Looks like microfoam, but it won't mark the surface until the very end

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks for making espresso.
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#1: Post by Adam_Sickles »

I need some help, please tell me what I might be doing wrong.

I'm trying to learn how to pour latte art. Steam wand goes deep in the 16 oz Motta pitcher and I open the steam valve on my Alex Duetto II full bore, then I slowly bring the wand up until I get the occasional "chee.... chee... chee..." sound. A few bubbles show up in the beginning during the "chee-chee" sounds, but as I continue steaming and spend more time just a little bit under the surface of the milk with mostly silent stretching of the milk (is that correct?), the visible bubbles get incorporated into the microfoam until there are only a few bubbles. The pitcher is too hot to touch, I sink the wand in deeper and let the milk roll (I think it's a whirlpool, not sure). Then I stop the steaming, taking the wand out. I wait 5 or 7 seconds, then bang the bottom of the pitcher flat against the countertop so the few visible bubbles disappear, then I swirl the microfoam. It looks shiny on top and viscous.

Tip the bowl with espresso in it, and I start to pour at a steady rate. The milk goes into the espresso and the surface of the espresso turns a light cinnamon brown, but it doesn't "mark" the surface with white so that I can draw art. I keep pouring, and at the VERY end, when the cup is almost overflowing, I start to see the foam "mark" the surface, but it's too late - the cup is full and has no more room for any more microfoam.

What am I doing wrong? Am I steaming the milk wrong? Am I pouring too fast? Angle of the espresso cup wrong?

Please advise. Thanks!

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#2: Post by ptervin »

I'm no expert, but could it be you are steaming too much milk?

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#3: Post by akallio »

You need to bring the tip of the pitcher very close to the surface to mark it.

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#4: Post by chipman »

Very good youtube video from a recent CG discussion.

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#5: Post by HB »

Also see Learning latte art with steamed soapy water for discussion.

Back to the original post, it sounds like not enough air is being injected, the milk may be overheated, and the microfoam isn't evenly incorporated. While it may sound unintuitive, try letting the milk sit for 30 seconds after steaming, then reincorporate the foam/milk by thunking/swirling. It's not a great example of latte art, but this video nicely demonstrates the thunking/swirling technique:
From Latte Art Challenge[d]
Dan Kehn

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#6: Post by SimonSoCal »

I believed I have similar problem. Can you explain a little more about over heating the milk.
Do you have a reference as to the temp reading that is consider too hot.
Also by leaving it [milk] sit for 30some seconds before thunking/swirling, what will it gain or recover from over heating the milk?
I too have veiw several dozen times on using water w/soap video and some others as well. But I have no success in pouring the milk with any kind of art. It always start pour with clear water [using water+soap tech] than the bubbles foam later. Or in actual milk practice, I have fuildity of the milk then follow by a thick blobs of milk foam. no arts
Appreciate the help.

btw, OP. not to steal your posting. I too practicing a similar technique as OP. Is the technique correct?

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#7: Post by another_jim »

It could be the milk is overheated or underfoamed, or that the crema on the coffee is not intact.

I'm in the habit of drinking the remaining milk when I make a cappa for myself, and I've found out it's usually easier to tell what went wrong by its taste than by anything visual. Good microfoam tastes distinctly sweet and feels like a creamy froth. If it's hot, and neither sweet nor frothy, you've overheated it. If it's sweet, but liquid, you haven't stretched it enough. If it's froth, but not sweet, it's not heated enough. If it tastes right, but didn't mark, then it was the shot that had crema problems.
Jim Schulman

Adam_Sickles (original poster)
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#8: Post by Adam_Sickles (original poster) »

thanks for all the advice - I will try it again tonight when I get home from work.

I'll stretch less, try to whirlpool better, use my thermometer and heat to no more than 140F, let it sit for 30 seconds before clunk and swirling, i'll pour with tip close to the espresso, and then after each attempt I'll taste the foam remaining in the pitcher to troubleshoot based on Jim's great advice.

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#9: Post by North »

When my milk doesnt mark the surface its usually not foamy enough.

Are you able to make eggwhite-like foam?

To find your whirlpool, try and steam some water. Its easy too see whats going on.
Remember when looking for the spot - It takes a little time for the whirl to start if you change position.

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#10: Post by ChrisC »

I think this is all good advice, but I second the thought that it's more likely about not getting the spout of the pitcher close enough to the coffee surface. Once you've attained good milk texture (which varies from thinner for latte milk to thicker for cappuccino -- think liquid paint for the latter, and about halfway between that and regular unfoamed milk for the former), it really becomes about the height and angle you're pouring from, and of course just maintaining a constant flow. Start by pouring at a safe enough height not to splash, but then immediately moving the pitcher up higher and continuing the pour from there -- the milk will drop straight through the surface of the coffee without leaving a mark, like a diver diving straight into a pool without disturbing the surface. If there was an initial mark on the surface from starting lower, you can pour into that to push it under, leaving a perfect unmarked surface on which to pour your art. Then, when the cup is about half to 2/3 full, move the pitcher down, getting the spout as absolutely close to the surface of the coffee as possible. (Tipping the cup makes this much easier to do, allowing you to get the spout right into the cup, but adds a degree of difficulty in that you have to do something with your other hand, and you have to slowly right the cup as you fill it up to full. I've seen people have success either way, but I tip the cup.) If the spout is close enough to the surface, you will now be pouring the milk forwards out and onto the surface rather than dropping from above, allowing it to float there. Watch more latte art videos and you'll see that the moment the milk starts to mark the surface is always the moment the pitcher spout gets close to the surface. I think the fact that you're only seeing it mark the surface when your cup is full is because only then are you pouring close enough to pour out onto the surface rather than dropping from above. Try tipping the cup and getting lower earlier. Also note that tall narrow cups make this harder than short, wide, bowl-shaped ones.

I also second steaming with a thermometer until the milk is between 140 and 150 F when you're done (being aware that you have to stop steaming a little before this range because the temperature coasts up a bit afterwards), thunking it on the table to pop any visible bubbles, and then swirling constantly until you're ready to pour. I wouldn't overly thunk, or let it sit, because then you get separation between the liquid milk and the foam, the exact thing you're trying to prevent with the swirling, but perhaps others have had luck with this technique. I say swirl continuously until you pour, and pour as soon as you can!