Still can't steam milk properly

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

I have the NS Oscar which as some of you know produces professional steam from it's four hole professional tip. I can't get it to do anything except separate my milk. I get plenty of big foam on top but only watery textured milk underneath. I've tried plugging 3 of the 4 holes with toothpics as some suggest but this made no difference. I am using skim milk however, could this be my problem? I'm also using a small milk jug and only enough milk for 1 latte. I don't usually make more than one at a time.


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#2: Post by HB »

nixter wrote:I am using skim milk however, could this be my problem?
Skim milk does separate faster, which can lead to frothed milk with a dry cap. Could you post a video of your preparation? That would help diagnose the problem.
Dan Kehn

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nixter (original poster)

#3: Post by nixter (original poster) »

No can do on the video.

I went out and bought some 3% milk and tried again just now. Still the same, garbage. I use a thermometer to make sure the milk doesn't go above 160. I have a four hole tip so I don't know if I'm getting the right kind of movement happening. I read a "how to" on this forum that said the tip should be in the center, straight up and down for multi hole tips. So as it stands I can make hot milk or I can make plenty of hard foam that sits on the top but not the nice velvety milk. When I pour it in the espresso it just turns everything into a soupy mess. I'm only used about 6 ounces of milk when I do this so maybe that combined with too much steam power is the problem. It seems I only have about 10-12 seconds total before the thermometer tells me I'm nearing 160.

My technique so far has been to keep the tip near the top to get the sucking noise until my temp gets to about 110, then I lower it and heat things up to about 150 and shut off the steam. Then I swirl and bonk and pour my thin, hot milk into the beautiful espresso shot I've just pulled. Wasteful :)

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#4: Post by danetrainer »

The Oscar is a "steaming machine" quite impressive with its stock 4 hole tip ( I had a Faema Compact commercial machine here at the time, and the Oscar outperformed it in steaming in every category)...but I think that plugging off the other holes somewhat defeats some of the process of making microfoam. The diameter of your remaining hole being very large (mine measured 2mm or .080") and without the swirling action or an opposite hole I think you may be getting inferior results.

What I did (as I steam small quantities, and use skim milk also) is purchase one of the two hole tips from Chris Coffee, and the Oscar uses the standard 10mm thread size. There is also a 'Gold Pro' tip out there you may want to look at it too. I ended up adjusting the hole size on the two hole tip a tiny bit larger...but really isn't necessary.

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#5: Post by HB »

Oh well, no video. That will make it much harder. Some general suggestions: Use very cold milk, store the milk pitcher from the freezer, and use more milk. More milk volume means more time to texturize (mix) the milk; try a 20 ounce pitcher. Many apparently hopeless pours can be saved if you have good swirl and thunk action. This video from Latte Art Challenge(d) demonstrates how to beat a milk cottonball into milk chrome:
My guess is you're injecting too much air early on and then overcompensating by burying the tip without mixing. Slowing down the whole process with a larger pitcher, cold milk, and an icy pitcher will give you more time for corrective mixing.
Dan Kehn

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#6: Post by lberg »

I'm still pretty much an espresso newbie :) , but I'll try explaining what I do. I work at my local coffeeshop, and they have a Grimac La Vittoria 2-group, which has 4-hole steam tips. I don't want to make any generalizations, because your tip might be different than "mine," but I'll try to explain what I do to get OK microfoam.... (note: I say "ok" because, like I said, I'm a newbie and I am very far from excellent microfoam.) I should probably warn you that since this is in a coffee shop, I'm using upwards of 38 oz steaming pitchers (which, to me, seems kind of counter-intuitive, since our largest drink size is 16 oz). So because I'm working with large steaming pitchers, what I'm writing might not work for you.

Anyway, with the 4-hole tip, even with the commercial steaming power, I can't easily get the "standing wave of turbulence." I go for the "whirlpool" action.

As for overall wand placement, I angle the wand slightly. Not 45* from the machine or anything drastic like that--just NOT vertical. I spin the milk clockwise, so for me that means placing the tip near the right of the pitcher, facing the steam wand/machine. For stretching, I start with the tip placed right up next to the edge of the pitcher and that helps with stability. I try to get that "paper tearing" sound to varying degrees, depending on what kind of drink I'm making, so more for a capp than for a latte....Then, for the "whirling" part (which I start when the milk gets the slightest bit warm to the touch), I move the tip to about halfway between the center of the pitcher and the edge, and just barely below the surface of the milk, so that sometimes there's a "sucking/whoosh" sound, but never that "paper tearing" sound. That area seems to get the fastest whirlpool action. During the time it takes to get up to 160*, I try to get rid of all the big bubbles if there are any, by "sucking" them into the whirlpool. With the tip up next to the edge of the pitcher (in the stretching phase), the whirlpool action isn't as fast, but it's still there. Oh yeah, and, I keep the steam valve all the way open the whole time.

I'm still experimenting with wand direction/angle myself, but this is what I've had the best results with so far.



#7: Post by Beezer »

I completely agree with Iberg. I'm using a four hole tip on my Anita, and I find the best way to make microfoam is to place the tip near the right side and sort of down into the lower corner. Tilt the pitcher toward you a bit, and then surf the tip just below the surface, letting just a bit of air into the milk. Once the milk starts getting warm, sink the tip a bit lower and try to get the milk spinning in a clockwise direction. Let the milk spin until it's too hot to touch, and then shut off the steam, thunk the pitcher a couple of times, and spin the milk by hand. That should do the trick.

A video is worth a thousand words:
Lock and load!

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#8: Post by lberg »

Cool. I must be on the right track :D
Anyway, I was re-reading my post, and saw how I sort of emphasized the speed of the whirlpool. Hopefully I won't hijack this thread too much, but I have a related question. I wonder if the speed of the whirlpool has any impact on taste/microfoam quality? With the 2-group mentioned earlier, I can get milk riding up pretty far on the sides of a ~28/30 oz straight-walled pitcher (a little less than half-full) with a pretty deep "inverted cone" created by the centrifugal force. And depending on where I put the tip, the whirlpool slows down/speeds up, just curious if it has an effect....I'll have to experiment at work tomorrow.

Team HB

#9: Post by ira »

No idea if this will make any sense, but here goes. I'm using a Brewtus and a small pitcher, 10 oz or so. I keep the pitcher in the freezer, fill it 1/2 full of 1% milk and start with the tip just below the surface so it sounds right, not the scream if it's too deep and not so high it get's big bubbles, I try for a continious noise. People seemto describe it as tearing. I can build volume really fast and sink the tip as soon as the volume is correct, long before the pitcher gets warm. If I find the proper spot and it swirls so all of the air gets broken up into tiny bubbles I get nice foam. If I do it perfect I have no big bubbles, but usually there's a few. I do have trouble making latte art as I seem to get 2 different kinds of foam. I occasionally use whole milk and then it gives better microfoam.

Until I figured out that I had to do it as two distinct steps, build volume as fast as possible and then incorporate the bubbles I could never get decent results. One thing is the Brewtus has a very small single hole tip and is very slow. Soon I'll have another tip with much bigger holes and I might have to discover a different method.


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nixter (original poster)

#10: Post by nixter (original poster) »

Thanks for all the help guys. I will try again in a couple days. One thing I don't understand is how I'm supposed to make the milk swirl in the jug when the 4 holes in the tip point away from each other? Wouldn't you want the steam moving in one direction in order to get the milk moving in a circular motion? I just seem to get turbulence but no swirling. I'm not giving up yet!