Milk Steaming Tips for Alternative Milks

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Summary: Milk Steaming Tips for Alternative Milks

  • The curdling effect alternative milks experience is due to protein coagulation.
  • Coagulation is sped up by heat and acidity.
  • Steam alternative milks to a lower end temperature than dairy milk.
  • Try using a darker roast potentially.
  • Add a dash of cold milk to the espresso before pouring the steamed milk.
  • Pour the milk very quickly - 'sucking in' the crema as you do.
  • If all else fails you can add the smallest pinch of bicarb soda into the espresso before pouring the milk.

Transcript (Speaker: Adam Marley)

So, this week's tips and tricks video is going to be concerning alternative milks and choosing alternative milks to go with your coffee. And also some things to avoid with alternative milks. How to get the best out of your experience using alternative milks with coffee, how they combine. Including things like soy milk, which is probably the most prevalent in terms of having issues with going with coffee. But also it applies to other alternative milks as well. Oat milk, almond milk, quite a few of them. There's a lot of variations and brands, which we'll get into. I'm not going to recommend any particular brands because I feel like that's probably legally not a smart thing to do. I don't know. But I can make some suggestions.

The first thing I'd like to point out is the actual tip itself, the main tip. There's going to be quite a few. So stick with me in the video. There's going to be quite a few little tips in this, little tips and tricks, not just one. But the first one would be, if you are a customer ordering soy milk or another alternative milk with your coffee, then don't order it extra hot. And realistically, if you can, avoid getting extra shots as well. We'll get into why. In fact, if you're happy to have your latte, soy latte for instance, a little bit cooler, say 55 degrees or something like at that, it would help immensely in terms of stopping the coffee and the milk from forming that kind of tofu on top. I think anyone who drinks soy milk would've experienced this. You sometimes get a soy latte and it's gone kind of chunky and gross on top. And we want to avoid that. And you can avoid that. There's ways to avoid that.

So, yeah. That's the tip, is to first of all order your coffee a little bit cooler if you're the customer. If you're the barista, then steam the milk a little bit cooler. There's a few tips and tricks here about how to get the best out of that combination. But then also, there's different options available to you and I'm going to help you choose which one might be the best. If a customer orders double shot and they want a double shot, it's going to be really hard to convince them not to have an extra shot. That's the coffee they want to drink. So steaming the milk a little bit cooler might be the right thing to do there. So, we'll get into that.

First, I'd like to talk about why soy milk in particular, but alternative milks in general, can kind of have that kind of tofu-ey effect on top of the coffee, that gunky thing that none of us like on top of the coffee. What's happening there when that occurs is coagulation of proteins. So there are proteins in the milk, as there are in all the alternative milks and dairy milk. And what's happening is those proteins are coagulating. And when they coagulate, when they denature and coagulate, then they go from kind of this liquid homogenous state into this interconnected state, which turns to tofu. I keep referring it to that because it literally what it is, its coagulation of proteins. And so it becomes a solid or this intermix of both the solid and kind of liquid medium on top of the coffee. I mean maybe potentially throughout, but more often than not, you just get it kind of sitting on top. So that's coagulation. What's causing that?

Well, it's going to happen. Not guaranteed to have that kind of effect on your coffee. But basically what we're trying to do is minimize the factors which lead to it to reduce those as much as possible. And there are many factors that are going to lead to proteins coagulating. But in this situation, our specific situation, then kind of the most important ones for us are pH or acidity and temperature. So a higher temperature and a lower pH or thus higher acidity are both things which are going to increase the rate of coagulation and thus increase the likelihood of your latte having tofu on top. There's other things as well, but they're kind of the biggest ones that we can control and minimize. And so you'll understand where my initial tip at the start came from, ordering a coffee or making the coffee a little bit cooler.

If we reduce the temperature of the beverage, then we're going to reduce the rate at which those proteins coagulate and hopefully avoid having any kind of solid stuff on top and just a nice silky soy latte with the same kind of texture that you would get from a milk latte. It's definitely achievable. Definitely achievable. And then the other thing is acidity. This one's a little bit harder. So what some people might not realize is first and foremost, that espresso has some acids in it. Now this is really obvious with a light roast kind of new wave espresso, which are getting and more and more common now where you may have experienced it. If you're just drinking a short black, you go, "Whoa. Okay, that's sour." Most espresso, even ones which aren't obviously sour like that, are still going to have some acidity. However, lighter roasts do have more acidity.

And so I guess one of the other things is if you had a choice between a lighter roast and a darker roast, then the darker roast will probably lead to less likelihood of you getting that effect on top of your soy or almond latte. So a darker roast would help there. But you probably don't have that choice or even if you did, you might prefer the flavors of the lighter roast. And so you might want to find other ways to help mitigate this effect. The other thing is, and this is why I said about double shots, is basically the more espresso you have in that drink, then the more acid there's going to be. And so the more acid there's going to be, the more likelihood or a stronger effect you're going to have in that coagulation of proteins.

And so, yeah. Obviously, if people like double shots, you like double shots. There's not much you can do about that. But that's definitely a situation where you probably want to order the milk a little bit cooler. If the milk is a little bit cooler, then you're going to have less of that impact. So from the customer's perspective, then the tips are to basically to avoid that effect is to, if you're okay with it, have a single shot as opposed to a double shot. If there's the option for having a darker roast, then dark roast will have... Obviously there's other things will go into that. The flavor will be different with the darker roast. You may prefer it. That's your choice. Darker roast and then cooler milk, asking for your latte a little bit cooler. And otherwise for the barista, you have a little bit more control here. A little bit more options. Obviously, if a customer wants a double shot, you don't just give them a single shot. Okay. Not cool.

And then if they don't want the coffee a bit cooler, if they wanted to stay hotter, they're going to have a takeaway, they're not going to drink it straight away, maybe they want it 65 degrees. Again, there's not much you can do about that. So there are some impacts. And then they don't want the darker roast or you don't have a darker roast to use, then what can we do as baristas to try and mitigate that kind of tofu effect on top of the soy? And there are a few things, and I'm sure a lot of baristas have kind of already stumbled across these. I'll point out for the baristas that it's actually going to help you pour better latte out as well. Not only can you avoid completely having that kind of solid effect on top, but it'll also drastically improve your ability to pour latte out the soy.

So let's just say we can't change those other factors that I just mentioned. What can we do with what we've got available to us as a barista? I'm going to leave the thing I do for the end. I'll do the things that I see other people doing. So one of the things that I see some people doing is adding a little dash of cold soy to the espresso shots. You poured espresso shots, you add little dash of cold soy to the espresso shots, and then you add your steamed hot milk on top of that. And it works. And it works because what you're doing is reducing the overall temperature of the liquid, which the steamed soy milk is being poured into. And this goes back to my version as well. By adding a little bit of cold soy, now the espresso that's sitting in that latte glass, isn't like 80 degrees. But the room temperature or fridge temperature soy is going to bring that down to potentially 20 degrees, something like that.

And remember, because we've now reduced the heat, we've reduced the likelihood of that coagulation. Now you might be thinking, but the overall drink's still going to be sixty-five. That's true. But what you'll find is the majority of that coagulation occurs in the very first part of the pour when the milk is being poured into 80 something, 90 degrees C espresso. That's incredibly hot. So the soy that first hits it coagulates instantly, regardless of roast level and acidity and that kind of thing. It's just so hot. It's going to have such a strong impact. Maybe with a really dark roast. But I don't know, been a while since I encountered one of those, thankfully. So you might be able to get away with it then. The other thing some people do is add a little touch bicarbonate of soda into the milk or the espresso. This also works.

Now. I don't advise doing this because... Not that there's anything wrong with it. Bicarb soda, that's just baking soda. That's fine. That's bicarbonate and that's sodium. There's nothing wrong with that. However, you are effectively dosing a customer's drink with a little white powder. Pretty sus. If you're making your soy latte for yourself at home, then go nuts. The bicarb works, you just need the tiniest amount. The reason it works the way it works is so first the cold dash of soy milk that was we're trying to deal with the heat factor. Now, this one is dealing with the acidity factor. Bicarb soda is a buffering agent. It's going to buffer the acidity which is in the espresso. And so you're going to quite significantly reduce the acidity of the espresso you're about to pour milk into and thus, regardless of temperature at this point, you're going to reduce the amount of coagulation that occurs.

So that works too. Again, I don't advise. Don't say, "Oh, Adam from [Montessori 00:16:41] told me to start doing that." When you start doing [inaudible 00:10:20]. Don't do that in the shop. Unless people know you do that in the shop or something. My version, and the reason I like this version the most is because it's the fastest and it works. Those two, yeah, they work. But they're fiddly. They're so fiddly and in service, that's no. It slows you down too much. My version is to pour your shots like you usually would. Steam your milk like you usually would. Admittedly, I will steam the milk a little bit cooler, maybe 60 degrees as opposed to 65, unless the customer's okay with 55, then great. Because it's going to be even better. But 60 degrees and then pour the latte. However, ordinarily when baristas are pouring a latte, to get nice latte out...

And if you're a barista, you do this. And if you watch baristas, you'll see them do this. They'll pour very gently at the start. They'll kind of integrate the milk into the espresso quite gently. And that's to preserve the creme. And so that's to give them some really nice contrast for their pattern that they're going to pour in the latte art. For a soy latte, my recommendation is to do the exact opposite of that. To basically pour your steam and your milk into the espresso as aggressively and quickly as you possibly can without having it just go everywhere.

Which does take some practice and you might make a mess the first few times. But so what you're doing is basically increasing the amount of liquid in that cup very quickly. What you're doing there is basically you're reducing the average temperature of the liquid very quickly as well. Like I said before, with that first kind of barista trick with adding the cold soy, what you're doing is reducing the temperature of that liquid that the milk is about to be poured into you. It'd be nice to have some props. I have one prop, but it's not helpful. I need a glass.

So this doesn't help me. This is the prop. Well, it might make it more fun, but now it's just annoying. So you've got your glass and you have your espresso in there that's really hot. You add a little bit of cold milk and that reduces the temperature. So the first bit of soy milk, which pours into it, isn't encountering incredibly hot espresso anymore. It's encountering this liquid which has a lower average temperature. And as a result, you have less likely coagulation occurring. Now if you have your hot espresso which you haven't cooled down because it's busy and adding a dash of cold soy is annoying, you just have your steamed soy and then you just pour it really aggressively. What happens is the soy will hit that espresso and it's hitting really hot liquid. But then more of the 60 degree Celsius, soy milk is being poured into the 80-90 degrees C espresso.

And then because you're pouring in so quickly, it's going to reduce the temperature which the new soy milk is kind of encountering as you pour it in. And as a result, a lot less of the total soy milk in that latte came in contact with a very hot temperature. And it works. For a double shot, extra hot, it may not be enough. But for your average single shot soy latte, it works. It works very consistently and it makes life much easier. And we're already at 13 minutes without actually talking about flavor balance. In terms of flavor balance, choosing the right alternative milk based on dietary requirements and ethical and environmental decisions and everything else, to match the flavor of coffee. It's a personal choice. I personally drink oat milk as opposed to dairy milk. And the brand that I like, which... Yeah. Ask me in person.

The brand that I like is fantastic. Uses Australian oats, low water usage for oat milk, which is fantastic. But one of the reasons I like it the most is because it matches the flavor. It balances with the flavor of the coffee really, really well. Now lots of other milks can do this well. Soy is little bit more difficult because the soy has a strong flavor, which kind of competes with the coffee flavor a little bit. Could be harmonious, has a bit of a nutty flavor. Could work if you really like it, then great. And similar kind of situation. But again, there's another brand I really like. You can ask me in person. That doesn't have a very strong almond-y flavor. But the thing I like the most about both of those brands that I like and the brand I like for soy milk as well, which you can probably guess what it is, but I didn't say it, is that they have the right texture to balance with the coffee as well.

A lot of alternative milks can be, in my mind, a little bit too watery, a little bit too thin, and some can also be a little bit too thick. That's mostly with soy milks. And a lot of time it's nut milks, which can be quite thin. And then even if it didn't have any kind of coagulation curdling on top, it may also just taste a little bit sour. There's not enough buffering agents in the milk in that alternative milk potentially to balance the... Because there's naturally occurring buffering agents in dairy milk. So that kind of makes the experience with the espresso a little bit more balanced and smooth. And so finding a brand that works for you in those regards is very much a personal preference. But they definitely are out there. If you've had an almond milk latte before, you're trying to swap alternative milks and you went, "Oh, it was sour and watery."

Or you had soy and it went kind of like tofu and curdle-y on top. Doesn't have to be the way. You can mitigate those things and have a really great experience with alternative milks, which I would say in these days, which is on par with the experience with dairy milk. I mean that. I very rarely, if any, any time now drink dairy milk coffees. And when I do now, it tastes really cow-y. It actually doesn't balance as well as it used to because I was just kind of used to those flavors. Finding something with the right level of protein, fat, and sweetness to get something which is harmonious with the coffee, where the coffee can still speak, but it's not speaking too loud. Trial and error and personal preference. Yeah. So those are our tips for this week. Sorry, this is a long one. But yeah, hopefully that was useful. All right. See you guys.

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