Barista Basics: How to Texture Milk in 14 Steps
Milk texturing is probably the toughest thing to learn as a new barista or trainee. Yes, you’ll encounter harder tasks later on in your coffee career, such as recipe creation, but for someone new to coffee, steaming and texturing is a big challenge. Not only is it technically difficult but there’s so much intimidating equipment. Getting comfortable steam wand pressure, anxieties over getting burnt, understanding what properly textured milk looks like – there’s a lot to learn.
Don’t worry, however, because I’m here to help you master milk texturing. I’ve coached over 100 baristas through this. Let me introduce you to the 14-step process that will help you steam perfect milk every single time.
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Beautiful latte art, perfectly textured milk. Credit: Paul Mordheweyk
Step 1: Select and Measure Milk
Before you can start milk texturing, you need to select your milk. However, you should know that different types of milk will react differently to heat. Hopefully, your coffee shop has invested in good milk for texturing and latte art. Bear in mind that, with some alternative milks, the following steps may become more difficult. Just make sure you’re using the milk type your customer has ordered.
Next, pour the correct volume of milk for the drink you’re creating into your (clean) jug.
Pour your desired amount of milk. Credit: Methodical Coffee
Step 2: Clean The Steam Wand
Never forget the importance of cleanliness! Purge your steam wand and wipe it with a clean, damp cloth that’s dedicated solely to the steam wand. This will get rid of any condensation buildup that was inside the wand and that could affect the milk you’re about to texture.
Purging the steam wand, something that should be done before and after texturing milk. Credit: Methodical Coffee
Step 3: Angle The Steam Wand
Position the steam wand approximately 20–30 degrees towards you. Make sure it’s also directly in front of you and that you won’t be working at an awkward angle.
Step 4: Position The Milk Jug
Keeping the pitcher parallel to the counter, lift it straight up to the wand. Make sure the tip of the wand – and no more – sits in the milk. Finally, tilt the jug to the side.
Lifting the milk jug to the steam wand. Credit: Angga Adi
Step 5: Start Steaming
Pressure is key to steaming, so make sure you have enough as you start steaming and aerating the milk. You’ll likely want to do two full turns of the steam tap or pull down the lever twice.
Step 6: Be Aware of Temperature
Hold the side of the jug so you can feel it heating up.
Step 7: Keep Checking for Aeration & Texturing
Perfectly textured milk will be well-aerated (stretched) and textured. Aerating/stretching is the process of adding air into the milk. It will increase the volume of milk in the pitcher. Texturing, on the other hand, is what happens when you create a milk vortex in the jug. Your goal is to create both, although you will only see aeration at the beginning.
Checking for aeration and texturing. Credit: Angga Adi
Step 8: Adjust The Jug Position
When the jug reaches 37°C/99°F (approximately your body temperature), it’s time to move from aerating to texturing. Lift the jug up about 1 cm so that the wand sits deeper in the milk. This will create the vortex you need.
If you struggle to understand what temperature the milk is, some trainee baristas like to attach a thermometer to their milk jug. With practice, they then understand what 37°C/99°F feels like.
Step 9: Pay Attention to The Temperature
The milk will continue to heat up. I recommend starting to tap the side of the jug rather than just holding it. This will make sure you’re aware of the temperature but also prevent you from burning your fingers.
Step 10: Stop Steaming
When the jug is too hot to tap (this should be at approximately 55–60°C/130–140°F), turn the steam wand off immediately. You don’t want your milk to exceed 65–70°C/150–160°F.
Some customers may ask for extra hot milk. However, be aware that going above these temperatures will negatively affect the quality, texture and consistency of the final coffee – in both appearance and taste. Never do this unless it’s a customer request.
Step 11: Put The Milk Jug Down
Place your milk jug back on the counter – don’t try to do the next few steps one-handed. That’s how you end up dropping the milk or doing a poor job of cleaning.
Step 12: Clean The Steam Wand
Using your dedicated cloth, hold the steam wand by the rubber section and then wipe it clean. Be careful, though: it will be hot.
Always keep your espresso machine clean and ready for use. Credit: David Walstra, Third Space ZA
Step 13: Swirl
Go back to your milk jug. Tap it and swirl the milk: this will remove any overly large air bubbles. Your milk should be smooth and have a sheen to it, much like wet paint.
Perfectly textured milk: silky, polished, and smooth. Credit: Dany Affolter
Step 14: Pour
Now, you are finally ready to pour the milk and craft your milk-based beverage. But this is something easier said than done! Fortunately, we will be devoting an entire article to milk pouring techniques, so keep an eye out for it.
Pouring perfectly textured milk. Credit: Angga Adi
When you first begin learning how to create milk-based coffees, it can feel like you’ll never be able to achieve that perfect silky-smooth texture or get the temperature right. But remember: with everything, practice makes perfect. Follow these 14 steps and you’ll find that you soon start to master this challenging skill.
And then, when you’ve done this, you’ll be ready to begin the exciting journey of milk pours and latte art.
Enjoyed this article? Check out Barista Basics: How to Make Espresso in 14 Steps
Written by Shaun Aupiais.
Perfect Daily Grind
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