Milking it

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Do you remember the days when coffee was just coffee and milk was just milk? When you’d simply pour cold white liquid into a mug of hot black liquid and the job was done? You do? Me too.

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Pic by Worthy of Elegance

But those days are gone.

Today coffee preparation is almost as complex as a university science degree – it’s a world of scales and ratios and precise timing; a field of never-ending experimentation. But what about milk? Even if the world’s top barista prepares your espresso, the right stuff can be destroyed by the white stuff.

Visit any speciality coffee shop and you’ll witness the care with which milk is heated and frothed before a painstakingly precise volume is added to your drink, often with a cool latte art design.

In addition to altering the texture, heating, foaming, frothing or steaming milk changes its flavour. Why? In short, more air is added to the milk, often giving it a much sweeter and richer taste.

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Pic by Tim Wright

But beware – if you’re ordering a slow brew method like AeroPress or Chemex there’s a chance the barista will turn down any request for milk, no matter how much you think you want it. It happened to me once when I decided to experiment with a fruity Kenyan brew in a cool Edinburgh coffee shop. Milk will kill it, I was told – and given the withering look in the barista’s eyes, I decided not to argue.

Back home, I’ve become an expert milk frother and every morning fall more and more in love with my little hand-held electric whisk, which cost around $15. Many people reject these due to their fear of a morning milk explosion, but as with all things in life, patience and practice produce great results. The key thing to remember is that little bubbles have more surface area so taste better than big ones.

Milk frother

Pic by tasteofphd

If you don’t mind spending a little more and want to reduce the splatter, invest in an electric foamer with lid. Plug it in, wait one minute, and you’ll have all the steamed milk you want with no mess.

If you already have an espresso machine with foaming wand, you have no excuse – but if you’re anything like me, you probably regard it with fear. I’m trembling just thinking about it. But again, it all comes down to practice and luckily there’s an endless supply of advice and videos online to guide novices safely through the process, whoosh by whoosh and bubble by bubble.

So forget fear and get foaming. It’s time to make your milk magnificent.