Things I’ve learned from UKBC 2016 | Steaming milk consistently

My previous post was about choosing the most appropriate milk for the coffee you’re using. Now you have to steam it consistently.

The milk post was inspired by a point Dale Harris from HasBean made. The point that lead to this improvement was made by Dan Fellows from Origin, another seasoned and equally impressive competitor.

This year his focus was coffee being a “precision craft”, with one of the primary points being that baristas should use thermometers to measure their milk temperature. This will reduce what is likely the biggest variable between milk drinks as even experienced baristas will not be consistently accurate. As he said himself “my hand doesn’t have a thermometer.” If we really want to make milk drinks consistently we should be measuring the temperature accurately. A fair point.

So should we use a thermometer when steaming our milk?  I’d would say yes but there’s a big drawback, it can be unhygienic. A thermometer and the clip holding it in place gives milk a place to collect. It also becomes awkward to clean with a jug-rinser meaning the whole process becomes less efficient. That rules out using a thermometer for me, reducing speed and cleanliness is not a worthy trade-off for a more consistent temperature. It’s still worthwhile for competition, since you only use that jug once, but on a busy bar it’s impractical.

Maybe there’s  another way we can improve in this area.

Somewhat by accident, while timing myself during a practice session and simultaneously using a thermometer, I realised you can just time how long you steam milk to get a consistent temperature (Assuming you dose your milk relatively consistently too).  This also has the added benefit of allowing you to time how long you aerate the milk to get the perfect micro-foam – the other big variable between milk drinks. It helps to have a stopwatch that goes into milliseconds for this.

So for example, I now know if I’m making:

A 60z Flat White I aerate for 2.0 seconds and heat for a total of 9 seconds.

A 8oz Latte its 2.5 seconds aeration and heat for a total of 11 seconds. 

Two takeaway Lattes steamed together and milk shared? 5 seconds aeration and heat for a total of 19 seconds.

Try it out. All you have to do is keep a timer near your steam wand and test out how long each drink takes to steam perfectly. Then you can clean your jugs without hindrance.





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