Articles From Whole Latte Love

Confessions of an Espresso Novice: Work it! The milk that is.

Posted: 09/23/04

I have a confession to make, and seeing as how this column is entitled "Confessions of an Espresso Novice," I feel it’s probably the appropriate forum. However, I must ask that you set down all heavy and/or sharp objects before reading the following few lines. Are we all set? Good.

Truth be told, I don’t like straight espresso. (This is my impression of me ducking to avoid any items you may have picked back up to lob at my head.)

I had this somewhat unsettling epiphany after I finally got the hang of the golden rule and, not to toot my own horn, began to pull some really amazing shots. Well, amazing as far as my barista-further-along-in-training-than-I roommate was concerned, and I’m pretty convinced that she knows what she’s talking about. After one shot in particular, she declared, "Omigosh, this is fabulous," and handed me the shot glass to sip from. My reaction was, well, not as enthusiastic. It was good, but not something I would necessarily look forward to drinking. It was like drinking my coffee black - I can deal with it, but I’d rather add a little milk. "Milk," I thought. "That’s the missing ingredient!" And like every other little espresso adventure I’ve had, I discovered "adding milk" is not as simple as it sounds.

Big bathtub bubbles - The anti micro foamWe set to work with some cold milk and a frothing pitcher. The mission: microfroth. "You want to tilt the pitcher a little and use the steam to create a swirling motion with the milk," my roommate said. I guess in my mind, "swirling" meant moving the pitcher back and forth with sharp wrist movements and spilling the contents over the side of the pitcher.

"No, no, no. You need to work the milk. Gently swirl it around." I went to return the frothing pitcher to its position under the steam wand and was greeted with a firm grip on my arm. "Uh, you may want to dump that out," she said.

"You mean I can’t just-"
"No! That milk’s spent. You need a fresh, cold pitcher of milk."

I refilled my pitcher and started again. Gently swirling…and gradually producing large, soapy bubbles. I looked at my roommate for approval.

"You boiled it."
"Boiled it? How do you know?"
"Look at it. Smell it. It’s boiled. Finito"
"But how can you-"

My roommate stopped me there, shut down the espresso machine and led me to my computer. "Read this," she said.

I looked at the screen and saw it before me: "In Depth Look at Frothing Milk by David Bogie." "Cool," I thought. "I’ll be frothing in no time."

Then I took a closer look. Let’s see, 24 sections...24 sections?! "I’m looking for a little guidance here, not an online PhD course in milkology," I said. After all, it is just milk, right?

"Read it," she said. "It’ll really help."

I agreed to appease her and started to scan the text. Let’s see…having trouble…if you’ve got the patience…a few gallons of milk? An hour or two of undisturbed study?!! I guess the rest of my frothing adventures will have to wait to make their way to paper until I’ve finished learning about milk mucilage and surfactants.

On second thought, maybe I should just skip to section 24: Hope for the Hopeless.

Read All Installments - Confessions of an Espresso Novice
A. Part I: In the Beginning
B. Part II: Finding the Grind
C. Part III: Striking Gold
D. Part IV: Emily Post & Inspector Gadget 
E. Part V: Work it! The milk, that is. (You are here.)

F. Part VI: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
G. Part VII: Give Me A Cup Cake Prison.
H. Part VIII: To The Espresso Machine I Loved Before.