Milk-Steaming & Temperature

Canada was once a drip-coffee nation. Some people added cream to their coffee, some milk, others took it black. You could have one or two servings of the milk or cream, maybe even three; there wasn’t much more to know about it than that.

But over the past couple of decades our grounds have shifted; we now live in a land of lattes, and milk has become one of the most important parts of our coffee.

Like most things about coffee-making, some steams are better than others, and after much study and tasting, Crema founder Geoff Polci has figured out the best ways to give you the foam you want without interfering with any of the flavours the milk and coffee naturally have.

Temperature’s the biggest thing. When you heat milk, you transform its lactose into sugars, giving warm milk a slightly sweet flavour that goes very well with a couple of shots of espresso (and can obviate the need for sugar). But if you heat it too much, you can actually burn those sugars, making the whole thing go from sweet and frothy to a bitter mess in a matter of a couple of degrees. Go a couple of degrees higher, or steam it a few seconds longer, and you go from bitter to something that just tastes burnt.

You’d think, with every café out there offering cappuccinos and lattes and any number of variations on the theme, that keeping milk at the right temperature would be common practice. But a lot of cafés tailor their espresso drinks to a take-out audience that won’t be drinking their lattes for a while after they buy it. Some cafés have even made a point of offering their drinks extra hot for this very reason.

Crema will make your drink extra hot for you too if you like, but they also recommend a couple of alternative approaches. The first is to get a ceramic, double-walled cup that can preserve your coffee’s temperature until you get where you’re going. Crema sells its own rather fetching version, but they’re available most places these days. They’re also a little less wasteful than even the recycled and recyclable paper cups Crema uses. But there’s also a little secret about milk-based coffee drinks that Polci thinks more people should be let in on.

“The ideal temperature for milk drinks is actually warm, rather than hot,” he says. If it’s too hot, your taste buds tend to get a little shocked, and miss some of the flavours swirling around in your drink.

It’s something to consider.

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