I’ve covered how to make froth milk and mentioned steamed milk. But I wanted to know how it differs, so I wrote this guide.
To understand what it is, you’ll find the following information:
- Steamed milk is created by heating and frothing milk using steam, which is essential for espresso-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.
- The steaming process breaks down sugars and proteins in milk, resulting in a sweeter, creamier taste and a velvety microfoam texture.
- Ideal steaming temperature ranges from 150 °F to 155 °F (65 °C to 68 °C) to avoid scalding the milk and ruining its flavor.
- A steam wand, typically found on espresso machines, is used to steam milk, with skilled baristas controlling steam pressure and milk volume for the perfect froth.
What Is Steamed Milk?
Summary of qualities:
- Heated & frothed using steam
- Key component in espresso-based drinks
- Breaks down sugars & proteins for a sweeter, creamier taste
- Creates velvety microfoam
- Ideal steaming temperature: 150 °F to 155 °F (65 °C to 68 °C)
Steamed milk is heated and frothed milk using steam. It’s a key component in popular espresso-based drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and flat whites.
When you steam milk, it transforms.
The steam heats the milk, breaking down its natural sugars and proteins, resulting in a sweeter, creamier taste. This process also creates microfoam, which gives the milk that velvety texture you know and love.
The ideal temperature for steaming milk is between 150 °F and 155 °F (65 °C to 68 °C) – any hotter, and you risk scalding the milk, which could ruin the flavor.
You need a steam wand to steam milk, typically found on espresso machines. Skilled baristas have a knack for controlling the steam pressure and milk volume to create the perfect froth.
Drinks You Can Make with Steamed Milk
Steamed milk opens up a world of possibilities for crafting delicious coffee concoctions.
Here are some popular drinks you’ll find featuring this delightful ingredient:
Cappuccino: Consists of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. To make a cappuccino, pour the espresso into a cup, add steamed milk, and top with a dollop of foam.
Latte: Has more steamed milk than a cappuccino, making it creamier and less strong. Prepare it by pouring espresso into a cup and filling it with steamed milk, leaving just a thin layer of foam on top.
Flat White: Features a double shot of espresso and a smaller amount of steamed milk, resulting in a bolder taste. Add the steamed milk to the espresso, ensuring minimal foam.
Specialty coffee drinks: It serves as the foundation for many creative coffee drinks like mochas, caramel macchiatos, and cortados.
Latte art designs: With some skill, you could create beautiful latte art on top of your drink using steamed milk and espresso. Popular designs include hearts, rosettas, and tulips.
Seasonal & flavored lattes: Customize your lattes with flavored syrups, spices, or whipped cream to celebrate various occasions or seasons. Think Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes in the fall or peppermint mochas during the holidays.
Steamed milk-based non-espresso drinks: Not a fan of espresso? Steamed milk pairs well with other ingredients like chai tea, hot chocolate, or matcha, offering a smooth, creamy base.
Types of Milk You Can Use to Make Steamed Milk
When it comes to creating the perfect steamed milk, the type of milk you use impacts both flavor and texture. Let’s explore various milk options and how they affect your steamed milk experience.
1. Whole Milk
- Higher fat content (3.25%)
- Rich, creamy flavor
- Velvety texture
- Froths easily & creates stable microfoam
Whole milk is the gold standard for steamed milk and is the choice of many professional baristas. This milk has a higher fat content (about 3.25%), which gives your steamed milk a rich, creamy flavor and a velvety texture.
Whole milk froths easily and creates a stable microfoam, making it ideal for latte art.
2. Skim or Low-Fat Milk
- Lower fat content (0% to 2%)
- Less rich & creamy flavor
- Lighter & airier foam
Skim or low-fat milk has less fat content (0% to 2%) than whole milk. While it still produces steamed milk with a decent texture, the flavor will be less rich and creamy. On the upside, it creates a lighter and airier foam, which some might prefer.
3. Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives
With more people opting for plant-based diets, non-dairy milk alternatives have become increasingly popular. These alternatives offer unique flavors and textures when used for steamed milk.
1. Soy Milk
- Creamy consistency
- Mild, nutty flavor
- Froths well, but foam stability is not as good as whole milk
Soy milk is a popular choice for steamed milk due to its creamy consistency resembling whole milk. Its mild, nutty flavor complements coffee well and froths nicely, making it suitable for latte art.
Soy milk’s foam stability is not as good as whole milk. This could result in inconsistent microfoam.
2. Almond Milk
In a nutshell:
- Distinct, slightly sweet, nutty flavor
- Thinner consistency
- May not froth as well or create stable foam
Almond milk has a distinct, sweet, nutty flavor that pairs well with coffee. It has a thinner consistency than whole milk, so it might not froth or create a stable foam.
Be cautious not to overheat almond milk when steaming, as it may separate.
3. Oat Milk
- Creamy texture
- Mild, slightly sweet flavor
- Steams & froths well, but not as perfect for latte art as whole milk
Oat milk is popular for its creamy texture and mild, sweet flavor. It steams and froths well, resulting in a satisfying mouthfeel. While not as perfect for latte art as whole milk, it’s still an excellent alternative for dairy-free options.
Whole milk offers the richest flavor and best frothing abilities, while skim or low-fat milk provides a lighter option. Non-dairy alternatives cater to those with dietary restrictions, offering unique flavors and textures that complement your coffee.
Let’s move on to making steamed milk.
How to Make Steamed Milk
- Espresso machine with a steam wand
- Milk pitcher
Steps for steaming milk:
- Fill the pitcher with cold milk up to the bottom of the spout.
- Purge the steam wand to remove any water or milk residue.
- Submerge the tip of the steam wand just below the surface of the milk & turn it on.
- Lower the pitcher slightly to create a vortex & introduce air into the milk.
- You should hear a hissing sound. This is called stretching the milk.
- Raise the pitcher slightly to stop adding air & continue spinning the milk until it reaches your desired temperature.
- You can use a thermometer or your hand to gauge the temperature.
- It should be between 140 °F & 160 °F (60 °C & 70 °C).
- Turn off the steam wand & wipe it with a damp cloth.
- Purge it again to prevent clogging.
- Tap the pitcher on a flat surface to remove any large bubbles & swirl it to mix the foam & milk evenly.
- Pour the steamed milk into your coffee drink & enjoy.
Achieving desired milk consistency:
- Use fresh & cold milk, preferably whole or oat milk.
- They have a high fat & protein content that creates more foam & richness.
- Use the right size pitcher for the amount of milk you need.
- A good rule of thumb is to fill the pitcher up to the bottom of the spout, or about halfway.
- Position the steam wand tip about 2 mm below the surface of the milk & slightly off-center.
- This will create a vortex that spins & aerates the milk evenly.
- Stretch the milk only briefly until it expands by about 20%.
- You should hear a hissing sound as you introduce air into the milk.
- The more you stretch the milk, the more foam you will have.
- Stop stretching the milk & continue spinning it until it reaches your desired temperature.
- You can use a thermometer or your hand to gauge the temperature. Ideally, it should be between 140 °F & 160 °F (60 °C & 70 °C).
- Do not overheat the milk, as it will lose its sweetness & texture.
- Keep the milk moving in the pitcher before pouring.
- This will prevent the foam & milk from separating.
- Tap the pitcher on a flat surface to remove any large bubbles.
- Swirl it to mix the foam & milk evenly.
- Pour the steamed milk into your coffee drink with a steady & smooth motion.
- You can tilt the pitcher towards the cup to accelerate the pour & create latte art patterns.
Troubleshooting common issues:
- Overheating milk
- Large bubbles or insufficient foam
- Separation of milk & foam
How to Make Steamed Milk Without a Steamer
A French press is one of the simplest ways to make steamed milk without a steamer.
1. With a French Press
- Heat milk in a saucepan on the stove over low heat, constantly stirring, until it reaches the desired temperature (150 °F to 155 °F, or 65 °C to 68 °C).
- Be careful not to scald the milk.
- Pour the warm milk into a clean French press.
- Pump the plunger up & down, agitating the milk until it doubles in volume & achieves a creamy, frothy texture.
2. With a Microwave
Follow these steps to make it in a microwave:
- Pour cold milk into the jar.
- Fill it no more than halfway.
- Tightly close the lid & shake the jar vigorously for 30 to 60 seconds until the milk froths & doubles in volume.
- Remove the lid & microwave the jar for 30 to 45 seconds.
- Observe to ensure the milk doesn’t overflow.
- Carefully remove the jar from the microwave, give it a gentle swirl, & pour the steamed milk into your coffee.
It won’t look—and likely won’t taste—anything like milk made with a frother. But it’ll give you a similar texture.
3. Additional Methods
For those who don’t have a French press or a microwave-safe jar, here are some additional methods:
- Use a handheld electric milk frother: Froth warm milk until it reaches the desired texture
- Try a manual milk frothing pitcher: Pump the plunger to create frothy, steamed milk
You likely won’t taste the same as when using a steamed wand. But it’s a great way to help you make a great-tasting drink without wasting money on an espresso maker.
Tips & Tricks for Perfect Steamed Milk
Let’s dive into some helpful pointers for making flawless steamed milk.
1. Choosing the Right Milk for Your Taste Preferences
Different types of milk will affect your steamed milk’s flavor and texture. Consider your taste preferences when selecting your milk:
- Whole milk: Rich, creamy flavor & velvety texture
- Skim or low-fat milk: Less rich flavor, lighter & airier foam
- Non-dairy alternatives: Unique flavors & textures (e.g., soy, almond, or oat milk)
2. Practicing Steaming Techniques
To create perfect steamed milk, focus on mastering your steaming technique:
- Purge the steam wand before & after use to remove any excess water
- Position the steam wand tip just below the milk’s surface to introduce air & create foam
- Angle the steam wand to create a whirlpool effect for better milk incorporation
- Monitor the temperature, aiming for 150 °F to 155 °F (65 °C to 68 °C)
3. Storing & Using Milk Properly
Proper milk storage and handling are crucial for achieving the best results:
- Keep milk refrigerated: Until you’re ready to use it
- Use cold milk straight from the fridge: For optimal frothing
- Pour milk into a stainless steel frothing pitcher: To better control the temperature.
- Don’t reheat or reuse steamed milk: It loses its flavor & frothing capabilities.
4. Experimenting with Milk Alternatives
If you’re looking for something different, try experimenting with milk alternatives:
- Soy milk: Creamy consistency, mild nutty flavor, froths well
- Almond milk: Distinct nutty flavor, thinner consistency, may not froth as well
- Oat milk: Creamy texture, mild, slightly sweet taste, steams & froths well
By implementing these tips and tricks, you’ll be well on creating perfect steamed milk.
Steamed Milk vs. Frothed Milk
- Steamed milk: Creamier texture, smaller air bubbles, smoother foam, primarily used for lattes
- Frothed milk: Airier texture, larger air bubbles, more voluminous foam, used primarily for cappuccinos
- Frothed milk forms by introducing more air into the milk, resulting in a lighter, airier texture & more voluminous foam.
Many baristas use frothed milk for cappuccinos and other foam-heavy coffee beverages because its airier texture and increased volume create a distinct mouthfeel and presentation. The larger air bubbles and foam’s thickness help to balance the strong espresso flavor.
The lighter texture provides a pleasant contrast to the coffee’s richness. Many prefer frothed milk over steamed milk due to its unique characteristics. Complementing the coffee drinks’ overall experience.
The Science of Steaming Milk
Let’s dive into the fascinating world of milk steaming and learn about the complex reactions that occur during the process.
1. Composition of Milk
Milk is primarily composed of water (about 87%) but contains proteins, fats, sugars, and other compounds that give it unique properties . These components are crucial in steaming milk and creating the perfect texture and flavor.
Key points about proteins:
- Casein & whey proteins
- Unravel & form a network when heated
- Trap air bubbles to create foam
- Contribute to milk’s creamy texture
Milk proteins, such as casein and whey, are essential in the milk steaming process. When heated, these proteins unravel and form a network that traps air bubbles. Creating the foam we love.
They also contribute to milk’s smooth, creamy texture.
Here are some facts about fats:
- Provide rich, creamy flavor & velvety mouthfeel
- Fat globules become smaller when steamed
- Disperse better throughout the liquid
Milk fat provides a rich, creamy flavor and a velvety mouthfeel. When steamed, the fat globules in milk become smaller, allowing them to disperse better throughout the liquid. This results in a smoother and more uniform texture.
Facts about sugars:
- Lactose is the primary sugar in milk
- Contributes to milk’s natural sweetness
- Breaks down into simpler sugars when heated
Lactose, the primary sugar in milk, is responsible for milk’s natural sweetness. When milk heats during the steaming process, lactose breaks down into simpler sugars, resulting in a sweeter taste.
2. The Maillard Reaction & Caramelization
- Maillard reaction: Involves amino acids & sugars, producing flavor compounds
- Caramelization: Breakdown & recombination of sugar molecules, creating a caramel-like flavor
The Maillard reaction and caramelization are 2 chemical reactions that occur during milk steaming . Enhancing the flavor of your beverage. The Maillard reaction involves amino acids and sugars, producing a variety of flavor compounds.
Caramelization is sugar molecules breaking down and recombining into new compounds, producing a rich, caramel-like flavor.
3. Role of Temperature in Milk Steaming
Key points about temperature:
- Ideal temperature: 150 °F to 155 °F (65 °C to 68 °C)
- Proteins denature, sugars break down, Maillard reaction & caramelization occur
- Overheating risks scalding & unpleasant flavor
The ideal temperature for steaming milk is between 150 °F and 155 °F (65 °C to 68 °C) . At this temperature, proteins denature, sugars break down, and the Maillard reaction and caramelization occur. Overheating milk risks scalding it and producing an unpleasant flavor.
Understanding the science behind steaming milk will not only help you appreciate your coffee more, but it will also enable you to make better-steamed milk at home.
Read on to find frequently asked questions about steamed milk.
What Is Coffee with Steamed Milk Called at Starbucks?
Coffee with steamed milk is Caffè Misto . It is a one-to-one combination of fresh-brewed coffee and steamed milk. Customize it with different types of milk, flavors, toppings, and sweeteners.
How Does Steaming Milk Affect the Flavor & Texture of Coffee Drinks?
It enhances the sweetness of the milk by heating the lactose and making it more detectable to the tongue. It also creates foam by introducing air bubbles into the milk, which adds a creamy and velvety mouthfeel to the drinks.
What Are the Best Types of Milk to Use for Steaming & Why?
The best types of milk to use for steaming are those with high fat and protein content, as they create more foam and a richer flavor. Whole cow’s milk is ideal for steaming, with about 3.5% fat and 3.3% protein.
What Are Some Common Mistakes to Avoid When Steaming Milk?
Some common mistakes include moving the pitcher during steaming, under- or overstretching the milk, and positioning the steam wand too low or high.
Steamed milk is heated to create a microfoam and often used for drinks like lattes. It differs from frothed milk, which has larger air bubbles and is used for cappuccinos.
Do you need more ideas for espresso-based drinks? Explore an in-depth guide that compares your beverage options.