Espresso PreparationThe do's and don'ts
It takes a little practice to steam milk correctly. There are two things that you should attain: a good head of foam and the perfect temperature. There are also two things you should avoid: scalding the milk and spraying steam onto the surface. Scalding or shooting steam onto the surface will ruin the milk and make the drink taste awful. If you leave the steaming wand in the milk for too long it will burn the milk onto the bottom of the pitcher and smell bad. If you don’t touch the tip of the steaming wand to the surface of the milk correctly you’ll get a nasty splattering that will literally fly in every direction.
The proper way to steam milk is to first check to make sure the tip of the wand is clear of any seared milk from previous use. Give the steaming handle a couple of pulls (or turns if it is a knob) to clear any blockage. If you hear a good loud hiss and see a lot of steam fly out you can be sure that it is ready to use.
It would be a good idea to invest a little money in a small thermometer. A candy-makers thermometer works great because you can clip it to the side of the pitcher. Put it into the milk before you begin the steaming process.
Now you’re ready to heat the milk. The tip of the steaming wand should be placed to the surface of the milk. DO NOT BEGIN STEAMING BEFORE THE WAND IS TOUCHING THE MILK! It will splatter and the milk will be ruined. Only turn on the steam after you’ve touched the tip to the milk. Once the steam is on, heat the milk to approximately 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you’ve reached this temperature there is an excellent head of foam forming on the surface. You should notice as the steam is heating the surface that the milk will begin to look frothy and will swirling downward into the rest of the pitcher. After reaching 140 degrees F, dip the wand farther into the milk and continue steaming until the temperature reaches 170 to 180 degrees F. Do not let it steam above 180 degrees F! It will be scalded after that point. Turn off the steam and allow the milk to rest in the pitcher for a minute or two. Resting allows the bubbles created by the steam to rise to the surface. The foam will form perfectly and you can almost shape it with a couple of spoons. To pour the milk, place a spoon against the foam to hold it back while pouring into a pre-warmed mug ready with espresso. Then use the spoon to dip out a dollop or two of foam and drop it on top. Voila!
There are different kinds of milk that can be used. Don't use "soy milk". It just sounds gross. I've never had the privilege of steaming soy milk, so I have no idea how the stuff reacts to steam. Whole milk works fine for frothing. However, you will get much better froth by using milk with less fat content like 2% milk or skim milk. Half and half is very hard to steam and unless you really know what you're doing I wouldn't recommend using it. But if you want to try, it's best to cut it with a ratio of 3/4 half and half and 1/4 2% or skim milk. This ratio will make the half and half easier to steam and you'll still have a nice, thick pitcher of hot cream to use.
Hot cup or cold cup?
Espresso, brewed coffee, steeped tea – each of these taste great when hot. But let them get cold on their own and you’ll soon pour it into the sink or basin. When you want to drink something hot, you usually like it to cool very slowly. That way you can take your time about drinking it. But day after day people pour their hot drinks into a room temperature mug. A glass or stoneware mug that is left to sit on a shelf will be quite cool to the touch. Hot liquids and cool mugs don’t get on well. Hot tea and brewed coffee are literally shocked when they encounter a sudden temperature change like that. Pour a freshly made shot of espresso into a cold mug and watch the beautiful crema disappear. A cold mug will interfere with the taste and enjoyment of the drink. It is best, if you want your drinks hot, to have hot water sitting in the mug you are going to use whilst you prepare your coffee, espresso, or hot tea. This way, the mug is warmed, it won’t shock your drink, and the liquid inside will stay hot longer as the mug now has to have time to cool down.
The life-span of an espresso shot
"Crema" is that gorgeous foam that naturally forms on a brewed shot of espresso. You will know that you have brewed the perfect shot if there is a layer of sepia-coloured foam atop your espresso that is about 2 or 3 mm thick. If one doesn't appear, don't use the shot. Start over. It will be different for home machines. For home machines, some crema will form, but not nearly as lovely as what is produced by the cafe machines or the more expensive home models. Personally, I do not prefer home espresso makers at all unless you have a very high quality one.
An espresso shot does not have a very long life. Once it is brewed it should be consumed quickly, preferably before the crema disappears. But, when making say a latte, it is very important that you don’t let the shot sit in the bottom of the cup for more than thirty seconds. There are two reasons for this:
1. The crema will soon disappear along with the heat of the shot.
2. Espresso that is left to sit on its own continues to cook in its own heat. This continuous cooking will ruin it altogether. Don’t use a shot of espresso that has been sitting for a minute or longer. It is much like using brewed coffee. All of the heavy flavour drops to the bottom and is pretty gross on the ol’ palatte.
If you are making a drink with espresso as the base, always steam the milk first then brew the shot. Another thing that will save a shot is added flavoured syrups or chocolate syrup. Once an espresso shot hits these the cooking process stops.
Let’s do a situation: You’re at home, you’ve just steamed and frothed the milk, the espresso has just brewed. Suddenly the phone rings. You haven't any syrup to stop the espresso from cooking. You know you can’t leave it or it will be ruined. Here’s what you do: pour an amount of milk equal to the amount of espresso you intend to use into a pre-warmed mug, then pour the espresso in with the hot milk. Your espresso is now safe and you can answer your phone. If it’s a bill collector, just hang up.
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