The Art of Milk Frothing: Techniques Every Barista Should Know

The Art of Milk Frothing: Techniques Every Barista Should Know

Milk frothing is a key step in making several different kinds of coffee. Unless you take your coffee black, odds are it requires the milk to be perfectly frothed and blended with the espresso. Anyone who works in a coffee shop froths countless litres of milk each day until it becomes second nature. But even an expert occasionally needs to revisit their training to ensure their skills haven’t strayed.

The keys to good coffee are technique, finesse, experience, and properly prepared milk. You can slowly learn these over many years through trial and error and making imperfect coffees, or you can learn them by taking a coffee-making course with Skills Training College. Taking one of our courses is the best way to truly learn how to make the perfect cup of coffee, but for now, we’d simply like to share some of our tips that you can’t froth milk without knowing.

Depth of the Milk Wand

The depth and angle of a steaming wand’s nozzle control the amount of air drawn into the milk, and therefore how frothy it becomes. Ideally, the tip of the wand should be kept about one centimetre below the surface of the milk to create microbubbles, and adjusting this depth allows for changes in the froth texture.

Barista frothing milk in a cafe with milk wand immersed in the warm milk

Pouring Speed

Pour speed impacts the texture and consistency of the milk’s froth. A slower pour results in more milk and less foam, while a faster pour creates the opposite effect. It is strongly recommended that baristas begin pouring milk slowly, then speed up as they go to ensure they maintain control over the quantity and quality of the froth.

Finding the Right Temperature to Froth Milk

The main impact of steam is that it enhances the perceived sweetness of the milk by breaking down longer-chain carbohydrates into simpler sugars. However, if the steam is too hot, the proteins can denature, leading to the breakdown of the milk foam and ruining the froth, and thus the coffee. It is therefore important to ensure your espresso machine is calibrated correctly. The ideal temperature of steam to froth milk is around 60 degrees Celsius.

Barista frothing milk to the desired temperature at espresso machine in cafe

Tilting the Cup

By tilting the cup, the barista can create a larger surface area of espresso allowing for a well-structured base for the heated milk itself to sit nicely upon. Additionally, angling the cup and the milk jug so the milk pours into the centre of the cup allows for better control of the creation of frothed milk.

Keeping Your Espresso Machines Clean

Without regular cleaning, milk residue can clog the steam wand, milk frother, or hoses, which can lead to poor froth quality and the build-up of potentially harmful bacteria. This can affect the flavour, the quality of frothy milk, and the health of those who drink it. It can also potentially damage your espresso machine.

Barista cleaning espresso machine after milk froths to desired temperature

Hot Milk Vs Cold Milk

Cold milk is generally preferred for frothing as it allows for better aeration and the creation of a creamy, well-textured foam. The proteins in milk unfold and create the necessary structure for froth more effectively when using cold milk. Starting with warm milk or hot milk can lead to these same proteins unwinding too much, making it difficult to create a well-structured foam.

Different Milks

What do milk types have to do with how you froth milk?

Different types of milk require different frothing techniques due to their varying fat and protein content. Higher fat and protein typically lead to better, easier frothing results. When you steam milk, it’s important to consider which coffee you’re making first.

Full-fat milk is known for producing a creamy and thick froth, making it ideal for traditional cappuccinos. Skim milk can also produce a good froth, but it will be lighter and less creamy compared to whole milk.

When it comes to creating froth using non-dairy options, soy milk is most recommended, followed by oat milk. Almond milk and cashew milk are less suitable for frothing.

Different Styles for Different Coffees

Aside from espresso drinks which do not require you to froth milk, each style of coffee uses a slightly different technique to achieve the desired texture and consistency. For instance, a cappuccino requires a thicker and heavier froth, which is typically achieved by frothing the milk at a lower temperature and introducing more air to create a drier foam, whereas a latte requires a smoother and creamier microfoam, which is achieved by frothing the milk at a higher temperature and incorporating less air to create a wetter, silkier texture.

Milk Frothing for Latte Art

Steamed milk froth plays a crucial role in creating latte art as it is the foundation for the pattern you are ultimately creating. A super-fine froth is ideal for creating latte art, as it provides the right consistency to support the creation of various designs such as hearts, rosettas, and tulips. Specific latte art techniques will depend as much on the pattern you are trying to create as much as they will on the quality of the frothed milk.

Cup with latte art done by barista after milk frothing

Barista Training for Everybody

Training to be a barista never truly ends. Whether you’ve just set foot out of you’re a seasoned barista, a home coffee aficionado or you’re just starting out in the industry, new styles of coffee and new coffee-making technologies are constantly emerging, each of which requires slight adjustments to your milk frothing techniques.

If you’re looking to become a barista, or simply want to hone your skills, a barista course is the answer you’ve been looking for. Sign up for barista training will Skills Training College today to become, and remain, a coffee-making legend.