I can't steam milk worth a damn

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.

#1: Post by RickVanCleef »

I've looked at all the videos online, attended virtual classes, tried different milks, pitchers, etc. I'm hitting the right temperature, but I never come close to silky smooth, white-paint-like micro foam. It's almost always a watery mess. Anybody got any ideas?

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#2: Post by RockyIII »

Your profile lists three machines. Do you get the same results with all three? I have owned both a Linea Mini and an Olympia Cremina, and I achieve better milk steaming results with different steam tips than the ones that come with those particular machines.


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#3: Post by SCespresso »

How long have you been steaming milk?

I feel like you can watch and learn, but unless you actually do it continuously it doesn't stick. I bought a couple gallons of milk and steamed back to back until I got decent results early on.

I will admit I still steam a couple extra ounces then I will use. If I was in a cafe with a large milk overhead, I would learn to get it perfect to the drop, but I haven't felt the need to go that far. I rarely drink a milk drink and the wife has 1-2 a day.

RickVanCleef (original poster)

#4: Post by RickVanCleef (original poster) »

I haven't set up the Linea Mini yet, but I get the same results whether I use the MCaL or the Cremina. Both have very good power....and I'm only steaming 2-4 oz at a time (flat white, macchiato)...so it's not like I'm trying to do too much at one time. I just don't get it. Very frustrating.

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#5: Post by Bluenoser »

Steaming milk is one of those things that seems pretty straight forward but was waaayyy more difficult than I thought.. I had to take a more 'zen' approach to it and try to learn to enjoy experimenting with it.. otherwise it drove me nuts.

I'd use the Linea Mini, as I've heard that is an amazing steamer.. A few things that can help..

1. Use cold water and 2-4 drops of dish soap (palmolive or equiv).. When you start to steam, you can immediately see when air is introduced and you can then start to hear the right 'chirps' that are producing air.. You can also see the water move better and can find the best position of the wand to get the best vortex. Most of my initial problems were in introducing too much air too quickly.. So with the water and soap, you should be able to produce silky white texture very close (not exactly) to milk.. and as you pour it out, you should see that texture most of the way to the bottom.. At the very bottom you'll notice a bit of thin watery white. You can do this endlessly with zero wastage.

Start with the tip underneath and then slowly drop the jug until you see the soap bubbles.. this is the point where air is introduced. Just introduce a bit of air at a time.. so you'll hear some chirps.. then nothing.. (as the milk spins).. then the vortex is such that you'll hear some more chirps.. Don't try to get one long continuous chirp.. On some machines with powerful steam, the tip might stay buried a mm or 2 but can still bring in air. (while other less powerful ones you will need to see more of the tip). so you need to find that point for your machine.. The water & soap will show exactly when the air starts being introduced.. that is harder to tell (unless you know the sound) in milk. Then you just leave it there for maybe 3-7 seconds.. you need to practice that.. and maybe you need to drop the jug ever so slightly as the milk/water stretches.. but try to err on too little air.. then try to err on too much air.. Without knowing both extremes you won't learn the proper texture..

Like learning anything, there is no 1.2.3 set of instructions that will guarantee great results.. You need to experiment and then analyze the results.. It sounds like you are introducing air too quickly and then it is not incorporating well.. So introduce it slower over a slightly longer time.. but hold the pitcher in your hand as when the milk is warm to touch it is too late to introduce any more air..

After the air, drop and just keep that good vortex.. One thing you'll notice is that if there is too little air, it will screech as it ends heating.. With too much air, it will be much quieter as it heats..

Your tip needs to be off-centre and closer to an edge, and the jug needs to be tilted.. but you don't need to be too obsessive.. With your mini, the jug should not be an issue. Use about 200ml (200g) of liquid as less than this will be harder to steam.. you'll tend to blow large bubbles if you use too little milk. .. ahh.. see you are trying 2-4 oz (118ml).. that is tough to learn on.. I'd try to get good at 200ml first, then drop to 4.. I'm not sure I could do 2oz.. I think I'd do 4 and then dump 2.. If you are doing 2 cups.. do 220 ml.. then get a 2nd jug.. You steam 220ml in one jug and then pour some into the other jug.. I'm not sure the exact technique but there are videos on how to pour 2 lattes by steaming one amount of milk.. you don't just pour one from the original pitcher then the other.. the microfoam is different in both when you do this.. I saw a good video that shows exactly how to do this, but can't find the link. Using 2 jugs will also help get the microfoam more consistent.

Pouring is also a different art.. watch the video and it will explain that if you pour too late, your milk won't 'flow' and you will have a small design.

It took me a good 3 mo. on and off getting a decent tulip.. I find the tulips are the easiest design to start with.

Good video by Sunergos on milk steaming.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5nOFirDRTo

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#6: Post by emradguy »

RickVanCleef wrote:I haven't set up the Linea Mini yet, but I get the same results whether I use the MCaL or the Cremina. Both have very good power....and I'm only steaming 2-4 oz at a time (flat white, macchiato)...so it's not like I'm trying to do too much at one time. I just don't get it. Very frustrating.
You might do better with a larger volume of milk. Getting an approximately "right amount" of milk in the pitcher to start with is actually very helpful in developing a good vortex. I agree it would also be a good idea to buy a gallon or 2 just for the purpose of practicing. Yeah, you can do the Rao water with a drop of dish soap thing, but buying a small amount of milk isn't all that expensive, and there's no substitution for the real thing, in my opinion.

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#7: Post by BaristaBoy E61 »

What percentage milk fat are you using?
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#8: Post by Marcelnl »

what is also referred to; continuous practice is key is also my experience...using the best milk also is..so is steaming enough volume; using a low volume means the process is over before you know it and especially when using a capable steamer.
Try using the amount of milk your pitcher is made for. Oh and also, I never believed it but the actual pitcher also makes a big difference, my results jumped when I started using a Cafelat pitcher.

It's doable, but it takes time and Zen, perhaps it helps making the result less important...you get what you get, trying too hard can be a handicap as you are focusing on the result and may miss the details that make a difference...buy a Sakuhachi :wink:
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#9: Post by DeGaulle »

You say you have watched lots of YT videos. I just came across this guy; if you look past the sometimes frantic chit-chat, he gives solid instructions on positioning of the wand and the pitcher to start with. Maybe you grew some habits that you have to unlearn, but have a look:

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#10: Post by GC7 »

This is the best video I've seen. It's helped me a lot.