If you’re an espresso lover, then you’ve probably heard of a steam wand. Steam wands have been around since the mid-19th century, but they’ve only become more and more popular in recent years.
Well, what it is and why it’s so popular? In this article, I’ll cover everything from what steam wands are to how to use them correctly and safely. So let’s get steaming!
What is a Steam Wand?
A steam wand is a tube-like device that is found on most espresso machines, used to heat and froth milk for various espresso drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos. It is a barista’s best friend for making delicious espresso drinks like lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatos.
The steam wand has two main components — a head and a nozzle.
The head is the part that inserts into the liquid, while the nozzle allows the barista to control the direction of flow. The steam wand also generally has a knob or lever that regulates temperature, pressure and flow rate.
What is the purpose of a steam wand?
The purpose of a steam wand is to heat and foam milk for espresso-based beverages. When using a steam wand, the key is getting the right temperature – too much or too little heat can ruin the drink.
With the right temperature, you can create the ideal foam consistency to top off your drinks with beautiful art or delicious textures.
The temperature also affects how long you need to “wand” your milk.
To achieve “microfoam,” which has little bubbles and is similar to wet shaving cream in texture, it will require more time – typically 15-30 seconds — while with a larger foam texture it will take only 5-10 seconds.
It all depends on what kind of texture you want in your drink, so experiment with different temperatures and timing to find what works best for you!
Let’s discuss how you can use a steam wand…
How to use Steam Wand?
If you’re a beginner, using a steam wand can be a bit daunting — I know it certainly was for me. I used to be intimidated by the pressure and heat that comes with operating a steam wand.
But, with some practice (and this comprehensive tutorial!), you can soon become an expert barista and make amazing espresso drinks like cappuccinos, flat whites, and lattes.
Using a steam wand is fairly straightforward:
- Start by placing the end of the steam wand in cold water. This helps keep the temperature of your steam wand down, so it’s not too hot when you use it.
- Turn on the steam switch to activate the wand’s heating element and begin heating up your milk and/or turning cold milk into hot foam/froth/microfoam.
- Place the end of the steam wand under the surface of your steamed milk or foam/froth, making sure to insert it slightly above the centre in order to prevent any splashing or boiling over.
- Move your steaming pitcher back and forth until you hear it scream (this indicates that all air has been removed from your foam/froth).
- Once you hear screaming, switch off the steam switch to stop further heating of your foam/froth or steamed milk.
- Clean off your steam wand before putting it back into its resting position – otherwise, leftover dairy residue can clog up your espresso machine!
- Pour into shot glasses or mugs as desired and enjoy!
How to Steam Milk with a Steam Wand?
Another exciting part of the steam wand is that you can use it to steam milk. Not only does steaming milk give your coffee a great texture, but it also helps release and capture flavours from the coffee.
Here’s how to steam milk with the steam wand:
Step 1: Fill & Heat the Milk
First, you’ll want to fill your milk pitcher about halfway with cold milk. Insert the steam wand into the pitcher and turn on your machine.
After about 15-20 seconds you should notice small bubbles forming from inside the pitcher.
Step 2: Start Steaming & Move Your Pitcher
Once the pitcher feels hot (not just warm) — start steaming and slowly move your pitcher in an up-and-down motion while keeping the tip of the wand just below the surface of the milk.
You’ll want to keep an eye on how quickly your milk starts frothing as it could mean that you need to adjust your wand’s depth in order to get a smoother texture.
Step 3: Finish It Up
Once you’ve achieved the desired amount of froth, turn off your machine and remove the wand from your pitcher — you want to make sure that all possible froth is captured before taking out the wand!
Now that your beautiful frothed milk is ready, carefully pour into a cup filled with espresso for an amazing experience!
Is a milk frother the same as a steamer?
No, a milk frother and a steamer are not the same! They both create foam for your drinks, but they do so in very different ways.
Milk frothers work by rapidly agitating or stirring the liquid with an externally-controlled whisk or beater. This agitates air into the liquid, creating a thick foam. Many of these devices require manual operation via an On/Off switch and require more attention to produce the right consistency.
On the other hand, steam wands offer more consistent results without as much attention as a frother since they use direct contact with steam to heat and aerate the liquids. Hot water is injected directly into the beverage, increasing its temperature while introducing tiny bubbles of air. Some steam wands have adjustable steam valves that enable you to precisely control the amount of foam produced.
How to Choose the Right Milk Type for Steaming
Now that you know the basics of how to use your steam wand, let’s talk about the different types of milk you can use. There are so many types out there, but for steaming purposes, there are three primary types you should know about.
Whole milk is the most commonly used type for steaming and frothing because it won’t separate when heated.
Whole milk has a higher fat content than other options, so it’s extra creamy and makes for a thicker foam if that’s your goal. However, whole milk is not available in every region and is not suitable for those who prefer non-dairy options.
Low-fat or 2% milk will also work fine when steamed. It has slightly less fat content than whole milk which means its texture is not as creamy — it can also make a foam that doesn’t hold as well as with whole milk.
That said, you can still create some nice foam if you use low-fat milk paired with the ideal amount of air pressure and practice patience during the process!
Non Dairy Milk Options (Soy & Almond):
Non-dairy alternatives like soy and almond milk are great choices for people with special dietary restrictions or allergies but they may require more practice to get a good froth because of their lower fat content compared to dairy milk.
It’s important to note that non-dairy milks do not heat up as quickly nor do they create the same type of foam texture as dairy milks when steamed but if done correctly can still be enjoyed in your drinks!
Do you put the steam wand in the milk?
No. First, you want to make sure that the mixing chamber and spout of your steam wand are dry of any liquid. If your Milk is already in the pitcher, gently touch the milk’s surface with the wand just to get it going, then start lowering it while stirring.
Once you get to the halfway point of submerging your steam wand in the milk, you’ll want to quickly close off steam and lift it up with a gentle back-and-forth motion while you continue stirring.
You’ll hear an intense bubbling sound as air is being forced through your steam wand, which will create a whirlpool effect in your pitcher as it mixes with milk—that’s a good sign!
When you’re done, use a damp paper towel to clean around the tip of your steam wand and remove any excess milk from inside before moving on to frothing or steaming.
Is the steam wand hot?
Yes, steam wands get very hot. It’s important to wear heat-resistant gloves and keep your hand away from the steam wand while in use. You should also remove the steam wand immediately after use as it continues to get hotter over time.
The tip of a steam wand gets very hot — up to 140 degrees Celsius — so make sure you use caution when using the wand and be careful of potential third-degree burns. It’s also important to never touch the tip of the steam wand with your hands, as it can cause scalding burns if you’re not careful.
When steaming milk, I always like to start off by slightly opening the steam valve and letting off some of the pressure before putting my milk pitcher under it. This not only prevents splashing but also helps regulate the temperature of milk more easily. I also make sure to move my milk pitcher around so that each side is heated evenly for a smoother texture and appearance.
To wrap up, if you’re just starting out with steam wands and espresso-based drinks, you now understand what you need to know to get started. Steam wands are a great tool to have in your coffee-making arsenal, and are relatively simple to use.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to craft delicious cappuccinos, lattes and more. Just remember: Always start with fresh, cold milk, steam slowly, and stop once you hear the wet hiss to ensure you get the best results.