First, purge your steam wand to get any residues out of the way. Then, we begin with cold milk. Cold milk lets you heat the milk for longer, allowing you more time to texture your milk, before hitting the optimal temperature. For auto-frothing and manual/commercial-style wands, you want to start with the steam off and position the tip of the wand slightly below the surface of the milk. Then turn the steam on. For auto-frothing wands, you can stop there. The auto-frothing wand will do most of the work for you. For manual wands, lower the pitcher until the tip of the wand is very close to the surface of the milk so that you can hear air getting sucked in. A venturi effect will force air into the milk, and a ripping sound can be heard. For fine microfoam and latte style foam, you want to stop adding air when your frothing pitcher starts to feel warm. For fluffier cappuccino style froth, continue adding air for a little longer.
To stop adding air, raise the pitcher to lower your wand deeper into the milk. For pannarello wands, raise the pitcher to lower the wand enough to submerge the air intake hole in the side of the wand. For manual wands, lower the steam tip just below the surface of the milk. From here, angle and maneuver your pitcher until you find the right position for your milk to roll. Rolling the milk breaks up any larger air bubbles in your milk froth and makes it uniform. Roll the milk until the pitcher is hot enough to feel a little uncomfortable to hold.
When the milk is heated the sugars from lactose begin to caramelize. A good target range for milk froth is somewhere between 140-150 °F. Exceeding this causes the milk to lose its sweetness and flavor.
How to make latte art
After frothing, pour your milk into the center of your espresso for a moment. Raise pitcher up high and pour into the center again to help get milk to the bottom of the cup. While pouring, lower your pitcher toward the surface of the drink. Begin oscillating your pour as you position the pitcher to one side of the cup for a zig-zag pattern, then swipe across to the opposite side for a basic design.
Purge your wand
- The wand is always filled with some water prior to steaming, so purging gets rid of the excess so it doesn’t end up in your milk.
Start with the tip of the wand buried
- Prior to opening the steam valve, keep the tip of the wand just below the surface of the milk. This gives you more freedom to adjust at the start. If the tip is too low, the milk won’t roll and you’ll hear a screeching sound. Too high and you risk splattering your milk and forming huge bubbles.
Roll the milk
- Be patient while finding the right position to roll your milk. Moving the wand around everywhere won’t help. Make small adjustments.
Don’t overheat the milk
- If the pitcher is hot enough that you can’t hold your hand to the bottom, it’s already too late. By the time milk hits 160 degrees, flavor is lost and the milk is beginning to scald. 140 degrees is a solid stopping point for smaller drinks. Up to 155 is good for larger ones.
For Pannarello wands, make sure they’re clean
- Auto-frothers and pannarello wands feature a small air-intake hole that can get clogged easily if unchecked. Make sure the air-intake isn’t blocked, clogged, or obstructed so that the proper amount of air can be injected.