Troubleshooting Espresso Drinks Article -
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Troubleshooting Espresso Drinks

Need a little extra help? We've got some troubleshooting tips for steaming milk and pulling espresso shots that will make things easier.

By this time, you've taken the time to read Making Espresso Drinks and should be getting the hang of the basics; now it's time for a little fine tuning.

Steaming Milk

The hardest part about steaming milk is getting "good foam"--use these tips to make it happen:

  • If you are getting more bubbles than foam, try submerging the steam wand in the milk to build up pressure--then when you hear that high-pitched sound, begin to aerate.

    Sometimes bubbles are created when the wand is losing steam (no pun intended) and it needs to ramp up again. Also, be sure the tip of the steam wand is being held parallel or at just a slight angle to the surface of the milk.

  • If you want a lot of foam (e.g. for a cappuccino), use the same steps for aeration detailed in Making Espresso Drinks, but allow the steam wand to sit at the milk's surface for longer stretches of time.

Pulling Shots

This process is tricky, so keep the following in mind if you're having trouble:

  • If the body of the espresso shot gets very dark brown or black before the shots have finished pouring, they will taste burned: next time try tamping lighter or use a courser grind.
  • If the heart is so light you can't see a distinct difference between it and the body, your shot will taste weak: next time try tamping harder or use a finer grind.
  • If water is consistently pouring very fast--and tamping harder doesn't help--your grind is probably too coarse. (These shots will appear lighter in color.)
  • If water is pouring too slow--and you are barely tamping--the grind might be too fine. (These shots will be very dark)

    Bettina B 
    Jun. 18, 2009 6:14 am
    I was told to use skim milk for the steamed milk and the foam, but one day I had no choice but to use whole milk and I must say, it was much more foamy and it didn't taste as blah as the skim. I also like to use raw sugar - it only takes a little bit and it is sweet.
    Aug. 24, 2009 5:15 pm
    Yeah, I have to agree with you. The only time I drink whole milk is in my lattes because it's *so* worth it and it makes a huge difference. I love raw sugar too, but my favorite is brown sugar--a little seems to go a long way.
    Jul. 17, 2010 1:00 pm
    Sounds crazy, but pure maple syrup is the ultimate coffee sweetener, and doesn't at all taste like a pancake! The flavors complement each other perfectly.
    Dec. 17, 2010 9:51 am
    Thank you for all the tips, I cant tell you how much your web site has helped me
    Jun. 29, 2011 6:07 pm
    I add a squirt of DaVincdi french vanilla flavored syrup. Wow, what a difference it makes!
    Dec. 25, 2011 8:18 am
    I add Hazelnut flavored Agave to my lactose free milk before steaming, making a nice sweet, flavor to my cappuccino! Works great!
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