Steaming milk

The best milk temperature for your coffee

If you want to add cold milk (plain or frothy) then that’s just fine with us. In fact, when buying an Americano I am being asked more often if I want hot or cold milk. Yes, I know – Americano is supposed to be black, but that’s the trend.

Drinks such as latte, macchiato or flat-white are different though. The milk there is not just heated, it is textured (or ‘stretched’). Basically that means steaming it until it has just the right amount of froth and it is the correct temperature. Steaming milk by hand with a steam wand is very satisfying and with a little practice will give the best (and most consistent) results.

But as the case with brewing coffee, the temperature is important.

If the milk’s temperature is too low, it won’t sit right on the coffee and will taste like, well, warm milk. If it’s too hot, you will scald the milk and the texture will fall apart (the proteins in the milk will be broken down). Anything over 70°C can burn your mouth. Milk starts to boil and scald (i.e. burn) over about 80°.

What is the right temperature?

There are, of course, different opinions and you might find interesting results at different temperatures. However, we think a final milk temperature of around 65°C is best. At this temperature, the milk is more pleasant (sweeter actually) and sits on the coffee well.

There is a gotcha – correctly steaming milk needs steam at about 130°C. So – how do you know when you have reached that “sweet-spot” milk temperature? Some baristas can “sorta tell” when the milk is ready, but many utilise a thermometer.

What are the choices?

There seems to be basically three choices:-

  • Buy a machine that automates the process (although that will likely give you the least control)
  • Buy a heating and frothing jug. This is a great option actually, especially if you need to prepare more than one drink. And you can also use that to prepare hot chocolate (as 65°C is about right for that too)
  • Buy a milk thermometer. This is what we see baristas use

Too much choice? Well – not really. If you are looking to buy the avid coffee nut a gift, the milk thermometer would likely be best. For the coffee-loving couple or family, the jug might be better. A new machine can be a serious purchase…

Given there are lots of such things on the market, see this collection of milk thermometers, heating jugs and other frother devices featured in our shop.

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