The Many Differences Between Steamed Milk and Foamed Milk

There are too popular milk options for baristas when it comes to making quality coffee beverages – steaming and frothing.

Both methods can enhance the flavour of your coffee beverage but require a different set of skills to make.

The two forms of milk are used in making hot and cold chocolate and milk based drinks including mochas, cappuccinos, lattes and shakes and differ in the way they are prepared. Steaming and foaming milk greatly improves the consistency and quality of your milk and enhances the texture of the coffee.

What is Steamed Milk and How is it Different?

Steamed milk is much heavier than frothed milk and is produced when the milk comes into contact with the steam wand on an espresso machine. Steamed milk is created by exposing milk to steam from the steam wand attached to an espresso machine and is slowly introduced to the milk until the fats break down and expand to create tiny microbubbles, known as microfoam. The result is a silky smooth textured milk to complement any espresso based drink. Steamed milk is often heavy and dense.

What is Foamed Milk and How is it Different?

Foamed milk is the smooth foam that sits on top of espresso based beverages as a result from air being introduced into the milk when you steam it. It can also be added to hot chocolate to give it a richer flavour and is also used for popular espresso based drinks such as the Latte. Frothed milk is classed as dry and less watery in comparison to steam milk and can hold its shape better, making it ideal for use in Latte Art.  Foamed milk is soft, light and spreads quickly and easily as there are bubbles rather than steam inside it.

How To Steam Milk With an Espresso Machine

The best way to steam your milk is using the steam wand on your espresso machine. Alternatively you could use an electric automatic frother, but the best results come from using a steam wand. Make sure you always use cold milk when steaming to prevent it from heating up too quickly. The process of steaming your milk should take no longer than 60 seconds depending on which method you use.

  1. Pour cold milk into a stainless steel pitcher.
  2. Purge the steam wand to ensure there is no leftover milk residue.
  3. Make sure the tip of the steam wand is just below the surface of the milk.
  4. Turn on the steam wand and slightly tilt the milk pitcher to let the milk spin.
  5. Once the milk reaches an ideal temperature and the pitcher is too hot to touch, turn the steam wand off. It should only take 10-30 seconds to steam the milk with the steam wand.
  6. Clean and purge the wand when you are finished.

It is important to keep the following tips in mind when it comes to steaming milk.

  • Use an espresso thermometer to ensure you get the best steamed milk every time.
  • Use temperatures between 65 to 70 degrees Celsius to create a sweet tasting milk profile.
  • Turn off the steam wand once the milk jug is too hot to touch and reaches between 57 to 60 degrees Celsius.
  • Tilt your pitcher a little to let the milk roll creating a smooth texture.
  • Steamed milk usually takes between 10 to 60 seconds depending on your machine.
  • Little or no sound indicates the correct placement of the steam arm.

How To Foam Milk With an Espresso Machine

Foaming milk involves a similar process to steaming milk and involves the use of a steam wand on your espresso machine. When using a steam wand, you need to make sure that it is near the surface of the milk to add in more air which stretches the milk and to lower the pitcher as the milk expands.

    1. Pour enough cold milk to cover one third of the milk pitcher.
    2. Purge the steam wand to ensure there is no leftover milk residue.
    3. Turn the steam wand on and ensure the tip is positioned just below the surface of the milk and in the spout of the pitcher. Ensure the holes at the tip of the steam wand is exposed.
    4. Wait 10 seconds then place the tip of the steam wand about an inch further in milk which will add texture to your milk.
    5. Turn the steam wand off once at a desired temperature.
    6. Clean and purge the steam wand when you have finished.

    Here are some additional tips to follow for making foamed milk:

    • Always use chilled or cold milk for better foam quality.
    • Choose your milk accordingly. Skimmed and non-fat milk are easier to foam, but the flavour isn’t as pleasant in comparison to whole milk.
    • The best temperature for foaming milk is between 60 to 68 degrees Celsius. Use a thermometer in the milk to keep an eye on the temperature.
    • Always clean the steam wand with a clean cloth before and after use.
    • The placing of the steam wand determines the amount and quality of foam you produce. It should be fully submerged in the milk but not at the bottom or touching the side.
    • Listen to the distinctive “tsss” sound that lets you know your steam arm is in the right place.

Popular Drinks Made With Steamed Milk

There are a variety of different coffee and espresso drinks that used steamed milk. Some of the most popular steamed milk beverages include latte made with one-third espresso, one cm of foam and two-thirds steamed milk. Steamed milk is usually best therefore for cappuccinos, lattes and hot drinks only.

Popular Drinks Made With Foamed Milk

The most popular drink made with foamed milk is a cappuccino made up of one-third milk, one-third espresso and one-third foam. Foamed milk is also popular for making hot chocolates and mochas, with foamy tops for a creamy finish. It can be used as a topping for hot and cold drinks and is a great addition for improving taste and texture quality.

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