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Espresso Brewing: Frothing the Milk

Most Americans prefer their espresso blended with hot, frothed milk. Fortunately, the majority of espresso-brewing appliances now sold in the United States have built-in steam apparatus suitable for frothing milk. If you like espresso drinks with milk, make certain that any espresso brewing device you purchase has such a mechanism.

If the clerk doesn't know what you're talking about, look for a small pipe, usually about 1/4 inch in diameter and a few inches long, protruding from the side or front of the device. Some beginner-friendly machines may replace the conventional wand with an automatic milk frother (it looks like a small plastic cylinder protruding from the front of the machine) that sucks cold milk into one end and squirts out hot frothed milk at the other. These devices may sound wonderful, but in fact are fussy, demanding, and delicate. I would recommend against buying any machine that does not give you the option of replacing the automatic frother with a conventional steam wand.

Heating the milk with the steam wand is easy; producing a head of froth or foam is a little trickier, but, like riding a bicycle or centering clay on a potter's wheel, exquisitely simple once you've broken through and gotten the hang of it. Follow the manufacturer's frothing directions included with your espresso machine.

Another alternative for milk frothing are little cylindrical stand-alone devices that look like French-press coffee makers. However, assuming you already have steam up for espresso brewing, it hardly seems worthwhile putting yourself through several additional steps to froth milk when you can do it in thirty seconds using the steam wand on your brewer.

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Adapted from Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing & Enjoying; Espresso: Ultimate Coffee; and Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival. St. Martin's Press.
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