Microfoam--easier than it seems?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
rluna

#1: Post by rluna »

I am not new to the coffee scene, however, I am new to the home barista crowd. We have only had our espresso machine (Alex Duetto II) for about 3 weeks, and I've enjoyed every minute of it thus far. Most of the shots have been good, and I know it will get better with time and practice. My dissonance lies in the multitudes of forums that I've read on HB over the last few months about microfoam...I've read so much about how it takes beginners (whether by speculation or self-report) months to years to get "good" microfoam.

For some reason, maybe my own naiveté, I don't seem to have this problem. The first week I just played around with the steam wand to get familiar with it, but since then, I've gotten perfectly acceptable microfoam every time I've steamed milk. I poured my first rosetta within a few days that look similar to the other ones online. While they are not perfect every time, they've been fairly consistent.

Now, maybe I'm doing something horribly wrong, but how in the hell can this be possible? Microfoam doesn't seem that hard to achieve, so I'm afraid I may be missing something. Are people making it out to be harder than it really is? Maybe the machine is just that good? Someone please fill me in.

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Psyd

#2: Post by Psyd »

rluna wrote: Now, maybe I'm doing something horribly wrong, but how in the hell can this be possible? Microfoam doesn't seem that hard to achieve, so I'm afraid I may be missing something. Are people making it out to be harder than it really is? Maybe the machine is just that good? Someone please fill me in.
It's a bit like riding a bike. If you read a bit about it, and have a natural balance, as well as a basic understanding of the physics involved, you'll probably be up the first day, and have a new mode of transpo the next.
Those of us with less natural talent and understanding will still fall and skin our knees, and the crying and bleeding will be a complete and utter mystery to you.

It's not hard, it's a skill. Some folk play the piano without lessons.
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

Endo

#3: Post by Endo »

Sometimes it's easy. Other times the forces work against you.

My first machine was a piece of cake. I was making rosettas the first week as well (still have the photos).

With my recent double boiler machine it's been 6 months and I'm still struggling. It's partly because my standards are now higher (for both espresso and Latte art), and it's also a matter of "unlearning" habits from the old machine.

Lastly, some machines/tips/milks are just more difficult to master than others.

Just watch out the dreaded "microfoam rut". Just when you think you're master of the Latte is when it usually strikes.
"Disclaimer: All troll-like comments are my way of discussing"

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HB
Admin

#4: Post by HB »

rluna wrote:Now, maybe I'm doing something horribly wrong, but how in the hell can this be possible? Microfoam doesn't seem that hard to achieve, so I'm afraid I may be missing something. Are people making it out to be harder than it really is? Maybe the machine is just that good? Someone please fill me in.
The machine in question can make quite a difference.

For example, Elektra has a knack for striking the perfect balance of volume, velocity, and dispersion pattern. That's why the Elektra Semiautomatica merited a 10.0 for its "Cappuccino Lover's score" while the Rancilio Silvia earned a 6.0. The same holds true for the Elektra Microcasa a Leva; you would really have to try hard to screw up the microfoam on such espresso machines.
Dan Kehn

rluna

#5: Post by rluna »

Thank you for the posts. I feel like there's hope for newbies like myself; at first I was a little intimidated reading the horrendous stories of the more experienced home baristas. I think the Duetto II is very forgiving of mistakes generally, which makes it great for a first machine. I've been able to get similar results using both whole and 2% milk, so thus far I haven't chosen a favorite.

I guess the squeaky wheel gets the grease, in this case, which is why I haven't read much about how easy it can be to make microfoam.

Endo, what is this "microfoam rut" you speak of?

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gyro

#6: Post by gyro »

HB wrote:The same holds true for the Elektra Microcasa a Leva; you would really have to try hard to screw up the microfoam on such espresso machines.
I don't need to try hard to screw it up on the MCaL, it comes quite naturally to me!

For some reason I have difficulty with it that I have not experienced on other machines. Its obviously me, not the machine, and most likely carrying over a habit or technique from other machines that doesn't apply well to this one. That, or perhaps my horizontal learning curve...

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another_jim
Team HB

#7: Post by another_jim »

Ten years ago, two or three cafes on earth doing latte art, and most people thought that frothing milk so that it could be squeezed through a pastry bag was the height of cappuccino art. Old timers who got into that habit, like me, had a very hard time switching to microfoam, and we may have made a much bigger deal about it than was really warranted.

I've already posted my mea culpas.
Jim Schulman

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Compass Coffee
Sponsor

#8: Post by Compass Coffee »

HB wrote:The machine in question can make quite a difference.

For example, Elektra has a knack for striking the perfect balance of volume, velocity, and dispersion pattern. That's why the Elektra Semiautomatica merited a 10.0 for its "Cappuccino Lover's score" while the Rancilio Silvia earned a 6.0. The same holds true for the Elektra Microcasa a Leva; you would really have to try hard to screw up the microfoam on such espresso machines.
To a huge extend that's likely hitting the nail on the head. Most don't start their Journey down the Dark Side with a Duetto class machine! It's a easier steaming on my Linea than Bricoletta at home (with boiler down ~1 bar to reduce extreme flushing needed with hot blooded Bric' HX). I'd wager most prosumer class HX machines with <2L boilers running boiler pressure down around 1 bar really aren't that great steaming. Can do it to be sure, but relatively as slow as molasses. Big advantage prosumer DB vs HX can have the steam boiler up 1.5+ bar and not have to deal with excessive flushing for shots.
Mike McGinness, Head Bean (Owner/Roast Master)
http://www.CompassCoffeeRoasting.com

jpreiser

#9: Post by jpreiser »

I'm still working on it myself. I think it's part being a newbie on the dark side, part having a machine with a boatload of steam power, and part not getting enough practice since I mainly drink straight shots. I've gotten some mediocre microfoam with the stock LaSpaz S1V2 tip in a small pitcher using whole milk but it still isn't quite where I think it should be. I think it's just going to be practice, practice, practice with maybe a different wand if I can't dial it in well enough.

Endo

#10: Post by Endo »

jpreiser wrote:... maybe a different wand if I can't dial it in well enough.
I own all 3 Vivaldi wands: stock, S5 and no-burn. The wand makes no difference (except when using a huge pitcher, in which case the longer S5 can be a benefit). The tip, on the other hand, makes a big difference.

The stock 0.9mmm 4 hole tip works the best, IMO. I've also gotten decent results on a one hole tip. But in my opinion the one hole tip is a crutch. It's too slow and defeats the purpose of owning a powerful DB steaming machine like the Vivaldi. Still, if you can't break your slow steaming, single boiler "swirling" habit, it will work.

Hint: To make a 1-hole Vivaldi tip, you can use "Mighty Putty" (in honour of Billy Mays) to block the tip holes, then drill a 1/16' center hole.
"Disclaimer: All troll-like comments are my way of discussing"