Empirical milk?

Dany Marquis

Empirical milk?

I learned a new word this morning, actually a new adjective: Empirical. Which could be defined in brief by: Which relies on experience and observation, without following scientific methods and principles.

I can now classify part of my knowledge transmission concerns into the following statement:

“Learning how to froth milk properly for the purpose of blending specialty coffees is an empirical process and belongs to every barista. »

BDQ has a training program that emphasizes the standardization of beverage manufacturing standards in BDQ and for customers. I have trained several baristas in the last few months, customers, employees, in addition to advanced training. I pursue the goal of the perfect coffee, prepared according to the rules of the art, and repeatable endlessly, no matter who prepares it.

I consider that my training method has reached a stage of very satisfactory effectiveness. Extraction parameters are clearly defined and applied to the letter, the name and beverage formats and cup models dictate the barista's actions.

I teach in 4 stages:

1- Extracting the espresso

2- Milk frothing

3- Assembling the beverages

4- Practical

I achieve a very consistent level of coffee preparation in general, but overall, milk processing skills fluctuate from employee to employee. Although my training contains a very developed milk component and the transfer of knowledge is done well, this component is the most frustrating of my life as a trainer. Because if I can define all the parameters of espresso and drinks very precisely, those concerning milk are more subtle. It’s easy to do a one-man show and say, “do as I do”:

  1. Flush your steam wand;
  2. Put the cold milk in the stainless pitcher;
  3. Place the tip of the steam wand slightly below the surface of the milk;
  4. Activate steam;
  5. Swell your milk by holding the tip of the nozzle slightly below the surface, Tssssss (sucking sound) should be heard;
  6. Raise the temperature of the milk to 38C (100F);
  7. Press in the steam nozzle to create a whirlpool that whips the milk;
  8. Keeps swirling up to 60C (140F);
  9. Turn off the steam;
  10. Bang your pitcher on the counter to remove the bubbles;
  11. Turn the pitcher slightly to mix, smooth and gloss your milk;
  12. Assemble the drink.

To start with, with rookies I teach to froth milk one way but ideally I would like to be more specific so the barista can froth the milk thinner for a latte and slightly firmer for a cappuccino.

But now it gets tough. Impossible to define exactly the milk working parameters. Pitcher angle, nozzle angle, nozzle position, nozzle depth in milk, milk quantity, etc. And what gets complicated is explaining the concept of incorporating air up to the right temperature, calling the sound suction, and defining how deep the nozzle must be to create the swirl. I am a perfectionist but this side of the barista's work is not learned through theory, only through experimentation, by understanding the basic concepts.

  • Cold milk is more flexible in incorporating air (inflating);
  • At 26-38C (80-100F) the milk is ready for swirling which will create micro-foam by reducing bubbles;
  • Use the thermometer;
  • No more than 160F!!! (A client who burns his tongue is not very good…)

As a trainer, I come to tell myself that it is the result that counts. Some baristas on my team even talk to me about the position of their leg... Others foam better on the left side of a 2 group. We are almost in esotericism when I hear: I have missed my milk, I am in PMS”…

Finally, I came to the conclusion that learning to work with milk is an “empirical” process and that despite all the efforts of the trainer, the barista must get the hang of it by practicing. And above all, it is impossible for coffees to be similar from one barista to another. It also highlights how lucky you will be, when you are served an extraordinary coffee, to have a passionate barista who has worked with his milk patiently.

To help you go further, I'll provide you with some interesting links:

To practice your technique without breaking the bank:

Complete guide to milk:


Video of assembling a latte by a BDQ barista:

For more information, do not hesitate to contact me: dany.marquis@brulerieduquai.com or 1-866-525-2027

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