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Milk is the subject of many of the questions directed to us in the shop. How do we achieve the texture and how can it be achieved at home? There is a long and short answer. The short answer is simple- good quality full fat local milk- and practice.
In my opinion the long answer is always best and is as follows:
Are we sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.
Find your local dairy. Buy full fat local milk. Put down the semi skimmed, walk away from that wishy washy filtered white water. There are no arguments here. Buy full fat local milk.
It is one of the major steps in creating good coffee. In a flat white the milk is equally important to the espresso. A well trained barista can make good coffee on a bad machine, there’s no hope with bad ingredients.
We use Sutton Lucy Dairy or Bruton Dairy. Bruton Dairy produces organic unhomogenised milk while Sutton Lucy produces homogenised milk. Homogenisation is where the milk goes through an emulsification process to prevent the fats separating into cream. Both are local to us and both create fabulous milk. Beginners or those struggling with consistency should use homogenised milk.
Creating good milk is mostly about two factors- heat and texture. We will start with heat.
Milk is burnt at 82 degrees, milk is too hot for coffee over 70 degrees. Your milk should be between 60 and 63 degrees. When you heat milk with a steam wand you do several things. You enhance the flavour of the lactose (sugar) of which makes up roughly 5% of milk. You denature proteins, cold milk proteins are wound tight, as they warm up they start to encompass air bubbles and water due to part of the protein being hydrophilic and another being hydrophobic. This effect on the proteins is what allows milk to foam, too little heat and the foam collapses. Overheating milk causes the fats to become involved in oxidation reactions which lead to unpleasant flavours and for the proteins to form a stiff cardboard like foam. We call this snowman poo. In the shop we cruelly take the handles off of the training jugs. A trainee barista will burn their fingers before they burn the milk.
To texture your milk you need to work quickly and deftly. Start with fresh, cold milk straight from the fridge. You must get the air into the milk using the steam wand within the first couple of seconds and then start combining it before the milk reaches room temp, cold milk buys you time. Your milk must be fresh, start again every time you make a coffee, do not use milk left in the jug from before. You do not fry an egg, let it cool down and then refry it because it would be horrible. Do not do this to milk. People that do this are bad and should be ashamed. Your jug has a sweet spot, it’s not a myth and is easy to find. At this spot the nozzle of the steam wand and the jug itself will roll and combine your milk into a sexy, silky, super smooth hydrocolloid of wonder….. almost.
Your milk now has the beginnings of something beautiful. Remove it from the wand, keeping the milk gently moving around the jug. Then you need to whack it. Firmly strike the base of the jug flat on a hard surface. If you now have milk in your shoes you have been too firm. This pretty much explodes the big bubbles remaining into small micro bubbles (fuggles is the technical term).
Gently sway your milk round the inside of your jug, this reincorporates any fat that may be trying to separate. If your milk is too thick you can pour a little of the fattier milk from the top. Keep the milk moving until you see a glossy, shiny change to the milk. Your milk is now ready to pour into your espresso and you are now a coffee warlock.
by Laurence Norman
Founder of Higgler coffee, milk enthusiast.