Steam tip hole size shouldn't matter, right?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks for making espresso.

#1: Post by BaristaMcBob »

I've been looking into changing the steam tip on my ECM in order to get more steam flow. I found alternate tips with 3, 4, and 5 holes. People say that the 4 and 5 hole tips allow too much steam and are "difficult to control" and "heats the milk too quickly". Okay, but can't the steam volume be controlled with the steam valve? If the tip has too many holes or too large holes, isn't a simple matter of not opening the valve all they way? Am I missing something?

Supporter ♡

#2: Post by Nunas »

The comments probably originate from those of us with joystick steam controls and/or 2-bar boilers. The joysticks are difficult to modulate, as they like to be either off or fully on. After having had both joystick controls and knobs, I'd rather have knobs. That said, getting used to streaming on any machine is simply a matter of practice, IMHO. I clearly recall having trouble with not enough steam when I moved from a Silvia SBDU to a Breville Barista thermoblock machine. Eventually, I got good at steaming with the BB. Then I got a Magister and complained that it had too much steam. A chap, either here or on CG, suggested that I plug one of the holes with a toothpick, which I did. Magic! Then, one day, I noticed that the toothpick had blown out at some point, and I'd been using the stock tip without trouble. My next machine was the Synchronika with a 2-bar boiler and joysticks; holly doodle, what a lot of steam. But, remembering how it went with the Magister, I persevered and quickly produced great foam. I was not too fond of the 2-hole tip, as it seemed overly sensitive to its position, so I moved to the 4-hole one. Much better, but so fast! But only at first. The secret with a powerful machine is to pull the milk to volume as quickly as possible while minimizing the number of large bubbles within a couple of seconds with the 4-hole tip on the Synk. After this, spend the rest of the time heating the milk and breaking down any larger bubbles.


#3: Post by jgood »

I think it's an oversimplification to say the number of steam holes don't matter. I have found that the number of holes and the size of the holes do matter. To take it to the absurd no one would remove the steam tip and try steaming with just the wand. I think there is an interplay between technique, the amount of milk that's being steamed, boiler size and pressure, and the steam tip. Try a few varieties and see what you like -- and then after a few months repeat the experiment -- as your technique improves you may find a different preference. As a general rule, if there is one, fewer smaller holes work better with smaller amounts of milk, less powerful steam pressure, and less experienced baristas. YMMV!

Supporter ♡

#4: Post by mgwolf »

Yes, as it is said, size matters. If you had a 4 hole tip 1mm holes vs 4 hole tip with .8 mm holes (such as the LMLM), you would find the smaller holes much easier to steam smaller amounts of milk with. If you doing a large pitcher of milk, they would both work, but if you were doing 4-6 oz, the smaller size holes are definitely easier. I usually steam 2.5 oz which is very tricky with any 4 hole tip and I found the 2 hole Profitec tip much easier.

BaristaMcBob (original poster)

#5: Post by BaristaMcBob (original poster) »

Right. But if you can adjust the pressure via the knob, why not just get the most aggressive tip? You'd then be able to steam both large and small pitchers.

Team HB

#6: Post by ira »

The bigger the holes, the slower the velocity of the steam for the same steam volume. Also, for small boilers the higher the volume the lower the pressure and the wetter the steam. Also, the more holes the different the swirl.


User avatar
Supporter ❤

#7: Post by cafeIKE »

Seldom mentioned is the position and direction of the holes. Holes aligned fore & aft require a different pitcher location than holes aligned side to side. Ditto regarding the angle at which the holes come out of the tip.

IMO, many home machines have a stock tip better suited to a bigger commercial unit with more volume and higher pressure.

User avatar
Team HB

#8: Post by Jeff »

Many years ago there was, as I recall the name, the "Sproknife". I really enjoyed using it on the La Marzocco machines it fit. The tip was claimed to increase turbulence. This makes sense as a lot of steaming is about breaking up the bubbles to get that silky texture. I've found that I definitely preferred a four-hole tip on my E61 HX, and think I prefer the three-hole on my DE1.

There's a tricky balance between pressure, velocity and turbulence at the tip, and how much water gets added to raise a given amount of milk to your desired temperature and texture. It may be worth trying a different tip, or it may just be a $30-130 addition to the junk drawer.

User avatar
Supporter ❤

#9: Post by cafeIKE »

Problem I found way back is there were no tips that had holes small enough for the wimpy :wink: prosumer e61 machines, so I engineered my own.

Plugged a stock two hole with JB Weld [?] and had an EDM shop sink a couple of really fine holes and a wider angle. Pure SotP* guestimation, but that tip still makes the silkiest latte foam of any machine I've ever tried.

* Seat of the Pants

User avatar

#10: Post by spressomon »

FWIW, I have been using Slayer size 0 with four 1.0mm diameter holes for 4+ years and it is perfect for steaming enough milk for 6.0 oz cappas in my favorite pitcher of all time, the Motta 11.8 oz variant. Steam time to paint perfect texture every single session, using Lance's technique described in his video (link below), is about 8-10 seconds. Fast enough but slow enough to produce consistently fantastic milk texture.

Also, for those having trouble steaming and haven't watched Lance Hendrick explain his technique...this will get you dialed in for sure:

Yes, he's a bit animated but he knows his stuff and gives you precise methodology that works perfectly!
No Espresso = Depresso