World Latte Art Champion Caleb Cha shares his milk steaming tips

The secret to a perfect latte

Need a little help steaming your milk? Two-time Australian barista champion Craig Simon reveals the secret to making a perfect latte.

World Latte Art Champion 2015 Caleb Cha shares his top tips for texturing milk.

The jug

Aim for glossy milk before pouring.
Aim for glossy milk before pouring. Photo: Supplied

Cha is a jug-half-full kinda guy, filling his milk jug "a bit less than half-full". The size of the milk jug should match the size of your cup.

"The main difference is the smaller jug is good for simple patterns such as symmetrical patterns or tulip designs, and a larger jug is [better suited] for more complex patterns [in a bigger cup]."

Cha is developing his own signature "Tiger" milk jug for aspiring latte artists, "it's a bit of angle science. It's not just [for] steaming milk, it's for pouring milk." Stay tuned.

World Latte Art Champion 2015 Caleb Cha.
World Latte Art Champion 2015 Caleb Cha. Photo: Supplied

'Hissing'

Cha refers to the process of adding air to the milk as "hissing" – a "tsk tsk tsk", like the sound the steam wand makes when it isn't fully submerged in the milk. You may need to "hiss more" (add more air) to skim milk to help it stretch, and hiss less for soy, compared to full cream or almond milks.

Whirlpool

Advertisement

Once you've aerated the milk to increase the volume, it's time to create microfoam using a whirlpool.

"Lift the jug [under the steamwand] until it's completely silent, [and the wand creates] a whirlpool effect.

"The whirlpool effect is really important. Once you put the air into the milk (by hissing), you need to pop all the [big] air bubbles, and reduce the size of the bubbles by the whirlpool effect. So that becomes microfoam."

Be patient

Be mindful that home espresso machines do not have the bar-pressure of commercial coffee machines. "At home, basically, it takes longer. Much longer 'hissing', much longer whirlpool effect." Cha says he has successfully produced latte art using an espresso machine that cost less than $100.

Natural thermostat

When it comes to temperature control, train yourself to judge the milk's temperature by touch. Place your palm underneath the jug, not the sides, for greater accuracy. "The perfect temperature is when it's too hot to hold [the jug]. You can hold it, but not too long – maybe one second or 1.5 – that should be the perfect temperature for consuming."

His perfect temperature for consuming immediately is between 60 and 65 degrees. "I really don't want to go over 70C because the milk will taste like a burnt tyre and affect the coffee flavour," Cha says. "No less than 40C because the fat is not actually dissolved in the milk liquid, and that gives you the wrong taste."

When to pour

"Once it's stretched, you make sure the surface of the milk is nice and shiny, that's the first indicator. You need to check first your milk is shiny, or glossy, and gently swirl the milk jug until it's shiny," Cha says. "When it gets shiny, that's the point you should pour into the coffee. It means the form and the liquid of the milk is mixed perfectly."

White paint

Cha aims for a texture akin to "white paint" when he's texturing milk. "While you swirl the milk jug, if you see the velvety, shiny surface that means you have perfectly stretched milk."

"It should have thickness, but at the same time it should have glossy, velvety surface. That's the best milk." Cha says this texture should be the goal, regardless of which type of milk you're working with.

Double tap

Don't be tempted to bang the base of the jug on the bench to pop bubbles, or you risk losing the delicate microfoam you've created.

"You're allowed to tap once or twice – that's OK.

"Gently tap once, give it a nice swirl, and if you [still] see bubbles on the surface, maybe give it another gentle tap and it should be fine."

Avoid overflow

If you fill the jug halfway, it shouldn't overflow, but keep an eye on the volume as you are "hissing" and aerating the milk. "Once the volume reaches three- to four-fifths, you should stop 'hissing' and make sure it's spinning."

Alternative 'mylks'

Cha, an ambassador for Vitasoy's new soy milk 2 Beans, says it's possible to texture nut and soy milks, it just takes practice. He says almond milk can be difficult to stretch, and suggests adding more air to the milk before raising the jug and moving onto the whirlpool effect.

Don't cry over spilt milk

Practice makes perfect: "As long as you have experience steaming milk you'll get there – don't be scared of steaming milk."