When the majority of out-of-home coffee businesses closed in the first few months of the pandemic, many consumers started to make more coffee at home. As part of this, more and more people wanted to create café-quality beverages themselves – including milk-based drinks.
However, it’s safe to say that pouring high-quality latte art can be difficult, even for those with more experience and skills. Moreover, it can also be challenging to produce good microfoam without the right equipment.
So how can you pour great latte art at home without investing in commercial-grade barista equipment? To find out, I spoke with two coffee professionals who use the NanoFoamer.
You may also like our article on understanding the history of latte art.
Common ways to create microfoam at home
If you want to pour high-quality latte art, producing microfoam with the right texture and consistency is essential.
In most coffee shops around the world, baristas use steam wands on espresso machines to create smooth, glossy microfoam. This enables them to pour a variety of latte art patterns, including hearts, tulips, and rosettas.
But is it possible to do the same at home?
There are several ways for home coffee drinkers to make milk foam. One of the more popular methods is to use a French press.
Essentially, after adding milk which has been heated to the required temperature (usually between 55°C and 65°C, or 139°F and 149°F) to the brewer, you can repeatedly pull the plunger up and down to incorporate air into the liquid. The more you pull the plunger, the foamier the milk will be.
As well as the French press, you can also use a milk frother, which is like a small electric whisk. By placing the frother into heated milk and rapidly spinning the whisk, you can incorporate air into the liquid to produce foam.
Lance Hedrick is the International and US West Coast Wholesale Manager at Onyx Coffee Lab. He is also a coffee consultant and runs a coffee YouTube channel where he reviews a range of coffee equipment – including the NanoFoamer.
“Both the French press and milk frother methods are adequate at producing foam, but they usually result in drier foam,” he explains. Ultimately, this means it’s very difficult to pour latte art when using these methods as the milk isn’t smooth or “wet” enough to create most latte art patterns.
Other common techniques include using automatic milk frother jugs, which can heat and aerate milk to different consistencies, as well as stovetop milk steamers that work similarly to steam wands on espresso machines. However, it should be noted that stovetop steamers are unable to create the same levels of pressure as commercial espresso machines.
Lastly, home espresso machines which have steam wands can also be used to produce high-quality microfoam – but these machines are often costly.
The science behind creating microfoam
To know how to pour great latte art, we first need to understand how to create high-quality microfoam.
Firstly, you need to start with cold milk – which can be any kind, including plant milks – as this means the proteins in the liquid will be fully intact. You will also need to use a pitcher which is slightly bigger than the amount of milk you need so that there is enough room to aerate the liquid.
The placement of the tip of the steam wand is important, too. If it is placed too far above the surface of the milk, it will produce larger bubbles that will create a drier and more rigid foam. However, if the steam wand tip is placed too far below, you won’t be able to aerate the milk enough to create microfoam.
Lance tells me that it’s also essential to know when to incorporate air into the milk during steaming.
“Before the milk reaches around 33°C (90°F), you need to introduce the right amount of air for the beverage you’re making,” he says. “If you aerate the milk beyond this temperature, the bonds between the casein proteins (in cow’s milk specifically) will become too strong, so you will create air bubbles which are too big.”
As milk contains different proteins, when air is introduced to the liquid, they quickly cover the bubbles. Ultimately, this allows the air bubbles to remain stable, meaning you can produce quality microfoam.
After incorporating the right amount of air into the milk, you then need to “swirl” the milk. This is done by placing the steam wand at a slight angle while heating the milk so that the liquid quickly spins around.
Edward Griffin is a barista at Messenger Coffee Company in Kansas, Missouri, in the US.
“Swirling the milk helps to create an emulsion of the fats, proteins, and water in the liquid,” he explains.
In doing so, larger air bubbles can be broken down into smaller ones to create a smoother texture.
While whole cow’s milk tends to be the most suitable for producing high-quality microfoam because of its slightly higher fat content, it is possible to use any type of milk to create great latte art – although some work better than others. For instance, oat milk generally produces smoother microfoam than soy milk, while cow’s milk tends to work better than most plant milks.
How is milk foaming technology evolving?
With more and more consumers looking to create café-quality milk beverages at home, demand for better-quality milk foaming technologies has also been increasing.
One of these technologies is the NanoFoamer from Submininal.
“It’s an easy-to-use device that essentially mimics a steam wand on an espresso machine,” Lance tells me.
Edward agrees, saying: “It works similarly to an electric frother, but it is more powerful and includes a specialised tip which allows for better aeration of the milk.”
To use the NanoFoamer, you need to select a NanoScreen that is best suited for the type of milk-based beverage you are preparing. For example, the Super Fine screen works best for drinks which have less microfoam, while the Fine screen helps to produce more microfoam. You can also use the NanoFoamer with no screen to create thicker microfoam which is more suited for drinks such as cappuccinos.
Secondly, you then need to heat the milk to between 55°C and 65°C (139°F and 149°F). This can be done using the FlowTip jug or any other jug with a heat-resistant handle.
Once the milk has reached the desired temperature, you then place the tip of the NanoFoamer slightly below the surface of the milk and swirl for two to five seconds.
Following this, you lower the tip of the NanoFoamer further down into the liquid – and also place it further to the side of the jug – to create smooth and silky microfoam. It is recommended to hold this position for about 20 seconds, with a total foaming time of up to 30 seconds.
Lance explains that the NanoFoamer works in two key ways to help you make great microfoam.
“Firstly, there is the ‘stretching’ process when you introduce air to the milk, which helps to create a thicker texture,” he says. “Secondly, the ‘swirling’ stage is when you spin the milk to produce an even texture.”
Ultimately, you should be left with smooth and silky microfoam which allows you to produce a variety of latte art patterns.
Tips for pouring latte art at home
It’s important to note that being able to pour high-quality latte art requires plenty of practice and patience. For many baristas, it can take months to learn the necessary skills to create quality microfoam and pour great latte art.
“You firstly need to find out the right technique and try to replicate this every time you pour,” Edward says. “There’s plenty of tips and advice available online as well.
“[Learning how to pour latte art helps you to] question your techniques and how you can improve them,” he adds.
“You should focus on the rotation of the milk while you’re incorporating air into the liquid,” Lance explains. “When you’re pouring latte art, you need to pay attention to the placement of the jug spout, as well as how close you are to the surface of the milk.”
In theory, the closer the spout is to the surface of the coffee, the more milk will appear on the surface of the beverage when you pour.
Ideally, your latte art design should be placed in the centre of the cup and should take up about three-quarters of the drink’s surface area. To do this, you need to start pouring milk from a greater height until the cup is about halfway full. This allows the milk to reach the bottom of the cup, instead of landing only on the surface of the drink.
Once halfway full, you should bring the spout of your jug as close to the surface of the drink as possible – this enables you to “draw” your design on the surface of the liquid.
The speed at which you pour milk is important, too. If you pour too fast or too slow, you risk either disturbing the liquid too much or not enough, making it more difficult to create a design.
The NanoFoamer includes different screen sizes to achieve a variety of different milk textures. For those with less experience, the Fine NanoScreen can help to produce slightly thicker microfoam, which is easier to work with. Alternatively, you can choose to not use a screen, which creates even thicker microfoam.
“The NanoFoamer creates microfoam which is comparable to that when using an espresso machine,” Lance tells me. “It allows people to replicate café-quality milk textures without investing in a machine.
“With plenty of practice and a good crema (or even chocolate sauce or syrup), pouring latte art at home is certainly achievable,” he adds. Lance also offers a MasterClass course on how to pour different latte art patterns using the NanoFoamer and FlowTip jug.
Edward, meanwhile, provides tips on how to pour latte art with plant milks.
“You usually have to incorporate more air into plant-based milks,” he says. “After you have foamed your milk, let it sit for about 15 seconds and then make sure to swirl it more vigorously.
“This helps to create a more malleable texture,” he adds.
Although it can certainly be challenging to create high-quality microfoam – and in turn pour great latte art – at home, new milk foaming technologies are certainly helping to do so.
As demand grows for more accessible and affordable milk foaming solutions, it’s likely that we’ll see more and more of these options emerge on the market for home consumers.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on why milk foam disintegrates.
Photo credits: Subminimal
Perfect Daily Grind
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