As you’ll know if you’ve read some of my earlier posts, I’ve had my Gaggia classic now for over a year. I bought a pre 2009 version, it’s actually 14 years old, but being one of the original made in Milan machines, it was built to last.
One of the things that had been beginning to frustrate me with the machine though (and one of the reasons I had started looking to buy a new espresso machine) is that I was finding the milk texturing inconsistent. I had just thought it was me for quite a while, as sometimes I got the micro foam spot on, but then at other times I just seemed to lose the knack.
Sometimes there was far too much foam and it grouped together and I couldn’t make art with it, sometimes it seemed there was hardly any foam and I’d just warmed the milk.
I just carried on and told myself that the learning curve would stop at some point, but it didn’t really. Up until recently I was still going through the same cycle of being able to do latte art sometimes, but then fail miserably.
I decided that it was just the fact that while these old machines were really made to last, the Aluminium boilers on these older models are much much smaller (about 80ml?) than the stainless steel boilers in the later models, and that this is probably the reason for the inconsistency, and I think I was probably partly right there.
The technique I was using before, that was giving inconsistent results:
Turn steam on, and wait for light to come on to indicate steam temp reached.
put tip just into milk, and turn on steam, so milk starts to stretch. Do it with the jug tilted slighty, and stop stretching at 40C, at this point buy the tip deaper into the milk and start the milk spinning, distributing the microfoam.
Stop at 60C.
So this worked sometimes, sometimes not.
But then I saw a little throw away comment from someone in a review post about not waiting until the light came on to indicate the steam, and a few weeks later I saw someone else talking about not waiting until the light came on and instead doing the following:
Turn on the steam, purge, start steaming as soon as the water just starts turning to steam. This happens way before the light comes on, so it sounded odd, but the guy who wrote the post said it cured his issue of inconsistency with the classic – so I gave it a try, and hey presto, almost perfect microfoam. I did it again, almost perfect again – I was very excited!!
So I think what it is, is that because of the small boiler size, by the time it’s fully steaming, it just doesn’t have the power to fully stretch and then spin the milk, but when you do it straight away literally as soon as the water is purged and it begins to steam, you have enough steam power to get the milk stretched and get the milk swirling.
So this is my new method to texture milk with the Gaggia classic:
1: Pull the shot
2: Pour cold, semi-skimmed or full-fat milk up to the indentation in the metal leading towards the spout of my milk jug (I’ve gone from using a standard jug to using the Torid 2 which is brilliant! It has an indentation in the base which helps the milk to spin, this is definitely helping. see Latte Art Tips for Domestic / Home Espresso Machine Users.
3: Turn the steam on with the switch, and then just wait until the wand starts to make the first initial sounds that indicate steam is on it’s way. Don’t wait for the steam light, just purge the wand by turning the steam on full as soon as it starts to steam slightly, which is usually after 10-20 seconds or so.
4: As soon as the steam starts and you’ve purged it by turning the steam on full (over a cloth) close off the steam, put the milk under, put the tip just into the milk with the jug tilted, and turn on the steam full.
5: Keep the tip just into the milk roughly half of the steam tip submerged, so probably just a few mm into the milk, just so you get a subtle tsssing noise, like paper being ripped. Avoid the glug, glug sounds which sound like dropping stones into water, these will give big bubbles, not the microfoam we’re after. You just want a nice subtle ssssss, with the odd tiss, it’s kind of like ssssssssss, tiss, ssssssss, tiss, tiss, ssssssss. You’ll know what I mean when you get the texture right, and it’s this sound you want to listen out for.
By the way, if you hear a horrible screaming sound coming from your milk – don’t be alarmed, your milk isn’t haunted. It’s just that you have the tip submerged to deeply too quickly, take it out a bit so that you hear the sssssss, tiss, rather than the Aggggggghhhhhhhh of haunted milk ;-).
6: Keep the tip where it is and listening to the sssssss, tiss, sssss, until your thermometer reaches 40 degrees C (usually takes about 35-40 seconds), and then keep the jug tilted and just put the tip in deeper. Now you should see a vortex being created in the jug, the milk spinning, which means that the microfoam you created while stretching will now integrate throughout the milk.
7: When the temp gets to 60C, turn off the steam, clean the wand, purge, turn the steam off.
8: Give the jug a bang, and swirl it – if you do this in a well lit room you should see the lights reflecting off the surface when you swirl, this is a good indication you have good texture.
So there we have it, the trick was simply to start steaming as soon as the water is purged from the steam wand and steam starts spluttering out of it, and not to wait until the steam light comes on.
This is a tricky thing, timing it right so that you’re just stretching the milk to the right level, not over stretching it, and also not having the tip too exposed so that you’re creating big wet bubbles. It does take a surprising amount of getting used to, or it could just be me, you might learn to do this a lot quiker than I did, it certainly took me a while.
By the way I can’t guarantee this will work with all Gaggia classics, because I’m not sure why it works. I could be that this is specific to the older Italian made machines, which have a teeny 80ml aluminium boiler, the newer machines have much larger stainless steel bolilers, so it could be that you won’t have the same kind of issues with the newer machines, but anyway it’s worth giving it a go.
Update, August 2017
This technique above made a big difference to the consistency of the foam I was creating, but still there was quite a bit of technique involved in getting the right amount of air into the milk and then properly distributing the foam throughout the milk by getting it rolling/spinning enough. I was getting it almost perfect quite a lot, and perfect occasionally, and occasionally failing miserably, although the miserable failures were much less common once I started using the above technique.
I then learned of a milk frothing jug called the Espro Torid 2. I read this review on coffeegeek which describes how this jug is designed to aid in milk texturing due to the shape of the sides of the jug in combination with the indentation on the bottom of the jug. It’s designed for single hole steam tips (like the modded rancilio silvia steam wand I use on the Gaggia classic), and this review suggested that while it’s not going to turn a novice instantly into a pro, that it does seem to shorten the learning curve to some degree when it comes to teaching people to steam milk for latte art.
So I ordered one off Amazon, a 350ml one which I had realised was a better sized jug for me to be using rather than the 650 ml jug I’d always used previously. When I got it and used it for the first time, I was gob smacked, as it made a difference immediately! All you have to do with this jug is point the steam tip straight down towards the indentation in the centre, stretch and then bury the tip further, and this indentation and the shape of the jug helps to get the milk rolling. It really works for me, and since I’ve been using this jug I’ve had far more consistent milk texture for latte art.
This jug is specifically designed with single hole tips in mind, so if you’re using a prosumer or commercial machine with a multi hole steam tip, just bear in mind that you probably won’t get the same kind of results.
In case you’re thinking, as I did, that maybe the reason I was getting better results was just down to switching to a smaller jug – I tested this. I also ordered this much cheaper milk jug which is just a standard 350ml milk jug, and I got the same kind of mixed results as I did in my standard 650ml jug, so it wasn’t just down to size. For more see my more recent post latte art tips for domestic consumer espresso machine users.
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