Most Espresso makers for homes are equipped with steam wands that have a froth assist or a froth enhancement system, also know as a panarello to induce air along with the steam, to compensate the lack of powerful, consistent steam you get from larger boilers of commercial espresso machines.
In commercial machines, the steam at the disposal of the barista is plenty and she can use this power to manipulate the texture of the milk by passing steam just below the surface creating ample turbulence to allow air to mingle with the steam, swirling the milk at the same time and thereby creating the micro-foam and the silky texture.
In domestic machines, you have the panarello which offers a cheat method to create micro-foam, but may not be able to give you that silky, velvety texture.
If you’re willing to fail a few times and you have a steam wand with an exposed tip once you remove the panarello, here’s how you can achieve frothing nirvana –
This is what we’re looking for – A creamy, thick, velvety, silky almost thick paint like texture. You will need chilled milk and average fat content (skimmed milk is good too, but takes more skill). Fill the frothing jug maximum half way. You will need a frothing jug for reasons that would take another physics lesson to explain…
Place the tip just below the surface of the milk and fire up the steam, gently stirring the jug in a circular motion to cover the entire surface area of the milk. This is called ‘riding’ the steam wand. Keep a steady roll, slowly opening up the milk to allow air to mix in until you see the milk turning shiny and some micro-foam developing. Continue to the next level below by inserting the wand deeper and finally use the steam to heat up the rest of the milk at the bottom. Shut off the steam and tamp (like thumping a beer mug) the bottom of the jug against the tableor platform to release the larger bubbles below, raise and swirl again. Repeat.
So what’s the difference between this method and what the Barista’s follow in café’s? No difference.
The difference is in the capacity of the frothing jug you’re going to use. Make sure you go in for a jug that’s smaller in capacity, say about 400 ml and stick to half the quantity always, say maximum 200 ml at a time. The math is simple, you have a weaker steam output, therefore use a lesser quantity of milk to froth.
The learning curve is quite difficult, but the results can be very rewarding. Watch how you’re family and friends make you feel like a Star!