Here’s how to steam milk at home! Use this technique to make homemade espresso drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and more.

How to steam milk

Want to make a killer latte at home? Or a homemade cappuccino that tastes like it’s from a coffee shop? You need to steam milk like a pro! Top notch steamed milk is what makes espresso drinks of all kinds taste barista-quality. Here at A Couple Cooks, we’ve figured out all the ins and outs of the process for you. We’ll admit: it takes a bit of practice and know how…and some special equipment. But after you’ve tried it a few times…you’ll become a milk steaming pro too! Here’s how it’s done and what you’ll need.

Want to froth milk instead?

First things first. Steaming milk requires an espresso machine with steaming wand. Don’t have one? That’s ok too! In that case, you’ll need to froth the milk instead. Don’t waste any more time here: go to How to Froth Milk!

Required equipment: espresso machine with steaming wand

Steamed milk is what makes a latte a true latte. With a steaming wand, you can get the magic “wet paint” like texture to your milk called microfoam (read more on that below). Frothing your milk works to make a latte, but it doesn’t make the best latte. So if you want to make a next level latte, you’ll need that espresso machine with steaming wand.

What espresso machine should you buy? Here’s the espresso machine we use: it’s middle of the road price-wise and works great. We tried a lower price range espresso machine but it didn’t get quite the quality of steamed milk that this one does. So it’s worth investing a little more for quality, in our opinion. If you want a budget option, again — head over to How to Froth Milk!

Espresso machine

What’s microfoam?

One special thing to note about how to steam milk for a latte, flat white, or cappuccino: you’ll be looking to get a very special type of texture on the milk. You’re looking for an almost “wet-paint” like texture, which baristas call microfoam. Also called velvet milk, it’s shiny and has very tiny, uniform bubbles. It’s silky smooth and has a sweet, almost nutty flavor that makes just the right espresso drink.

The exception is with a macchiato, which uses dry foam. Dry foam is fluffy foam that has large bubbles. You’ll spoon out the dry form from the top of the steamed milk to make that drink.

Get a metal pitcher…and temperature sticker is helpful!

It’s also helpful to have a metal pitcher for steaming your milk, and store that pitcher in the refrigerator. Why? A metal pitcher can get very cold. The colder the milk is the more time you have to steam it to the right texture. Didn’t remember to refrigerate your pitcher? That’s ok: just rinse it in cold water first before you start steaming.

Even better, grab a metal pitcher with a temperature sticker! This lets you see the temperature of your milk while you’re steaming it. It’s so handy (we love ours).

How to steam milk
The temperature sticker is on the left side of the pitcher, and indicates the milk reaches the correct temperature

Best milk for steaming

You’ve got to have the right milk to use for steaming too. (Yep, there are a lot of particulars!) Here’s what to know:

  • Use whole milk. Why? Whole milk froths the best because it has the highest milk fat. You can also use 2% milk and it works fairly well, but you lose a bit of the richness.
  • Make sure the milk is as fresh as possible. Milk that’s getting closer to its expiration date does not foam as well. (Trust us, we know from experience!)
  • Or for non-dairy milk, use oat milk. It froths up the best of any vegan milk, and has great flavor.

How to steam milk with an espresso machine (basic steps)

OK, we’ve made it! You’ve got your espresso machine, metal pitcher (or handheld thermometer), and very fresh, whole milk. Here are the basic steps for how to steam milk for a latte, flat white, or cappuccino. Or if you’re ready to start, go right to the recipe below for all the specifics!

  • Place the wand just below the surface of the milk about ½ inch from the side, tilting the jug slightly. Keep it in that position for about 5 to 10 seconds, slightly lowering the jug as the milk stretches (expands). Stretch the milk by about 20 to 25% in height for a Flat White, 30 to 35% for a Latte, 30 to 50% for a Cappuccino, or 50% for a Macchiato.
  • Raise the jug to bury the nozzle even further and tilt the pitcher just enough to get a spinning vortex, which incorporates the foam, turning it into a velvety microfoam.
  • Hold the nozzle still while the milk spins in the vortex, until it reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer or judge by when your hand can’t hold the pitcher for more than a few seconds.

And that’s it! Scroll down to the recipe below for the full instructions. Best of luck and let us know if you have more questions in the comments below! We want to hear how it went.

Flat white vs latte
The amount of microfoam on top varies based on the type of drink:
1/4″ for a flat white, 3/8″ for a latte, and 1/2″ for a cappuccino

More coffee drinks

We’re coffee-obsessed over here, so we’ve made all the coffee drinks for you to try! Here are a few more we recommend tasting:

Flat white
That’s it! Perfect steamed milk.
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How to steam milk

How to Steam Milk


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 espresso drink 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

Here’s how to steam milk at home! Use this technique to make homemade espresso drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and more. 


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 double shot espresso
  • ¾ cup very fresh whole milk (or oat milk for vegan)

Instructions

This method is for using an espresso machine with steaming wand. If you don’t have an espresso machine, go to How to Froth Milk instead.

  1. Prep for the steaming: Grind and tamp the espresso, but don’t pull it. Store your milk jug in the refrigerator: the colder the milk is the more time you have to get the right texture.  Or, rinse it in very cold water, dry and refrigerate for a few minutes. Fill your milk jug to just below the spout, about ¾ cup, using very fresh whole milk (or oat milk for vegan). 
  2. Make the espresso: Use your espresso machine to make two shots of espresso and pour it into a mug.
  3. Steam the milk: Heat the steam wand. Once prepared, place the wand just below the surface of the milk about ½ inch from the side, tilting the jug slightly. Keep it in that position for about 5 to 10 seconds, slowly lowering the jug as the milk stretches (expands). Stretch the milk by about 20 to 25% in height for a Flat White, 30 to 35% for a Latte, or 30 to 50% for a Cappuccino, or 50% for a Macchiato. Once you’ve stretched the milk, raise the jug to bury the nozzle even further and tilt the pitcher just enough to get a spinning vortex, which incorporates the foam and turns it into a velvety microfoam (the exception is if you’re making a Macchiato, skip the spinning vortex part and just bury the nozzle, since you want a dry foam). Hold the nozzle still while the milk spins, until the temperature is about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a pitcher with a temperature sticker is very helpful here. Use a thermometer or temperature sticker, or judge by when your hand can’t hold the pitcher for more than a few seconds.
  4. Finish steaming: Turn off the steam before removing the wand from the jug. Wipe the wand with a clean cloth. Turn it on for 1 second to purge the nozzle.  Tap and swirl the pitcher to incorporate any bubbles on top. The final texture should look like wet paint or melted ice cream, smooth and velvety. You’ll use only about half of this quantity and can discard the rest (see the * note below). 
  5. Pour the steamed milk into your coffee drink: Tap the milk container on counter and swirl it to break down any large bubbles. Pour milk into center of the espresso, ending with light foam. (The exception is with a Macchiato; you’ll just use a spoon to remove and add ¼ cup dry foam to the top of your drink, instead of pouring in the microfoam.)

Notes

*This makes enough for 2 drinks, because it’s easiest to steam a larger quantity of milk. Discard the extra milk. If you have an espresso machine with two espresso taps, you could use this to make another flat white. (The milk becomes less frothy while it sits, so it’s not ideal for waiting to make another espresso.)

  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Steamed
  • Cuisine: Coffee

Keywords: How to Steam Milk

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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