June 04, 2023   8:07pm

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If you read “The Ultimate Coffee Fix” (Part 1), you’ve learned a lot about what goes into the best espresso shot. But if your choice of “joe” is breve, latté, cappuccino, macchiato, or café au lait, here’s what you absolutely need to know about the milk …

And, now, the Milk
Once you understand the foundation — a la how to get the ultra primo espresso shot (see snoety’s “The Ultimate Coffee Fix” (Part 1) — it’s time for our insider’s “secrets” of how to do equally by the milk. Being trained at a third-wave coffee and tea shop like Sweet Leaf* teaches you to be a fast learner. For starters, here are the basics on milk: First, aerate and, then, texturize.

Here’s how this works:

  • Milk and milk pitchers should be chilled when not being used. Their temperatures can affect the amount of time it takes for the aeration and texturization to be complete. Pouring cold milk into a hot pitcher will affect the taste of your coffee.
  • A vortex is created in the center of the pitcher with the steam wand by precise placement and total control on the barista’s part. This must be maintained until the steam wand is turned off and the milk is poured.
  • Once enough air has been incorporated into the warm-to-touch pitcher and the milk (you’ll know the time is right by the sort of spitting sound the steam makes against the surface of the milk), completely submerge the head of the steam wand into the milk. This evenly distributes the air and creates a solidly thick and glossy milk.
  • The moment the pitcher is too-hot-to-touch, the steam is turned off and the pitcher is brought to the counter with a few taps to eliminate any bubbles.
  • If the espresso shot hasn’t finished pouring, the milk is swirled in the pitcher to mimic the vortex until it’s ready to be poured. If a shot is made to sit waiting for the milk for longer than a few seconds, or vice versa, you lose precious moments of deliciousness.

The Pour
The pour is the last part of making an espresso drink. If the milk is done incorrectly, the barista will be unable to create latte art.

  • The pitcher is held 6 inches from the top of the tilted cup containing the espresso shot. Gravity pulls the milk to the bottom of the cup, scooping under the espresso and combining with it.
  • Gently and slowly the pitcher is lowered to blend evenly with the espresso, and as the cup fills to the brim it’s moved from the tilt into a parallel position with the ground.
  • A white dot will appear at the top of the drink and, depending on your hand movements, you can create a lovely heart, rosetta, rabbit, leaf, etc. Click here to see a video of some of the more impressive latte art designs.

A cappuccino at Sweet Leaf only differs from a latte in the amount of milk used. The difference is NOT what Starbucks has trained us to believe, that there is a difference in the ration of milk and foam for each – because there is no separation of milk from foam when practiced according to our methods. Here’s the coffee to milk breakdown that Sweetleaf swears makes the best of what you order:

Macchiato 2 oz. espresso, 2 oz. texturized milk

Breve 2 oz. espresso, 2 oz. texturized half-and-half

Cappuccino 2 oz. espresso, 6 oz. texturized milk

Latte 2 oz. espresso, 10 oz. texturized milk

Cafe au Lait 2/3 brewed coffee, 1/3 texturized milk

The Barista

To get that ultimate fix, there is an incredibly complex science behind the scenes in addition to a fairly choreographed dance at the grinder and espresso machine. Stance, posture and quickness are extremely important. A barista is always aware of grind settings, the passage of time as the espresso shot pours, temperatures of the various tools used as well as the room temperature, cleanliness and efficiency. Most of all, a barista wants to make sure the quality of your drink is at its utmost potential.

So be understanding when your morning latte isn’t necessarily the quickest thing to pick up and go. Your local coffee shop barista is making sure your cup of joe is worth the wait.


Your barista, Jessica McLachlan


* Sweetleaf can be found at the corner of Jackson Ave. and 11th St. in Long Island City, just over the Pulaski Bridge, and a couple of blocks from the Vernon-Jackson 7 stop.

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