If you’re just starting out with learning how to froth milk with your espresso machine, you might want to consider getting your hands on a frothing thermometer. They’re a wonderful training tool and I wanted to cover a couple things you should be aware of when using one.
Frothing milk does a couple things to it. The most important impact it has on the milk is that by introducing small amounts of air when steaming, microfoam is created. This causes the milk to take on a light and creamy texture which gives a silky feel in the mouth.
Something else is that heating milk increases its’ apparent sweetness. But, reaching the correct temperature is critical and that’s where a thermometer comes in. Go a little too hot and you miss the sweet spot ideal for cappuccinos and lattes. Go even hotter and you run the risk of scalding your milk and irreparably ruining it!
A frothing thermometer can help get you into the sweet zone, here are a couple of tips to help make sure you’re using yours effectively.First is lag time. Frothing thermometers are not instant read. It can take 10 or more seconds for them to give an accurate temperature. This means when you stop steaming the temperature continues to go up - often by 10 degrees or more.
So say that you cut your steam at about 140 degrees or so, the milk might actually be at 150. Familiarizing yourself with the lag of your thermometer can help you avoid overheating. An easy way to find out is to compare the temperature when you stop steaming to what it reads 20 seconds later. So what’s a good temperature to steam too? Well there’s personal preference involved but general consensus is 140 to 155 degrees for optimal sweetness.
Now the faces of frothing thermometers can confuse the issue. A Rattleware thermometer for instance shows 150 to 170 degrees as the green zone. A similar Update thermometer has 140 to 160 degrees indicated as the froth zone. Our advice, use the ranges on thermometers as a guide. But with the inherent lag, be sure to stop steaming before you’re in those ranges. It’s rare to see experienced baristas frothing with thermometers. They’re helpful as a training tool. But with some experience your hands on the pitcher will tell you all you need to know and your hands will react faster than most thermometers.