How to steam milk for coffee

Coffee roaster and head barista at Nude Espresso in London, Kane Statton shares his tips for perfecting that milky froth when making a cup at home.

Assorted coffees on wooden table

To make any classic coffee like a latte, mocha or cappuccino, you'll always start by making a shot of espresso. So what makes them all taste so different? A mocha includes chocolate, too, but otherwise it's simply the amount and texture of the steamed milk.

Basic milk steaming recipe 

To get the best texture in your finished cup, it’s really important that you start with the best quality milk you can buy. Ideally use whole cow’s milk as it tends to froth better. If you’re going dairy-free, use an oat milk. You'll need: 

  • Between 100ml – 250ml whole milk (depending on which coffee you’re making – see recipes below).

What is stretching?

The steam arm on your espresso machine is used for both heating and ‘stretching’ the milk. Stretching is the process of adding air (in the form of bubbles) to the milk. Keeping the tip of the steam wand near the surface of the milk causes this; you will hear the splutter of air being forced into it. The more you stretch the milk, the more foam you will have for your drink. When making a cappuccino you would stretch more when compared to a latte. When you hear a drink ordered 'wet', this tends to mean without foam, so either stretched for less time or the foam is removed from the stretched milk. 

Top tip: Aim to stretch the milk within the first five seconds to create a thick, velvety milk with small bubbles.

Getting the perfect pour

Once the milk stretching is complete, move your milk jug slightly to the side so the milk spins in a whirlpool quietly (there should be no spluttering or high-pitched sounds) until it reaches the correct temperature. You can use a thermometer until it reaches 60 degrees, or hold the jug with your palm until it feels uncomfortable.

Now keep the milk moving in the jug before pouring. This lessens the chance of the foam and milk separating. 

Stretched milk
The pouring process should be split into two main parts: diving and gliding. During the initial stages of the pour, you should aim to dive the milk underneath the crema of the espresso. To achieve this, pour an inch or two above the cup. 

As the volume within the cup increases, bring the jug as close to the surface of the drink as possible whilst aiming to pour into the centre of the drink. Once the milk jug is close to the surface of the drink, tilt the jug towards the cup to accelerate the rate of pour. As you accelerate, the milk will hit the back of the cup and start naturally folding in on itself. If this pour is done correctly, you should create an even cloud shape. This pour is the basis of a heart, tulip and rosetta pattern.

Find the right coffee for you

Latte on coffee tableLatte
A classic milky coffee that is light and traditionally served in a taller mug or glass (due to it containing a large amount of milk). Try our latte recipe

Machiatto on coffee table Macchiato
A short coffee with just a touch of milk foam. Ideal for those who prefer a stronger coffee. Try our macchiato recipe

Mocha on coffee table Mocha
Espresso mixed with smooth drinking chocolate then topped with plenty of steamed milk to make a comforting and rich drink. Ideal for those who like the taste of coffee but prefer something a little sweeter. Try our mocha recipe

Flat white on coffee tableFlat white
This trendy beverage has earned its spot at the breakfast table. Similar to a latte, steamed milk is poured over hot espresso. The steamed milk makes it creamy in taste but it contains less milk than a latte. Try our flat white recipe

Cappuccino on coffee tableCappuccino 
With slightly more milk than a flat white but less than a latte, a creamy cappuccino is the perfect middle ground for those who like a milk-based coffee. Traditionally topped with a sprinkling of cocoa powder for a little added sweetness. Try our cappuccino recipe

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Comments, questions and tips

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10th May, 2018
Cheap man’s version: using a container such as a plastic milk bottle, insert the amount of milk required for your coffee and shake vigorously for a few seconds, and then heat it (eg in microwave) to your desired temperature. Add to coffee. Simplistico!
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