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Advanced Frothing Techniques

Once you have progressed with beginning frothing techniques, it's time to move on to the 'big boy" stuff. Here's what you need to do.

Step 1 - Have the Right Tools
You don't necessarily need a $400 machine to produce great foam. But you should have the following items: cold milk; a 16 oz or bigger stainless steel pitcher; a needle thermometer; and a device that steams water (and has a steaming wand).

Some say only ice cold whole milk or homogenized can do true microfoam, but to that, I say "phhhhft". With enough care, technique and ability, you can steam almost any milk, even room temperature 1% milk* (*a caveat - while you can microfoam almost any milk, it is easier to steam ice cold, whole milk - has to do with a lot of chemical stuff I know nothing about)

Step 2 - Initial Preparation
Okay, you've got your machine, your milk, your steaming jug, your thermometer (later in your frothing years, you can do with out the thermometer, but for now keep it handy). Next, you want your machine heated up and putting out dry steam. What is dry steam? It's steam that, when you put your hand under it (not too close), very little water accumulates after 10-20 seconds - almost none at all.

So how do you do it? The following applies to any steaming device, be it stovetop, frothing only machines, steam toy espresso machines, or pump machine. Get the machine into steam mode (flip the switch, move the dial, turn the stove heat up), and bleed off any water coming through the wand as it heats up. Just let it pour into a cup or other vessel. Then as the steam comes out, and gets less wet, turn the valve off for a few seconds, turn on again, bleed off more wet steam. Eventually (after 10-40 seconds of this, depending on your machine), you should have nice dry steam.

Step 3 - The Little Things
While you're "bleeding the wand dry" (stop reading stuff into this, willya?), your target is several things - dry steam, and LOTS of it. With steam toy espresso machines and pump machines (ones without dual boilers or heat exchangers) there is a further trick - don't let the steam lamp go off (or on, whatever indicates the boiler is not heating any longer). Making sure that boiler is always active means that while you continue to draw off steam, the machine is heating up the liquids inside to continually produce more steam.

Step 4 - Lock and Load Baybee, Here We Go!
Okay, so you've got dry steam, you've got tons of steam, and you've filled your pitcher 1/3rd full or less with milk, right? Next thing to do is to drop your steaming wand just to below the surface of your milk and let loose - start steaming! For the first few seconds (roughly 20 on cheaper machines or stovetop devices, maybe 5-10 seconds on more powerful machines) you want to hover the tip of the steamwand just at the surface of the milk so you get a deep and rapid rumbling sound - the sound of milk being foamed. During this first stage, you should be generating about half your total foam volume - set that as your target, along with a 100F temperature by this point. Remember to always lower the pitcher as you steam to keep that tip right near the visible surface - this is called "stretching the milk".

Also during this first stage, your foam might be "big bubbled" (don't let them get too big - if they are, lower the wand). As your technique improves you'll be able to minimize the "big bubble" effects, but for now, we'll say it's gonna happen: later on in this page, I'll explain how you'll do stuff to micro-size those bubbles. If your steam is especially powerful, be careful or you'll have milk everywhere.

Step 5 - Second Stage
Once you've done the initial frothing action and reached 100F, start lowering your wand into the milk. In fact, during this stage, you're going to be raising, lowering, and dancing your wand gracefully in the pitcher. This is the key to getting true microfoam - by dancing the wand in the pitcher, in the milk, you turn any "big" bubbles into air, and condense other bubbles into microbubbles. The temperature is still rising during this action, and you'll notice at around 130F, your foam is again rising in the pitcher. By the time you hit about 145F, it should be near the top of your pitcher, if not overflowing.

Step 6 - Finish and Pour, Quick!
Critical time, folks. If everything was done correctly, you'll be hitting 155F, the magic number for steamed milk and you'll have lots of foam. If you did it exactly right, you'll have microfoam that is so small, you can pour the contents of your pitcher without spooning the foam - because the sign of great foam/froth/steamed milk is foam/froth/steamed milk that can be poured without a spoon. Why pour quickly? Well if you did it right, why not move to the next stage - go for some latte art technique! You can only do latte art with microfoam, perfectly steamed milk, and you can only do latte art if you pour it right away.

Phew! That wasn't so tough, was it? Once you've perfected the art of producing microfoam, you can move on to creating latte art. I'd help you out there, except I'm still trying to do it myself!

Mini Rant on Cafes and Frothing
Lastly, it is very hard to refroth milk. Most of the proteins that cause the "frothing" are burned off in the process. That's why I really hate it when I buy a cappa in a cafe, and see them froth and refroth from the same container. Not to mention that I'm getting stale, old milk mixed in with the new milk they pour in. Clean the darn thing once in a while, willyas!!