Frothing milk: the ultimate guide
froth milk

Frothing milk: the ultimate guide

Would you like to make the perfect milk foam at home so that your coffee tastes as it does in your favorite café? Then you are exactly right here. In this comprehensive guide to frothing milk, we will show you the methods you can use to properly froth milk. We focus on frothing milk with the steam lance of a portafilter machine because that is the “supreme discipline” for us when producing milk froth. What awaits you here:

Froth milk with a portafilter machine

It is a different taste experience whether you enjoy coffee with just a simple dash of milk or with sweet-tasting milk foam. For many coffee and espresso lovers, it is no longer just about the perfect crema for espresso itself, but also about the perfect milk foam. Frothing milk with a portafilter is not difficult at all. We’ll show you how to make the perfect milk foam at home too. This will turn you into a real home barista and with a little practice, you will be able to create your first frothy milk heart on the cappuccino. However, behind the perfect milk foam is not just hot air, but an espresso machine (portafilter machine) with a steam wand. This will give you the very best result.

latte art | pixabay

Step by step instructions: froth the milk with a portafilter machine

Below you will find step-by-step instructions that will help you create the perfect milk foam for latte art with a portafilter machine.

Step 1:
Open the steam valve once before the foaming process. This will drain the condensation from the steam lance. Turn it up until only pure steam comes out. The condensed water makes the milk too watery.

Step 2:
Generally, you hold the jug in your left hand. But it also works in the right hand. One hand must remain free to feel the temperature on the jug.

Step 3:
Immerse the steam wand at a slight angle and not straight into the pot. Besides, the tip of the lance should be positioned about one centimeter to the side of the can edge. The pouring spout can also be used as an aid. The steam lance is positioned about one centimeter below the surface of the milk to start. This means that milk cannot squirt out when starting.

Step 4:
Open the steam valve with your free hand. Now move the steam wand just below the surface of the milk. The fact that the lance dips in at a slight angle creates the desired suction. You now hear a scratching, slurping sucking noise. The air is drawn under the milk. During this process, the jug must not be swiveled or moved. The jug is held still.

Step 5:
The longer the drawing phase, the more foam bubbles are created. The length of the brewing phase varies depending on the coffee specialty. For Latte Art, the infusion phase ends when the milk is lukewarm (at 30 to 40 degrees Celsius). With your free hand, you can feel the temperature on the bottom of the jug and the edge of the jug.

Step 6:
For the rolling phase, the tip of the steam lance is dipped about one centimeter into the milk. Try to find a position where the milk swirls in a circle through the jug. Now the air bubbles are crushed and a homogeneous emulsion is created.

Step 7:
As soon as the desired temperature of 60 to 65 degrees Celsius is reached, you close the steam valve. So that the milk foam does not get too hot, invest in a special thermometer for milk jugs at the beginning. It will help you control the temperature while the milk is frothing.

Step 8:
Use a damp sponge cloth to remove the milk foam residue from the steam wand. Then open the steam valve briefly so that the drawn-in milk is blown out.

Step 9:
Now tap the milk jug lightly on the table to smash the last large milk bubbles that have formed on top. Then swivel the milk jug on the worktop so that the fine-pored milk foam remains single-phase. After about 30 seconds, the milk begins to separate in two phases. It is therefore important to turn the jug until it is poured. So you have to “keep the milk happy”.

Et voilà! With this milk foam, you can pour wonderful motifs into the coffee!

latte| pixabay

Consistency of the milk foam: Firm versus fine-pored

consistency of the milk foam

Many coffee connoisseurs want a particularly firm foam that piles up impressively on the coffee. Of course, that looks appealing. However, baristas smile at this foam, which looks more like a bath additive.

Among experts, this strength is considered to be amateur. The reason for this is that the coffee does not mix with the solid milk foam. In this case, the solid milk foam is spooned first and then the coffee is drunk at the end. The aim is for the coffee to mix with the milk. The perfect milk foam, therefore, has a creamy consistency, is fine-pored, can still flow, and tastes sweet. Good baristas prepare this foam in such a way that they can use it to draw beautiful decorations on the crema.

latte art |

There are a few things to consider to prepare the perfect milk foam with a portafilter. We will now explain to you what you need for this at home and what you should pay attention to. We prepare the milk foam with the steam lance espresso machine. We use cow’s milk for this.

The equipment for frothing milk with a portafilter

So that you can make the perfect milk foam yourself at home, we recommend the following additional equipment in addition to the espresso machine :

·  Milk thermometer

·  Sponge cloth

·  Milk jug with pouring spout

Milk thermometer: determine the correct temperature when frothing milk

Milk foam can be made from cold milk. If you shake the cold milk in a closed container, it will foam. However, the resulting air bubbles do not last very long. Therefore the milk has to be changed with the help of heat. The protein in the milk becomes solid through heat. The temperature when frothing milk is very important. At a temperature of 60 to 65 degrees Celsius, the milk tastes fresh and sweet. From a milk foam temperature of over 70 degrees Celsius, the milk sugar begins to burn. This causes the milk to lose its characteristic fresh and sweet taste. Milk that has been heated too much increasingly tastes burnt. It stays that way even after the milk foam has cooled down.

So that the milk foam doesn’t get too hot for you, invest in a special thermometer for milk jugs at the beginning. It will help you control the temperature while the milk is frothing. The milk should not be heated above 65 degrees Celsius. There is, however, a time lag of about two seconds when measuring with a thermometer. It is therefore important to stop the foaming process in a good time.

You only need to use the thermometer until you have learned to feel the temperature yourself with your bare hand on the milk jug.

frothing milk|

To do this, put your flat hand on the jug while it is frothing. If the palm of your hand gets too hot, stop frothing the milk. Then you have reached the target temperature. You can also practice this with water to get a feel for the right temperature.

Sponge cloth: hygiene is the be-all and end-all

Uninvited guests are rarely welcome. It is the same with coffee machines. Hygiene is essential when it comes to frothing milk. If the steam wand is not cleaned regularly, it is a land of milk and honey for germs. If the tip of the steam wand has visible encrustations of milk residue, this is almost a guarantee that germs have settled.

Therefore, our tip is to always wipe off the milk residues with a damp sponge cloth immediately after frothing. Then you do not offer the uninvited guests a breeding ground to linger for longer. Always use your very own sponge cloth for the steam wand. After cleaning the steam wand, rinse it thoroughly. Besides, change it regularly, because at some point such a sponge cloth is no longer appetizing.

Froth milk with a milk jug

To make the perfect milk foam yourself with a portafilter, baristas use stainless steel jugs with fine spouts. They offer clear advantages compared to jugs made from other materials. Stainless steel is easy to clean and the temperature can be felt with the hands from the outside. The pots should be slightly more bulbous towards the bottom. These types of pots are also called pitchers.

There are stainless steel pots in different sizes: small pots with 0.35 liter capacity for just one drink and larger pots for several drinks. Choosing the right size depends on the amount of milk foam you want.

When choosing the size of the jug, the container used should not be more than half full of milk. If the amount of milk is too large, it can foam over from the jug. If the filling volume is too small, the milk is only pushed to the side and large air bubbles are created.

However, the jug shouldn’t be too big either. For example, if the jug has a capacity of around 1.5 liters, it may not be possible to fry it because the espresso machine does not have enough steam pressure. The entire amount of milk then does not start rotating. The result is that the upper layer of milk is frothed and the lower part is only heated. In these cases, we, therefore, recommend that you foam a small jug twice rather than a whole liter jug.

Frothing milk with a portafilter: which milk?

When preparing coffee specialties, it is important to pay attention to the quality of the milk. Not all cow’s milk is created equal. There is whole milk, organic milk, long-life milk, milk with different fat content, cream, condensed milk, and much more. The different types of milk have their flavor character. Therefore, everyone should evaluate the taste of the milk for themselves and choose the best for the corresponding coffee specialty.

Feel free to try milk from different dairies to find out which milk tastes best for you. The taste should be fresh and sweet. This means that milk foam has a very good basis. This makes the taste of coffee specialties such as cappuccino softer and fuller.

The protein content is crucial

The fact that milk can be frothed at all is due to the protein content in the milk. For the usual types of milk from the supermarket, this is relatively similar and is 3.2 to 3.8 percent. The fat content does not affect the foaming. You can froth low-fat milk as well as milk with high-fat content. This is due to the fact that almost every type of milk contains the same amount of protein. However, fat is a flavor carrier. Whole milk with high-fat content is therefore always better in taste. If a coffee specialty is prepared with 3.8 percent whole milk, it tastes more intense overall. No matter which milk you choose: the milk has to be cold and should ideally be taken straight from the refrigerator!

You can buy milk from national dairies. However, it is great if you use milk from regional suppliers. 

How is milk foam made?

When frothing milk, the air is swirled under the milk. The result is that foam is created. Foam is a mixture of liquid and air in the form of bubbles. These bubbles can be of different sizes. Therefore, not all foam is created equal. A distinction is made between two types of milk foam: coarse-pored and fine-pored milk foam.

milk foam | pixabay

Left in the picture: Firm milk foam (suitable for latte macchiato),

Right in the picture: Fine-pored milk foam that is suitable for latte art.

Coarse-pored milk foam

On the one hand, there is the firm, dense and coarse-pored foam. This is often the typical milk foam from the Italian ice cream parlor with cocoa powder as a topping. This milk foam can be described as two-phase. This means that the liquid hot milk is at the bottom. The solid milk foam settles on top of it. This coarse-pored milk foam is usually used for latte macchiato. Served in a glass, this effect comes into its own with the multiple layers. It can be used to pile up gigantic mountains of foam. However, this coarse-pored solid foam is unsuitable for milk foam decoration ( latte art ).

Fine-pored milk foam

On the other hand, there is liquid, creamy, and fine-pored milk foam. It consists of microfine air bubbles. That is why experts also speak of microfoam. This microfoam has a silky, shiny surface. No single bubbles can be seen with the naked eye. This type of milk foam is a single phase. There is no separation of milk and foam. The air bubbles are evenly distributed from top to bottom.
This milk foam is suitable for drawing pictures ( latte art ) on the coffee surface.

Make milk foam yourself – the right technique with the steam wand

Anyone who wants to prepare milk foam like a professional should use the steam lance of a portafilter machine for optimal foam results. All you have to do is acquire basic knowledge.

The two phases of frothing milk with a portafilter: pulling and rolling phase

The frothing of milk with a portafilter can be divided into two successive phases, the drawing and rolling phase.

The infusion phase when frothing milk with a portafilter

frothing milk |

During the drawing phase, the air is drawn under the cold milk using steam pressure. The steam lance only needs to be held just below the surface of the milk. However, the lance should dip into the jug at a slight angle and not straight. Make sure that the lance is not positioned in the center, but to the side of the edge of the pot. You can also use the pouring spout to help. To do this, place the steam lance in the pouring spout so that the tip is about a centimeter from the edge of the can.

If the steam tap is opened and the position is correct, a scratching, slurping noise can be heard during the pulling phase. Now the desired foam bubbles are created. At the same time, the milk jug must be moved slowly downwards so that the steam wand is always just above the surface of the milk. As a result, the air continues to get under the milk, and the amount of foam increases. Remember: the longer the drawing phase, the more foam is generated. When the milk has reached hand warmth (at approx. 30 to a maximum of 40 degrees Celsius), it switches to the rolling phase.

The rolling phase when frothing milk with a portafilter

For the rolling phase, the steam lance is immersed about 1 to 2 centimeters below the surface of the milk so that no more air is drawn in. No slurping noise should be audible now. The steam causes the milk to rotate. The resulting foam bubbles are crushed by the rolling movement of the milk and distributed evenly. It is rolled until the milk has reached 60 to 65 degrees Celsius. After frothing the milk, we recommend that you tap the milk jug on the worktop in your kitchen. You can use this to burst air bubbles that are too large in the milk foam. Then you should swivel the jug so that all the components in the jug combine. If you’ve done everything correctly, the milk froth should have a silky, shiny surface.

Preparatory work steps

Make sure you have clean and cold milk jugs. Therefore, please do not use pots straight from the dishwasher while it is still hot. The milk used should always be fresh and chilled. The ideal starting temperature of the milk is around 4 to 8 degrees Celsius (refrigerator temperature). Room temperature is not good for foaming. The reason for this is that it shortens the warm-up time. The result is that the milk does not start rolling properly and the air bubbles are not evenly distributed. The following applies: the colder the milk, the longer it takes to froth the milk. But the easier it is to achieve a perfect milk foam result.

The correct amount in the milk jug

When frothing milk, it is important to note the correct filling level in the jug. The milk is poured just under the pouring spout. This is the best fill area. In general, however, the milk jug should be filled to at least one third with milk, but not more than half full.
If you fill in too little milk, the milk heats up too quickly and it becomes difficult to bring the milk into the rolling phase. The jug should also not be filled above the pouring spout, as the foaming creates volume. Then there is no space for the resulting foam and the milk spills over.

Practice frothing milk with a portafilter

Often it is not possible, especially during the first few attempts, to froth the milk so that the desired result is achieved. Unfortunately, milk that has already been frothed cannot be frothed again. In order not to waste so much milk, you can first practice with a little trick. Fill the pot halfway with cold water. Add a tablespoon of cold milk. With this very diluted milk, milk foam can be produced. The foam won’t taste like anything, but it’s great for practicing.

Another option is to add a splash of detergent to the water instead of milk. The foamed rinse water looks very similar to the milk foam. So be careful, please do not drink!

Try out the different immersion depths with the steam wand. You can now see what happens. If the steam lance is just below the surface, foam is created. If the lance is immersed deeper, the liquid is swirled and heated.

Cleaning after frothing milk with a portafilter

The steam lance should be cleaned immediately after each foaming process. If the steam valve is closed, a negative pressure is created. This will suck some milk into the lance. Therefore, you blow some steam through again after the foaming process. In case you forget, milk residues will settle in the inner wall of the lance. The outside of the lance is wiped with a damp sponge cloth. This prevents milk residues from drying out firmly. These are more difficult to remove. 

Tip: Clean the milk foam jug and steam wand immediately after use to avoid stubborn milk residues.

Frothing milk – other methods

For, the perfect milk foam is created with the steam lance of a portafilter machine. This is particularly creamy and fine-pored and is ideal for latte art. But not everyone has a portafilter machine with a steam wand at home and not everyone needs milk foam every day. It is therefore advisable to purchase a separate milk frother. Different types of milk frothers can produce fairly decent frothed milk. It starts with the cheap whisk and goes all the way to the high-priced designer model. Some milk frothers are operated manually and some use the latest technology. The choice in stores and online is enormous. But one thing is certain, no matter what type of milk frother you choose, you can use it to prepare your favorite coffee specialty at home. A good milk frother can be a loyal companion and will give you and your guests airy pleasure on the palate.

In the following section, we will introduce you to other methods that you can use to froth milk in your own four walls. They are manual, electric, wand, and other milk frothers.

Froth the milk with a whisk

A whisk or battery-operated stick milk frother is very popular. These milk frothing aids are small, handy, and practical. They can be stowed in almost every kitchen drawer. You can buy them for very little money and some discounters or remaining stock shops even offer them.

A whisk milk frother consists of a handle and a spiral rod. This handle also forms the housing in which the battery and motor are housed. This includes a rotating rod with a frothing spiral at the end. The stick is started with a button on the housing. The milk frother stick is either held directly in a pot, cup, or glass filled with warm milk. The frothing spiral must be completely immersed in the milk. Otherwise, the milk will splash out.

A stick milk frother is particularly suitable for those who only want to froth milk from time to time. Our tip: ScanPart milk frother. It is battery operated, easy to use, and has a low price.

Froth the milk with a hand blender

If you don’t have a special milk frother at home and don’t want to buy one, there are other options. Almost every household these days has a hand blender or wand. This can also be used to froth milk. To do this, the milk is first heated in a saucepan. The milk must not get too hot. Please only heat to a maximum of 70 ° Celsius. Then simply dip the hand blender into the milk and start with the lowest setting. You will need a little patience to get the consistency you want. However, it should be mentioned that not every hand blender is suitable for this. Therefore, you should inform yourself about the suitability for frothing milk before use.

Froth milk with an electric milk frother

The use of electric milk frothers is very convenient. All operations are combined in one device. The milk foam is created at the push of a button. Only the milk has to be filled in by hand and the rest happens automatically. The milk is warmed up and frothed. There are big differences in price and quality. It is important to find a device that you are satisfied with the result.

Froth milk with an induction milk frother

In contrast to the simple electric milk frothers, the milk is heated with modern induction technology. Many induction milk frothers can also prepare cold milk foam in addition to warm milk foam. Cleaning induction milk frothers is often very easy. We can recommend the Severin SM 9684 milk frother. Here you can find our Severin SM 9684 milk frother test.

Froth milk with the hand milk frother

For milk frothers, which consist of a glass container and a lid with a sieve, manual work is required. First, the milk is poured into the glass container and heated on the stovetop to a maximum of 70 ° Celsius. Under no circumstances should the milk boil. Then, with the help of a sieve, the air is mixed into the milk using quick manual up and down movements. One advantage of a hand-held milk frother is that it does not require batteries that have to be changed regularly for the whisk.

The milk froth with a hand milk frother is very reliable. The result is so good that the milk foam can be used for latte art. Such milk frothers are available from Bodum, for example

We can also recommend the Bialetti model.

Froth milk with Thermomix

Milk can also be easily frothed in the Thermomix. The mixer attachment is used for this. But it also works without an essay. The cold milk simply has to be added to the mixing bowl and whipped for about 3 minutes at level 3-4. Then the cold foam is heated to 70 ° Celsius for 2-3 minutes at level 2. If you don’t have cold milk on hand, first put 1-2 ice cubes in the mixing bowl and crush them at level 10 for 10 seconds. Then the milk is added.

Froth milk without a milk frother

There are no limits to creativity – this also applies to milk foam.

The shaking method: The milk is placed in a closed vessel and shaken vigorously for 1-2 minutes. Then the milk is heated in the microwave. But just heat it up and not cook it. This will destroy the taste and foam.

The whisking method: With this method, you have to beat the cold milk vigorously with a whisk and then heat it. Alternatively, you can whip the milk with a whisk while it is heated in a saucepan on the stovetop.

In our opinion, however, these two methods are only stopgap solutions. When we were on vacation, we used the whisk method.

We hope you enjoy trying it out.