As any good barista knows, consistency between one cup and another is the mark of excellence.
If a customer has come to expect a certain taste, blend or fullness they begin to enjoy anticipating that experience every time they come into your café or espresso bar. It is one of the most important considerations for their return and repeat business is the best business. This is because the repeat customer is a referral source, the base of your financial success and cheaper to attract and keep than having to find new customers all the time. If consistency is your goal, you’ll be wise to follow the same steps in every cup you serve.
This is true when it comes to everything you do from roasting to grinding, but it needs to be carried over to the frothing of milk as well. If you are ‘winging it’ you may well be serving milk that is too cool or too hot without knowing it. If during the frothing, the milk does not reach 140°f/60°C, as well as being too cool, the coffee will have an overriding “milkiness” to it. If the milk gets too hot (say over 158°f/70°C), it will scald and the aftertaste of your cup will be bitter.
There is a very narrow range of temperatures between milky tasting froth and scalded froth with the middle being the temperature you want (150°f/65°C). It is this narrow range that will ensure that the milk neither overpowers your precious grind nor leaves a bitter aftertaste.
For cafes that do not use a thermometer, our experience has overwhelmingly been that the more people you have working for you, the less consistent the temperature of the milk is. This is because what everybody’s idea of hot enough is when they touch the side of the jug, is different. One person may finish frothing when they think the jug is too hot to hold and the milk is only 122°F/50°C yet another may froth to 158°C/70°C and still think the jug is only just hot enough.
There are so many areas where consistency is harder to maintain; the roasting to the exact level as before, the freshness of the roasted bean, differences in the grind from day to day or even hour to hour…why would you want to throw in another element of uncertainty when using a thermometer is so easy and inexpensive?
The way to promote consistency, regardless of the vast experience you may have, is to use a milk thermometer. Any notion that using a thermometer somehow spoils the artisan craft that is frothing milk is quite frankly, outdated.
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