rattlewear pitcher, with about 5-6 oz of milk, since I'm pouring into a 6-7 oz cappuccino cup.  Many people use smaller pitchers, but it seems to me that the larger pitcher may help me with the whirlpool, since the level of the milk mostly stays below the end of the narrowing bell.  My steam wand is usually pointing about 30 degrees out from the side of the machine (I'm working on a Silvia V3) and about 20 degrees toward the front.  I typically tilt the pitcher toward the front of the machine (opposite from the tilt of the wand) and work with the wand very near the front (low) side of the pitcher.  I hold the pitcher by the handle with my right hand and cup my left hand under the bottom of the pitcher, which helps with pitcher control and also lets me feel the temperature of the milk (I don't use a thermometer).  I do get the ffft-ffft sound--my air incorporation is more intermittent than steady.  I go until the pitcher just begins to feel warm in my hand (which is probably that 90-100F mark), and then sink the wand a little while keeping the whirlpool going until the pitcher is uncomfortably hot (which for me, at least, is in the 145F range).   Then shut off the steam, wipe the wand, a couple of taps and swirls of the pitcher, and pour.  I've usually got a little milk left in the pitcher when I'm done with my pour.

It's likely that none of that is very useful, because I think the key thing is just practice.  I've had my machine for about a year now, and it was quite some time before I could create decent microfoam, even longer until I could do it consistently, and even longer than that until I could pour it consistently when I did have it--not that my efforts now are so brilliant.  And if you're just pouring at home, unless you're on a caffeine binge or entertaining for a bunch of people, you don't get too many tries in a day.  Like you, I'm coming from machines that weren't really capable steamers, so it just takes a while to develop new techniques.
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Stuart
Senior Member


Joined: 9 Feb 2012
Posts: 113
Location: TX
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Breville Dual Boiler
Grinder: Baratza Vario
Roaster: Air Crazy popper
Posted Wed Mar 7, 2012, 10:39pm
Subject: Re: I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro
 

A week ago, I got to practice making microfoam with a La Marzocco Linea. Oh. My. Gosh. The milk went from fridge-cold to "warm" in about seven seconds, and to "too hot to touch" in about ten more. I understand the benefits to that in a commercial environment, but that was pretty hard to handle; given that my prior experience was limited to something that took almost 10x that long to heat/froth milk.

I recently upgraded to a Breville BES900XL, and while not as powerful (and, for me, uncontrollable) as the Linea, it's still pretty capable compared with the junk I was using before. That said, there were two things pointed out to me when I was using the Linea. First, you want to hear that fish-fish sound until the milk gets to about body temperature (as ewolfe described). Second, angling the wand toward the side of the pitcher -- but not actually touching it -- is a good way to encourage the milk to begin to whirlpool.

I work with soymilk at home, and the three-hole Breville steam wand has allowed me to make microfoam almost every time. Overheating soy milk can break that foam. Because my wife doesn't  always get to drink her drink right away, I want to get the milk as hot as I can; but going too far can make it break right down.
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JtothaR
Senior Member
JtothaR
Joined: 20 Dec 2010
Posts: 683
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Faema D92/A1 Smart
Grinder: B VARIO, Krups Conic
Drip: Manual Pour-Over, Bodum...
Roaster: Redbird, Metropolis
Posted Thu Mar 8, 2012, 10:39am
Subject: Re: I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro
 

ewolfe Said:

I go until the pitcher just begins to feel warm in my hand (which is probably that 90-100F mark), and then sink the wand a little while keeping the whirlpool going until the pitcher is uncomfortably hot (which for me, at least, is in the 145F range).

Posted March 7, 2012 link

Do ^this^ on a commercial machine and the drift will burn the crap out of that milk, lol.

What machine are you using?

 
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ewolfe
Senior Member


Joined: 27 Feb 2011
Posts: 16
Location: Grand Forks, ND
Expertise: I like coffee

Posted Thu Mar 8, 2012, 11:02am
Subject: Re: I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro
 

JtothaR Said:

Do ^this^ on a commercial machine and the drift will burn the crap out of that milk, lol.

What machine are you using?

Posted March 8, 2012 link

I've got a Silvia, so obviously my technique has been developed for a machine with much less steaming power than an HX like the Expobar (to say nothing about an even larger boiler machine like a Linea).  From cold to warm takes about 15-20 seconds, and up to 145 about 15-20 seconds more.
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xeonsamari
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xeonsamari
Joined: 31 May 2011
Posts: 38
Location: Petrolia, ont
Expertise: Pro Barista

Espresso: bezzera Medea
Grinder: compak k3 touch
Drip: bunn Velocity
Posted Thu Mar 8, 2012, 11:20am
Subject: Re: I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro
 

Is your milk sitting after being steamed while you prepare the espresso? If the milk sits still for more than a few seconds using the technique you described, the milk will separate enough to give you the clumpiness I think you are getting. If this is what you are doing try preparing the espresso to brew but don't lock it in. steam your milk and keep it moving in one hand while you lock in the portafilter with the other, or get someone to swirl it for you. try less air too its far harder to do a rossetta in a thick foam than in a latte foam.
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JtothaR
Senior Member
JtothaR
Joined: 20 Dec 2010
Posts: 683
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Faema D92/A1 Smart
Grinder: B VARIO, Krups Conic
Drip: Manual Pour-Over, Bodum...
Roaster: Redbird, Metropolis
Posted Thu Mar 8, 2012, 11:55am
Subject: Re: I've got hot milk, I've got thick foam, but I'm missing the awesome micro
 

ewolfe Said:

I've got a Silvia, so obviously my technique has been developed for a machine with much less steaming power than an HX like the Expobar (to say nothing about an even larger boiler machine like a Linea).  From cold to warm takes about 15-20 seconds, and up to 145 about 15-20 seconds more.

Posted March 8, 2012 link

I'm used to start to finish being 15 seconds or less. But I try not to take milk to 145-150 ever because the sugars get destroyed.

 
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