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Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
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Markarian
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Markarian
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Posted Sat Nov 16, 2013, 1:06pm
Subject: Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
 

So I'm pretty comfortable with my ability to make microfoam and pour rosettas. That's certainly more than I could say a year ago. Because I have invest so heavily in espresso at home, I find myself in cafes much less frequently than someone who lives in Seattle and loves coffee should. The other day it occurred to me that there seems to be a fundamental difference in the way that us hobbyist baristas steam milk and how it's done in most cafes.

In the cafe the barista simply sets the pitcher on the drip tray, dunks the steam wand, and lets loose with the knob. She doesn't even hold the pitcher! There's no stretching, no precision, just leaves it there and turns it off when the shot is done pouring. While I usually don't get anything with art in it, I do get a screaming hot latte with foam on top.

So my question is why is there such a major difference between how we steam milk at home and how some disinterested chick with a La Marzocco Linea makes my latte? Are my lattes supposed to be so gently warm they could be chugged in one go? How can the barista get away with just sticking the steam wand in the pitcher and hitting the knob? Is their foam inferior to ours?
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uscfroadie
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uscfroadie
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Posted Sat Nov 16, 2013, 2:27pm
Subject: Re: Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
 

Perhaps I mis-read your post at first.  Hard to tell if you are asking why someone is using high-dollar equipment and not making an effort to make you the best cup she can or why she can effortlessly steam milk.  If the latter, I can answer that for you quite easily.  

Simply put, she's got commercial steam power.  My Cimbali had it, and if you stretched the way you do with most home machines, you end up with way too much foam, resulting in a big blob in your cup.  In my opinion, that why Cris Coffee had Cimbali plug the center hole on the Casa version he sells.  It slows down the steaming so that people who move from a prosumer machine with a small (relatively speaking) steam boiler can handle the power with their normal stretching then folding routine.  On my Cimbali I did exactly what she does; insert the tip halfway or a little more below the milk's surface and open the valve.  12 seconds later I was done with 5 ounces of perfect microfoam...absolutely no stretching needed.  10 ounces for my wife's latte only took about 20 seconds.  If she starts steaming and stops it once the shot is done, I have no doubt your drink is smoking hot.  10 ounces in 30 seconds would be at the scalding point.

My BDB produces great dry steam and is super easy to get perfect microfoam repeatedly, but it takes nearly three times as long as on the Cimbali.  Ah, the things you give up for a more home-friendly machine....
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weebit_nutty
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Posted Sat Nov 16, 2013, 6:15pm
Subject: Re: Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
 

Markarian Said:

The other day it occurred to me that there seems to be a fundamental difference in the way that us hobbyist baristas steam milk and how it's done in most cafes.

Posted November 16, 2013 link

You speak as if all pro-baristas steam milk the same way.. They don't.  It varies greatly from shop to shop, barista to barista.

In the cafe the barista simply sets the pitcher on the drip tray, dunks the steam wand, and lets loose with the knob. She doesn't even hold the pitcher! There's no stretching, no precision, just leaves it there and turns it off when the shot is done pouring. While I usually don't get anything with art in it, I do get a screaming hot latte with foam on top.

There's a right way and a wrong way to steam milk.  What you describe is the wrong way.  Just because a barista makes money doesn't make them a good barista.  In fact I would argue that 90% of the baristas out there are more interested in getting off work than making a good product..  But then again, 90% of the pro-baristas (more realistically, closer to 99%) out there are part timers making close to minimum wage and aren't exactly looking to coffee as a career.   That's why when you do get a great cup, you should always tip.  

So my question is why is there such a major difference between how we steam milk at home and how some disinterested chick with a La Marzocco Linea makes my latte?

I think you answered your own question, there.  Disinterested.

Are my lattes supposed to be so gently warm they could be chugged in one go?

Yes.  Lattes should be served between 140-150 degrees F, never scorching.  Good coffee shops do not serve scorching lattes.  I don't know why some coffee shops make scorching lattes.. Maybe they don't know any better.  Another theory is that they do purposely because so many clueless coffee drinkers complain their coffee isn't hot enough, because they their use to drinking crappy coffee?  Or maybe they want it hot enough to stay warm throughout their commute? Shrug.

How can the barista get away with just sticking the steam wand in the pitcher and hitting the knob? Is their foam inferior to ours?

Yes.  If you just stick the pitcher into the steam wand and leave it you will get scorching hot milk, followed by lots of foam and bubbles, and zero microfoam. This is typical of coffee chains.  I've never seen or had a proper latte from a franchised coffee establishment. They are all scorching.  That isn't to say specialty coffee shops can't screw up either.  Like I said, it all depends on how well the barista was trained.  

On the a positive note, with the expansion of artisan coffee (like Stumptown, Urth Cafe, Klatch for instance), more and more people will be enlightened to what good coffee actually tastes like.
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kolu
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Posted Sun Nov 17, 2013, 2:43pm
Subject: Re: Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
 

weebit_nutty Said:

There's a right way and a wrong way to steam milk.  What you describe is the wrong way.

Posted November 16, 2013 link

Well... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHZjUcwxMhY he does it wrong doesn't he? Are you sure? :) It's not fool-proof (It's actually harder to get nice microfoam this way) but when done correctly it can be considered a right way to steam milk as well.
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calblacksmith
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Posted Mon Nov 18, 2013, 7:35am
Subject: Re: Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
 

That is the difference between commercial power and home machines. I don't do any streching with my drinks, simply get the milk swirling and keep it doing so, the microfoam develops kind of on it's own.

 
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takeshi
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Posted Mon Nov 18, 2013, 8:38am
Subject: Re: Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
 

Markarian Said:

The other day it occurred to me that there seems to be a fundamental difference in the way that us hobbyist baristas steam milk and how it's done in most cafes.

Posted November 16, 2013 link

Markarian Said:

So my question is why is there such a major difference between how we steam milk at home and how some disinterested chick with a La Marzocco Linea makes my latte?

Posted November 16, 2013 link

As you indicated in your own post most cafes don't care.  The ones with properly trained baristas that care about their work know how to properly stretch and texture milk for the specific drink being made.  It just sounds like you need to find some better shops when you do go out (if they're available in your area).

Also, as stated above, most higher end and commercial machines make steaming a bit more effortless with their steaming power.  Too many of the mediocre and poor shops rely on the machine and I often get cappucino foam on my latte from such shops.

Keep in mind that machina is just one of the five M's and one can't rely on just a single M by itself to produce quality espresso drinks.

Markarian Said:

How can the barista get away with just sticking the steam wand in the pitcher and hitting the knob?

Posted November 16, 2013 link

Customers that couldn't care less or don't know any better.  If enough complained and stopped patronizing the shop then they'd have to change or go out of business.  This is why Starbucks does so well despite what they produce.
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emradguy
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Posted Mon Nov 18, 2013, 8:44am
Subject: Re: Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
 

First off, the temperature at which your latte should be is completely up to you.  The quality and % of foam in your latte, is completely up to you. At home (assuming you have the skills), you make the drink to your exact specifications.  In the cafe, you get the standard drink from that particular cafe. This is one reason why almost every attentive/experienced home user is going to like their own lattes better than one made by 99.9% of pro baristi.

Technique varies depending on the machine, the wand tip, the pitcher, the volume of milk in the pitcher, and the desired foam/milk texture, as well as desired proportion of foam to hot milk. Therefore, comparing one person's technique on x machine to another person's technique on y machine is pretty much worthless (assuming the observer has some semblance of how to do it - i.e., it might be worthwhile for a newbie to gain some visual cues from watching baristi - whether pro or consumer, and on different equipment). If the results in the cup are favorable, then the applied technique is not wrong for that machine, user and "customer".

As mentioned by someone else, desire to do well is a very key component to what you get from a pro barista…and I'm sure you realize that generalizing all baristi to the example you described is ridiculous. I mean, it's like saying all chef's cook the same way as a guy you saw behind the counter in some diner down the street from your house.

…and I completely agree…if you go to a cafe and get even a decent cup from someone whom you perceive as trying to do a good job, you should tip heavily, so they know their efforts are appreciated….and don't just drop it in a jar or cup while their back is turned, make sure they see you do it and add a "thank you".

...and how do they get away with it? That's simple. As Don said, most customers either don't know the difference, or don't care enough to make a fuss. How does McDonald's get away with making horrible hamburgers? As an example, my wife grew up in Venezuela, where goof espresso based milk drinks are all over the place (like people report about Italy, in fact). She's been drinking my drinks for 10 years. The other day, I pretty much told her I put a sink shot in her latte, and she said it was fine when she tasted it (I had offered to make it over if she wanted). Ask you your friends, especially the ones who go to *$$.  See what they say when you tell them the drinks there taste like ashes to you.

 
.
Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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Markarian
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Markarian
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Posted Mon Nov 18, 2013, 1:07pm
Subject: Re: Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
 

Thanks for all the insight, everyone. Keep in mind, I am NOT generalizing all baristas. The thing is, living in Seattle, I don't frequent many coffee shops because I have all this stuff at home! My previous experience in coffee has been *$, like so many. As a matter of fact, I could see that becoming a major trend here--People who want specialty coffee at home after tasting Starbucks and invest in a home espresso setup, learning from forum posts and YouTube videos without actually having acquired a taste for good cafe fare.

I might as well out the cafe that inspired me to write my post--Uptown Espresso in Belltown. The barista DID seem inexperienced and uninterested, but it was late and before closing so I won't use the battery acid with foam that I was served as an example just yet.

But I just marvel at that technique on a Linea or Aurelia where the barista just puts the pitcher on the drip tray, dunks the tip straight in and hits the knob. To me, it's like watching someone put a car in gear and drive it down the road without touching the steering wheel. And, even though there's a few dings and scrapes (dry foam, etc), they still reach their destination. I think the secret might be the little thermometer I see them use, where I guess if it's agitated and taken off at 155 degrees then it will be SOME semblance of normal foam. So rarely do I see a barista at a cafe cradling the pitcher at an angle and intently fixating on the swirling milk until it's just right like we do here. When I steam milk, I have to concentrate and tell others not to engage me in conversation for those precious twenty seconds.

I also assumed (foolishly) that a prosumer HX machine and a commercial one gave the same steam power because of the boiler pressure. In retrospect, I can see why that would be a big deal.

On this forum, we've made specialty coffee our passion. When I see a machine as grand as a La Marzocco Linea paired up with a Mazzer Major E or Mahlkoenig, my brain assumes that no one who didn't respect the capability and craftsmanship of these machines would be allowed to touch it. I know that's foolish, again. I'm a musician and there's a local electronics retailer that purchased a Steinway Model D concert grand piano--the same model piano Rachmaninoff and Gershwin and Ashkenazy played on--sitting literally gathering dust in the middle of the store, to be played by hired musicians during the holidays. The staff at the store let me play it whenever I like, even though there are artists out there who literally pay to practice on one. This is similar to the wealthy cafe owner who bought $30,000 of espresso equipment after having been sold on it, and hired drive-thru baristas to run it (no offense against said baristas, who have served me plenty of good coffee on the I-5 corridor).
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TheSunInsideYou
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Posted Mon Nov 18, 2013, 2:52pm
Subject: Re: Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
 

I hear you, and while you prefaced your last response by saying that you weren't generalizing all baristas, I just want to let you know that some of us do our best to be worthy of the beautiful equipment we get to work on. And believe me, I have the same feeling when I walk into a shop with a Strada and Roburs, just to get pulled a sink shot with overstreched, oversteamed milk. I may make hundreds of drinks a day, but you'll never catch me throwing the steam wand in and walking away; I pay a lot of attention to my milk. In fairness, I think  a lot of that comes from the fact that it was my passion before it was my job, but I also work with people who are very intentional with every drink. It's important.

-Dave-
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Markarian
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Markarian
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Posted Mon Nov 18, 2013, 3:04pm
Subject: Re: Microfoam: Me vs. Cafe - Confused
 

This ^
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