Silky lattes are loved by so many, but they’re often reserved for coffee shops, made by professional baristas. Latte-style foam is simple to make at home, however, without spending money on expensive equipment. James Bellis, founder of Balance Coffee, has shared a number of hacks for producing latte art at home, as well as tips on making great coffee.
“My number one hack, which makes a huge difference (on the assumption you’re already buying tasty speciality coffee), is using filtered water,” Bellis told The London Economic. “Water makes up approximately 98 per cent of your daily cup of coffee and tap water unfortunately just doesn’t cut it in most regions of the UK. London is particularly bad.”
While the latte art hacks may not produce the same results as achievable with a home espresso machine, they’ll produce a good equivalent.
The science behind great foam
Before we talk about the frothing methods, let’s give a quick science lesson about milk foam. Milk is made up of carbohydrates, proteins and fatty acids, which all play a part in creating the foam for latte art. When you froth milk (which is essentially just shaking it up), you add air which disrupts the protein. But the protein wants to stay together, so it forms a sort of shield around the air bubbles, which helps them hold their shape longer and protects them from bursting. This is the froth! Therefore, if you want super-foamy froth, look for milk with a higher protein content.
Interestingly, different milks and milk alternatives have different protein content:
Skimmed milk: 3.4 per cent
2 per cent milk: 3.3 per cent
Whole milk: 3.2 per cent
Soy milk: 2.7 per cent
Almond milk: 0.4 per cent
Even though milk alternatives have lower protein counts, they can still make good froth. It just might not be quite as creamy.
The following two methods will assist you in making foamy, latte style milk at home: the beginner method (using warm milk and a French press/tea strainer), and the more advanced home barista method.
How to foam milk and make latte art at home
Before you start frothing, you’ll need to heat your milk. To do this, you’ll need the milk of your choice, a small saucepan and a thermometer.
Pour your milk into a saucepan and heat it on the stove. Place a thermometer in the milk to monitor the temperature and heat the milk on medium to medium-low, stirring it often to make sure it doesn’t burn. Depending on the type of milk you use, you want to hit a certain temperature to steam it which is anywhere between 55-68 degrees (depending on what temperature you like it at). Slightly cooler milk (55-65ºC) retains more sweetness, which will complement your flat white or latte more when you produce the final drink. For soy milk aim for 60ºC, and with almond milk 54ºC.
Then you can start frothing using your method of choice. Balance Coffee’s first hack includes giving the milk a shake. This is the easiest way to froth milk. You’ll need a glass jar with a lid (such as a mason jar) and your warmed milk. Pour your milk into the jar, making sure it’s no more than halfway full, so the milk has room to bubble before putting the lid on and shaking for between 30-60 seconds.
You’ll then have warm milk at the bottom of the jar, and a layer of foam on top. Decanting the milk into a milk pitcher or coffee jug is suggested, pouring from there. This will give you a lot more control, and you’ll be able to tap the large bubbles out. By doing this your milk texture becomes perfect for pouring latte art and it’ll also produce a creamier mouthfeel in the drink.
The second hack to foam it up is with a French Press, which is the perfect way to create foam for a latte. Transfer your warmed milk to the clean French press – (it’s very important that your French Press is clean, because otherwise you’ll have coffee grounds in your milk, which isn’t ideal.)
To foam your milk, repeatedly pump the plunger of your French Press into your milk until air bubbles form. Make sure to hold the lid of the French Press while you do this, so it doesn’t pop off. Continue to pump your milk until over half of the milk has a foamy texture. Let the milk rest for one minute before pouring, then use the same method as our first hack and pour into a milk jug before transferring into the coffee.
The third and final hack is to ‘tea it up’. All you’ll need is a round tea infuser and your warmed milk. You might have a round tea infuser at home – this little contraption can do more than just infuse loose leaf tea. The holes work well to break up milk and introduce air. Just make sure it’s completely clean as you don’t want any tea debris in your foam.
Similar to the French press, there are many fine holes throughout the loose tea infuser, which breaks up the milk and allows air to infiltrate much more of it than with other methods. To infuse the milk with air, simply whisk the tea infuser around until it is frothy. This requires more work than the other methods, but the results are excellent.
If you’re feeling a little more confident it’s worth testing the home barista method. To note: this method assumes you’re a coffee fanatic and have a coffee machine at home to make espresso and steam milk using a wand and milk jug.
The first tip includes always starting with cold milk as it’ll foam better than room temperature milk. Insert your steam wand just below the surface of the milk before you turn on the steamer – the trick here is to get the milk swirling in a circular vortex motion as this will help heat and texture the milk particles throughout the steaming process.
‘Tap & Swirl’ comes next. As soon as you’ve finished steaming, tap the jug on a flat surface to remove any unwanted bubbles that are preventing you from getting that desired glossy milk. Then swirl the jug in a circular motion to re-combine the milk particles. Milk separates really quickly after being heated so this is an important step. Pour from around four inches above the cup and slowly lower the jug to the surface of your espresso. As the milk begins to pour out, allow the milk to do the work and wiggle from side to side to create a heart, tulip or simply a blob depending on your expertise level.
With this method, practise makes perfect. Balance Coffee have plenty of videos on their website. For more information, visit balancecoffee.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow them on Instagram @balancecoffee.