Steamed milk enhances the sensory experience of espresso. A layer of rich, creamy milk is pleasing to the palette and allows a barista to demonstrate an elevated level of espresso sophistication. Milk texture is so important to the specialty coffee business that a micro-industry has evolved around the idea of latte art, where baristas compete nationally and internationally for the title of World Latte Art Champion. Even if a world latte art title is not your goal, mastering the art of texturizing milk can be a major differentiator for your store.
Our customer San Domingo Fair Trade Coffee, a full-service coffee café in St. Michaels, MD, is a great case in point. The baristas at this enchanting restaurant and coffee shop have spent extensive time perfecting the fine art of texturizing milk, which they regularly feature as latte art on their Facebook page; As result, the shop has built up a robust following.
Mastering milk texturizing not only brings in more customers, it results in a higher average ticket. In July, The Journal of Sensory Studies published a study showing that customers happily pay more — at least 11%-13% more — for a beautifully texturized latte.
Nick Brown, editor of Roast Magazine’s Daily Coffee News, hypothesized that customers place a higher value on their coffee experience if a barista knows how to texturize milk properly.
“It shows an area of skill from the barista, and I think it demonstrates that the barista cares about what they’re giving you,” editor Nick Brown said. “Buying a really good latte at an upscale shop and enjoying it there is kind of a luxury.”
Developing Your Shop’s Latte Chops
To help all our retailers develop these in-demand skills, Stockton Graham & Co.’s Coffee College 101 dedicates an entire afternoon to practicing the fine art of steaming milk. Taught by our Specialty Coffee Association of America-certified lead barista, Alex Jeans, participants get one-on-one time with the steam wands on our in-house Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II Volumetric 3 Group Espresso Machine.
Micah and Elizabeth Behan, owners and operators of First District Coffee Co. of Fairview, TN recently enjoyed the Coffee College experience in our Raleigh, NC coffee roasting headquarters. Here’s just a bit of what they learn:
The texturing process is created when pressurized air is introduced to cold milk and breaks the hydrogen bonds between proteins. With these bonds broken, the natural sugar found in the milk is easier to taste, making the milk taste sweeter. This sweet taste combined with a creamy texture will help you prepare beautiful, delicious, sophisticated drinks that will set your shop apart from the competition.
The Specialty Coffee Association (SCAA) teaches that there is only one way to texturize milk with one result: A microfoam with the texture, consistency and sheen of wet paint. The difference between a latte and a cappuccino, then, is the depth of the microfoam on top of the cup of brewed espresso.
In this case, the difference between types of espresso drinks—a cappuccino and a café au lait, for instance—is the proportion of milk foam and steamed milk to espresso. But there is no difference between the way milk is ultimately prepared.
A second approach to texturizing can be considered by shop operators. The idea that there are two types of texturized milk has been made popular by large chain coffee shops: One for latte drinks and one for cappuccino drinks.
Those who ascribe to this approach explain the difference this way:
“The distinction is that in cappuccino, the milk is “frothed… into a “microfoam” that is about twice the volume of the original milk. In latte, the milk is merely “steamed.” For latte, the goal is not to create that much foam, so any type of milk works.” The Coffee Brewers, Danbury, CT
The different “techniques” create markedly different textures. The consistency of latte style milk is creamier and cappuccino style milk is foamier. Some, but not all, of these operators also adjust the proportion of milk foam and steamed milk.
Although Stockton Graham & Co. complies with the SCAA approach to texturizing, we share the second approach with our customers so operators can decide what’s best for their store.
Creating milk with different textures requires submerging the steam wand below the surface of the milk at different times in the texturizing process. The differences are discussed below.
- Latte Style Milk
The latte style of milk steaming is used when the texture of the drink to be created is more creamy than foamy. When a drink that has been prepared with latte style textured milk settles, there should be a layer of foam on top that is usually less than an inch.
To create latte style milk, submerge the steam wand completely below the surface of the milk no more than 5 seconds after steaming begins. Completely remove the wand when the milk reaches 140-150F. This should take about 20 seconds.
The latte style of steaming can be used when preparing latte, mocha, café au lait, hot cocoa, or flavored milk drinks, or any drink that has a texture that is more creamy than foamy. It usually does not produce a dollop of aerated foam on the top of the drink; so it is possible that the steamed milk and coffee mix quickly and evenly, resulting in a smooth, creamy beverage.
- Cappuccino Style Milk
The cappuccino style of milk steaming is used when the texture of the drink to be created is more foamy than creamy, or has equal parts steamed milk and foam.
To achieve more foam, introduce more air to the milk at the beginning of the texturizing process by allowing some of the holes in the tip of the steam wand to be exposed above the surface of the milk. Leave the holes exposed for a full 10-15 seconds before submerging the tip of the wand completely.
Cappuccino style is used by commercial shops when preparing a traditional macchiato, American-style cappuccino, traditional cappuccino, or for any customer who prefers extra foam on top of their beverage. Often customers who request a “dry cappuccino” are looking for a beverage topped only with the most aerated foam, which is lifted out of the steam pitcher with a spoon. This way, there is actually less milk added to the beverage, resulting in a less diluted espresso element.
To download our frame-ready Top 6 Handmade Espresso Drinks poster, click here.
If you’re interested in learning more about our Coffee College offerings, click here or dial 800 835 5943 and talk to one of our Customer Care Associates.