Customers love asking for tips on how to make coffee at home. It is a hard question to answer, especially when milk is involved.

First, I inquire on the type of equipment they use. After the umming and ahhing, I find out a microwave has become the best way overall to realize a latte. I look them straight in the eye, to see if they’re taking the piss, then give some half-hearted generic explanation on the importance of steaming milk.

The customer leaves, head down, perhaps sad that they have to go home to their international roast and milk, two days past the use by date.

The average student cannot afford a top of the line espresso machine and I dare say neither can the average lecturer. They are astronomically priced and frankly, all the ones I have used are useless, barely commanding enough pressure to properly aerate milk.

Based on that I decided to conduct an experiment, using products you would find in an average kitchen. I always thought it was possible to make creamy milk without a steam wand, it just took a little time, patience, and a trip to supermarket.

The Tools

I used a Moka Pot to make the coffee, as it is my at home caffeinating tool. If you want some tips on making espresso, check out Tim Hayward’s In Pursuit of the God Shot, otherwise I will be focussing on frothing.

Experiment #1

I tried using a whisk first, I couldn’t move my arm fast enough to make anything other than huge milk bubbles. I used ‘the trying to make fire’ technique, don’t even bother.

Experiment #2

Experiment #2

Bubbly Froth

I thought a hand mixer would do the trick. I filled a saucepan half full of milk and placed it on the stove until it warmed up, letting my finger decide the right temperature. Do not touch the saucepan, put your finger in the milk, oh and wash your hands.

Once the milk was warm, not hot, I stuck the mixer in at the lowest speed. It was a failure and my ego was hurting. I produced crappy, bubbly milk, I felt a little humiliated, which only made me more persistent.


Experiment #3

Thick and Glossy

I went to the supermarket. I needed tools, something that resembled the cylindrical glory of a steam wand and simultaneously moved the milk, creating foam.

The market had a nice little saucepan equipped with a spout. I also picked up a hand blender. It cost $25, a little pricey, but it seemed as though it would help me make sense out of all the milk I splattered on the wall.

I filled and heated the milk exactly as I had for experiment #1. First I stuck the blender down towards the bottom of the saucepan, the milk rose quickly indicating that this wasn’t the best method. So I brought the blender up towards the surface of the milk. It moved splendidly, resembling the creamy froth I get from a proper espresso machine, success, ego reinstated.

There you have it, a tip to becoming a kitchen barista. The milk wasn’t perfect, but it was as close to the thickness and glossiness that I produce on the machine used in our café. Give it a go, and ditch the microwave theory, it’s just sad.

5 Responses to “Homebrewin’”

  1. 1 David Giang September 2, 2009 at 3:14 am

    Did you use one or two blades with the hand mixer?

    I wonder if using just one blade would give you a better swirling action, like a steam wand. Two blades would move the milk around in two separate directions; perhaps it’s agitating more than aerating.

    • 2 Meghan September 2, 2009 at 8:41 am

      wow, didn’t think of that smarty pants. I suppose it would have produced the same results as the blender…experiment #4…

  2. 3 Gideon September 2, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Nice post on a pretty unusual topic.

    I’ve seen pots similar to the Moka with steam arms on them, though not in the same classic Italian style.. If i can get images, i’ll send them to you.

    I am personally *quite* spoiled, as i have an espresso machine with a decent steam arm on it.

  3. 4 Petar September 13, 2009 at 2:50 am

    The science and thought processes you’ve applied here are similar to what I would expect of my physics students…

    I’m telling you Megs, you’ve missed your true calling as a Physicist :oD

  1. 1 Coffee cocktails « For the Love of Beans! Trackback on October 19, 2010 at 10:12 am

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