A microfoam or a froth? Here’s what you need to know about steaming milk

Milk-based coffee is nothing more than milk and coffee, or specialty coffee beans, whether it is a cappuccino, latte, macchiato, or flat white. However, the steaming of the milk varies considerably from cup to cup.

You should know these things about steaming milk.


Microfoam is similar to wet paint. It has a silky smooth texture. Due to its density and airless content, it makes for the perfect milk for creating impressive latte art.

Pressurized steam is used to heat up the milk while developing a texture at the same time. The sugars in milk are heated up, and the fat is broken down when steamed milk is consumed. Steaming produces air bubbles that form a layer of microfoam in the milk, giving it that silky texture.

Making microfoam

Turn on the steam wand and place it in the milk to create a microfoam. To gauge milk temperature effectively, you’ll need to generate a whirlwind effect for the milk while keeping one hand on the milk jug. Milk that has been overheated often contains more air, and consequently, has a less velvety consistency.

It’s microfoam that makes it possible for baristas to pour a balanced and even pour of coffee, creating beautiful patterns, rosettas, and hearts.

Foamed milk

Steaming milk (or frothed milk) has the same process as micro foaming, but it adds a lot more air, giving it a light, delicate and bubbly texture.

Frothing milk

Turn on your steam wand and place the tip just above the surface of your milk to froth the milk properly. Similarly to creating microfoam, you want to constantly inject air into your milk until the jug reaches a point where it’s too hot to hold. As the air expands your milk and adds volume to it, you need less milk in your jug when steaming foamed milk. Be aware of the amount you use.

Knowing the temperature

There are many factors at play when steaming milk, but the temperature is arguably the most important one. It determines the texture, flavor, and density of your milk. Too hot and you’ll end up with a velvety smooth texture. If it’s too cold, the milk will be wet and ‘soggy’.

It depends on the quality and brand of milk you use to determine how hot the milk should be. Because whole milk contains more fat, it’ll take longer to heat, but there are some benchmarks to consider.

Casein proteins constitute about 80 percent of the milk’s protein content, and whey proteins constitute the remaining 20 percent. The ideal temperature for steamed or frothed milk is between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nevertheless, many specialty coffee shops steam their milk at lower temperatures to preserve flavor and texture, and many commercial chains steam their milk at much higher temperatures.

It is true that milk temperature cannot be determined definitively. It is as much a matter of personal preference as of quality.

Coffee is made or broken by the way milk is steamed

Many coffee shops do not have a true understanding of how to make microfoam, and as a result, they sacrifice quality.

Making foamed milk is easier than making microfoam. Injecting air is easier. As a result, foamed milk is less likely to be ruined.

Thus, microfoam is more difficult to perfect and can easily tarnish; nonetheless, the reward of a velvety-smooth cup of coffee vastly outweighs any risk of mistakes.