Before founding Whisk about 3 years ago, my plan had always been opening up a matcha cafe in Vancouver, and I wanted to practice latte art at home, so if one day the cafe's open, I would be ready for it. We bought a couple of different tools to start with: a cheap battery operated electric frother like this:
The milk can get frothy but it's kinda a hassle to have to heat up the milk in the microwave first, then use this to froth it; so we up the game and bought an automatic milk frother like this:
It has heating and frothing functions all in one place, which is nice, and all you need to do is to press the button. However the milk becomes too foamy that it's impossible to do free pour latte art.
Finally we decided to invest in a domestic espresso machine (as a commercial machine costs at least 15K+, PLUS you need to hook up the water pipes). After months of researching, reading reviews and returning a couple of cheaper models from Breville, this year we finally bought one that actually worked for making latte art at home! It's called Barista Express by Breville.
The major difference between this model and the previous models is the steaming power, as we use it solely for steaming milk. If the power is not strong enough, the milk won't be stretched properly and you won't be able to draw the latte art. I'm not an expert on latte art, but here're some of my own understanding about "stretching milk" or also "texturing milk".
Stretching milk means injecting tiny air bubbles into the milk while heating up, so your milk becomes richer in texture and lighter in weight. This will enable the heated milk foam to float on top of your espresso and create different art pattern. If the steaming power is too weak, it will only heat up the milk without injecting micro bubbles into the milk. Usually it only takes a commercial machine 15 - 20 seconds to produce a perfectly stretched milk. Stretching milk is the key factor of a beautifully done latte art, so we will talk a bit more later.
Now whether you have a machine or not, the first few steps are the same for making matcha latte.
Step 1: Preparation
I like to gather all my gears together first. You will need:
1 tsp of matcha (for a 12oz cup)
1 latte mug (like the one in the photo is the best for free pour)
1 x matcha bamboo whisk
1 x empty cup for soaking the whisk
1 x stainless steel latte pitcher
1 x wet towel for wiping the steaming wand
milk of your choice
Sweetener of your choice
Turn on the machine, ensure the water tank is full.
Soak bamboo whisk in warm water to soften the bristles.
Step 2: prepare matcha espresso
To create a similar consistency to coffee espresso, I recommend using at least 1 tsp of matcha powder for a 12oz cup; use bamboo whisk to mix matcha powder with about 1oz of warm water in a circular motion until well combined. If you want to add sugar, now it's the time to add. It will also make the espresso thicker which will be helpful for pouring the latte art. Don't add too much water! You wouldn't get a good latte art if the matcha base is too liquidy.
Step 3: texturing milk
This is the tricky part. It took me a couple of months to figure out how to do it properly. In order to injecting perfect amount of micro bubbles, you need to keep 50% of your steaming wand nozzle under the milk liquid, and 50% above. Once you turn on the steamer, you should hear some whistling sounds and the air coming from the nozzle is creating a current inside your pitcher. Never let your nozzle fully submerge into the milk; if the milk starts to rise, slowly and gradually move down or tilt back the cup. Depending on your machine, it should take about 65 - 75 seconds to get the milk heated up and textured. If the milk is steamed for too long, it will be burned and the flavour will be off. If it's under steamed, the milk won't reach that rich and thick consistency. Some barista would use a thermostat to check on the milk - the ideal temperature should be around 65C - 70C.
Step 4: free pouring
Free pour has two major steps. The first step is mixing, which you hold the pitcher slightly higher and pour into the cup in circular motion. At this step, you're only pouring out the liquid part of your steamed milk, not the frothy part. Once the cup is filled about 1/3 full, you can make a stop.
The second step is drawing the latte art. When you're about to draw it, you tilt the cup toward the pitcher and lower the pitcher so it gets closer to the cup. Once you pour, the froth should come out. The easier patterns are heart and tulip (yes I draw a tulip better than a heart!). There're numerous tutorial videos on Youtube showing how to pour those patterns.
Not all milk/milk alternatives can be textured. Personally I tried 2%, Homo, almond, coconut, and soy milk. I don't find a huge difference in 2% and homo, but most baristas I know prefer to use homo milk. I also tried an extensive varieties of milk alternatives, and only the organic soy milk from Costco, the Kirkland brand, produces the best and similar result to regular milk. Most store-bought milk alternatives are either too thin to be textured, or contain lots of Xantham Gum or other additives as thickener, or the flavour is off after being steamed. Please let me know if you find a good milk alternative brand and I'd love to try it out!
I tried all of our grades of matcha, including competition grades, and honestly the Organic Everyday grade is still perfect for making matcha latte. Since our everyday matcha is blended cultivar, it creates a complex and strong flavour profile; when adding milk and sweetener to it, the matcha flavour will be enhanced.
In contrary, top grade matcha usually has a strong umami (seaweedy) taste, and it's not very compatible with milk and sweetener. I'd still drink top grade matcha the way it's supposed to be - straight up. Better matcha creating better matcha latte is not necessary true.
Have you tried? Hope you find this blog helpful. Feel free to leave any questions or feedbacks below, or feel free to email: firstname.lastname@example.org.