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Microfoam-- steaming your way to foam heaven & latte art

A writer, Glenn wrote:

I am looking for tips, hints, magical potions required to make the Gaggia turbofrother produce true micro foam. Suggestions for ideal frothing pitcher size, steaming techniques, etc would be appreciated. My foam is too thick and meringue like. I use 2% milk. Help!

The editor Colin replied:
Certainly microfoam is the secret to great cappuccinos and lattes, but it is not always achievable with home pump driven machines. I would love to be able to get microfoam to do some latte art, but the GAGGIA Classic is not capable of it. Anyone else have an opinion on this ?

Glenn responds:

Observations: the turbo-frother acts as a diffusing device - try steaming plain water in your frothing pitcher to observe the non-swirling action. Placement of turbo-frother;ie: side or center of pitcher does not seem to make any great difference. It is apparant that using conventional steam wand techniques do not apply. Therefore, challenge the assumptions!

I am not sure why Gaggia put the tag on the steam wand that warns that there will be dire consequences if you ever so much immerse the inductor hole into milk. In my first few weeks of steaming, I carefully made sure that the inductor hole stayed carefuly above the foam. The result: an overflowing 22 oz frother pitcher with lukewarm milk. Not good.

A re-read of Gaggia's instructions provided a clue. It looked like the inductor hole in Gaggia's crude drawing was actually in the foam and not above it. Aha! The results were much, much better. I could actually get the milk hot enough now. Now what if you could use the inductor hole to actually suck in the foam and recirculate it. Ya baby! Dramatic improvement. Bulldoze down those bubbles! No more overflowing. The foam was a much finer texture now and doing the sacriligous -stirring gently with a spoon, actually coaxed out a bit of shine in the foam. Better, however it was still too thick for proper pouring for latte art.

So let's concentrate on thinning out the foam. The next breakthrough was a bit of an accident. Someone in the household wanted one of those giant size milk drinks. I had to steam 12 oz of milk. By filling my container a bit more than halfway the stretched milk reached the inductor hole sooner, allowing me the swirl turbo-frother round and round, mashing those bubbles and making them finer and finer. Results were very good indeed.
I drew a nice pinwheel design with a tip of a knife. Too bad I don't have a digital camera, otherwise I would send a pic. I am not ready yet for apples,hearts or rosettas yet but I am getting there.

Perhaps the secret is to use a smaller pitcher and not to overstretch the milk. Maybe fill the container half full rather than 1/3rd? Size the pitcher to the size of your drink? Possibilities, possibilities...

Is the foam as good as a LM or a commercial quality, heat exchanger, E61 group type of machine? Probably not and will likely never be, however yes, you can coax out decent foam.

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