Do You Froth Milk Before Or After Espresso? Myth Debunked


To make a milk-based coffee at home, all you require is frothed milk and espresso. However, there are certain practices you need to follow to ensure a decent espresso-based beverage. For starters, the milk must be cold. Then, before steaming, you must check that the machine is at the right steam temperature.

In a perfect world, your espresso pull and milk steaming should finish at the same time and then immediately combine. That’s the reason why those who are serious about drinking coffee invest in dual boiler or heat exchange machines. You can do milk and espresso simultaneously with some practice, but the answer is a little trickier with other machines.

There is a lot of misinformation on correctly making a latte or cappuccino with your new machine. Some baristas make their beverages by brewing the shot before frothing the milk, while others make lattes in a glass cup by pouring espresso into the frothed milk.

We will look at more detail why frothing milk before brewing espresso is better, to ensure that your machine lasts and you achieve perfect cappuccinos and lattes every time.

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What Temperature Should Milk Be Heated To for Coffee?

Most baristas heat the milk to about 60 to 65 degrees Celsius (140-149 degrees F); for really hot milk, they heat it to about 70 degrees Celsius(158 degrees F).

The temperature of your milk is critical because if you overheat it, its proteins go through a change called denaturing, which you cannot correct by cooling it down again. In addition, the fats in whole milk experience an extreme physical change when heated past 70 degrees.

When heating your milk, put your dominant hand around the jug to accurately gauge the temperature. You should feel the milk gradually heat up on your palm.

The best indicator that you have reached the correct temperature is when you cannot hold the jug for three seconds, at which point you must turn off your steam wand.

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When positioning your steam wand, you should look at the rim of the jug as a clock. The jug’s spout should be at the 12 o’clock position, the handle at 6 o’clock, the jug’s right side at 3 o’clock.

Thus, the steam wand should always be at 1:30. There must also be a gap between the wand and the milk jug; this allows the milk to spin and create a necessary whirlpool motion.

For those who like their milk extra hot, continue steaming the milk for an extra one to three seconds. However, you can use a thermometer for a more accurate temperature reading, but it’s good to train your hand to perceive the correct heat.

As mentioned previously, it is best practice to steam or froths your milk before brewing your espresso. Consider the following reasons for steaming before brewing:

  • It’s faster to make a latte by cooling the machine to brew after frothing than waiting for the machine to warm up after brewing. The machine takes little time to brew; switch on the button and run the hot water through the wand. The wand will go from creating steam to how water very quickly. When you have hot water rather than steam, you’re ready to brew.
  • The machine and its components last longer at the cooler brew temperature than at the hotter steam temperature. This is standard practice for many espresso machines to prevent burnt-out boilers and heating machines.
  • When you perform the first step with a mid-range semi-automatic espresso machine, it maintains a consistent temperature when brewing.

Does Frothing Milk Heat It?

Yes, a milk frother heats the milk, usually up to 65 degrees Celsius. You can easily adjust the temperature settings if you wish; the purpose of heating milk is to aerate it and produce a thicker foam. 

Regular milk contains three essential elements – protein, carbs, and fat. These elements allow milk to froth more expediently. 

There are two proteins in cow’s milk – whey and casein. When you heat the milk, the proteins create bubbles. So more proteins equal a richer, frothier foam.

Steamers and frothers are terms that people use interchangeably. However, the key difference is that a steamer only heats the milk, whereas a frother aerates it. You can create many coffee drinks with steamed milk, but it mixes in with the rest of the liquid rather than sitting on top. 

Some electric steamers also froth milk but most only create tiny bubbles that are hardly noticeable. However, if you plan to make lots of barista-style coffees at home, you need a decent milk frother.

Getting a good foam takes lots of practice. Sometimes your frothed milk can still collapse now and again, even when your frothing skills are down to a fine art.

This is because some things can cause the foam on your milk to collapse. Firstly, whole milk must be as fresh and as cold as possible before frothing it.

Glycerol makes up about 4% of whole milk, and when the milk is fresh, the glycerol is too busy to destroy the foam’s development.

However, if the milk is off, free glycerol can get in the way of the foaming process causing the bubbles to burst. Also, overly heated milk can lose its foam quicker than milk frothed at the right temperature.

How Should Steamed Milk Be Poured?

Tilt your cup to a 45-degree angle, pour the milk with the jug high above the cup at about 4 inches. Then pour slowly, aiming for the center of the deepest part, then move the cup around to mix around the crema.

When the rising liquid almost reaches the edge of the cup and is about two-thirds full, stop pouring but keep the cup tilted.

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Bring the jug down close to the center of the espresso and start pouring again, but faster than before. When you reach this point, slow down your pour, raise your jug slightly, and pour through, keeping everything as centered and symmetrical as possible. As the cup fills, return it to level, this stops it from overflowing, putting your design in its proper spot.

One tip that might help you, when you lower your jug to start pouring the design, rest it on the cup’s edge. As you pour, maintain your tilt level by keeping your contact point in the same place.

Then, tilt both hands together as if they were locked in that position relative to each other.

Don’t worry about moving your jug around too much; just focus on the basics of frothing and pouring. The more you practice pouring, the more you will hone your technique and learn what works best for you and your coffee machine.

How Important Is The Temperature In Espresso?

Making an espresso involves so much more than simply pressing a button and waiting for the machine to do its magic. Your input can make or break your favorite beverage, and one thing you must do is control the brewing temperature. 

For optimal extraction, espresso water must be between 90 and 96 degrees Celsius (195-205 degrees F). Any hotter than this and your coffee will taste burnt, while cooler water will yield a drink that doesn’t extract much flavor from the coffee grinds.

Many substandard machines do not have adjustable temperature settings, but if your machine has this feature, you can calibrate it. Each machine has a different calibration process, so make sure that you follow the instructions on the manual carefully.

Once you understand the temperature settings on your machine, you can begin dialing in the shot. This process involves tweaking the brewing criteria to achieve the best espresso.

First, taste your espresso each time to determine whether it’s under, over, or perfectly extracted. Then, adjust the temperature as you need until you find the most pleasing flavor.

You can check the temperature of your espresso by using a thermofilter to gauge the water temperature on the machine accurately.

For example, you may confront an issue where you have the temperature set to 97 degrees on the machine, but it may not be the temperature at the group head, so this is when the thermofilter comes in useful.

Final Thoughts

Certain fundamentals help make your milk-based beverage taste delicious: these include using cold milk only for frothing, and it is better for your machine, and you milk-based coffee to froth or steam your milk before brewing espresso.

When milk gets warm, the fat and proteins break down, making it harder to froth up. Make sure that your milk is frothed at the right temperature to create a nice lasting foam.

The temperature of the espresso is also critical; you want to keep it within a particular temperature range so that the coffee is neither under nor over-extracted. A perfectly pulled shot of coffee at the right temperature will pair nicely with rich foamy milk.

Practice your pour technique as much as possible. Having good control of the jug is essential to getting a nice sheen on your milk and a professional design enhances the quality of your beverage.

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