How to Steam Milk

Four Methods:General milk steaming requirementsFull fat milkLow fat milkSoy milk

Whether you're a barista for a cafe or merely tinkering with your beloved coffee machine at home, knowing how to steam milk can make or break the coffee drinking experience. Steaming the milk successfully will depend on the milk type used. Well steamed milk, be it dairy or plant sourced, should look glossy and silky to the coffee drinker.

Method 1
General milk steaming requirements

Whichever milk you use, the following steps are applicable to each type:

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    Use fresh, cold milk. Cold milk produces the best results.
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    Keep to the right temperature for steaming. This is usually 65-70ºC/149ºF-158ºF for each milk type. Any temperature higher than this is too hot and will overcook the milk.

Method 2
Full fat milk

Full fat milk tends to be the easiest milk to steam. You have a longer time to steam it and it doesn't separate as quickly as low fat milk.

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    Fill the jug to halfway.
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    Turn on the steam wand first. Allow it to release condensation before steaming the milk.
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    Texture the milk. This requires that you meet three stages in succession, namely stretch, swirl and heat, explained as follows.
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    Stretch the milk (fold in air).
    • Place the steam nozzle just below the surface of the cold milk in its jug.
    • Turn on the steam wand to release full pressure. Then, keep this wand at the top of the milk, rather than under it, so that it continues to "stretch".
    • Once the milk doubles in size, the nozzle can be placed back under the milk's surface.
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    Swirl the milk. Shift the steam wand to the side of the milk jug. This creates a swirling motion and the milk will blend, taking care of any bubbles that might have formed.
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    Heat the milk. Turn off the steam wand when the milk reaches 70ºC/158ºF. Knock the jug against the bench if you see large bubbles, this should be enough to pop them. If this doesn't work, skim them off the top.
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    Pour the milk into the cup.

Method 3
Low fat milk

Any milk that is lower in fat and sugar falls into the category of low fat milk. The steaming time needed will be far less than full fat milk and this type of milk often separates quickly (froths quickly, then tends to collapse). Steamed well, it has a glistening appearance that can look nicer than full fat milk.

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    Use the same steaming method outlined above for full fat milk. However, acknowledge that the time spent steaming will need to be a lot less, so stay alert to the changes in the milk and work faster.
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    Pour quickly. Continue to swirl the milk in the jug right up to pouring and pour as soon as it is steamed––don't let this type of milk sit around after steaming.

Method 4
Soy milk

Soy milk may seem harder to steam but it can be done. If you can, it can be helpful to steam this milk before pulling the espresso, to give it some rest time before use. Given the thickness of soy milk, this will give more time for the bubbles to surface and dissipate.

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    Use cold soy milk. Be aware that the high sugar content will cause soy milk to heat quickly.
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    Use the same steaming method outlined above for full fat milk. Again, take into account this milk's different texture and don't rush it.


  • Although each type of milk has different methods, take your time within the confines of the milk type. Rushed work at the coffee machine can result in poor quality coffees or hot chocolates.


  • Overheated milk tastes bad, just like old milk tastes bad. If you smell a custard-like odor, it has gone too far. Discard, wash the milk jug with good hot running water, and start over.
  • If you are using a commercial espresso machine, stop steaming at between 55–60 °C (131–140 °F) (131-140f). Milk has protein in it, so like red meat, will continue heating to the final temperature of between 65-70°c (149-158f). Milk is a water based liquid, and it will not carry the temperature up that much, but it will carry. Keep and eye on it. If in doubt, measure the temp. With less powerful machines, still aim to stop the steaming process at 60°c (140f).
  • Reusing residual milk should be kept to a minimum; leftover milk can spoil the taste of the next person's coffee or hot chocolate. Always use fresh milk, or top up mostly with fresh milk if using a little leftover milk.

Sources and Citations

  • Peoples Coffee, Peoples Coffee Barista Handbook, pp. 52-54, (2012), ISBN 978-0-473-190079-8 – research source
  • Jessica Godfrey, How to Make Really Good Coffee, pp. 20-21, (2010), ISBN 978-1-86979-394-4 – research source

Article Info

Categories: Eggs and Dairy | Coffee