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While people in some parts of the world have understood the ins and outs of a brilliant cup of coffee for generations, others are in the beginning stages of their love affairs with just how subtle and satisfying a good cup of coffee can be. Home baristas know that making a great cup of espresso or another coffee drink has a lot to do with the machine. Pump machines create a better-quality créma but are too expensive for most folks. A coffee steamer that is well made, uses stainless steel parts, and can heat the water to the perfect temperature for steam extraction is a better choice for anyone who hasn’t yet won the lottery.
Coffee steamers boil water into steam and a great deal of pressure. When the pressure is high enough, it drives the steam through finely milled coffee grounds, extracting flavor as it goes. Nearly all home espresso machines that are steam models have stainless steel wands attached. After steam is forced through the coffee grounds, enough remains to foam the milk for cappuccino, latte, or another coffee drink.
The best coffee steamer for the home kitchen depends in part upon cost. Pricier machines are designed to create ideal micro froths. Less expensive models require the milk or cream be heated in the microwave before frothing. Even with preheating, the resulting foam can be more like meringue than micro froth. Regardless of price, any coffee steamer that is made with plastic parts should be avoided; plastic is less durable, and if scratched, it can harbor dangerous bacteria.
The correct temperature is essential to creating the perfectly textured micro froth. The goal is cream or milk heated to exactly 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees Celsius) after it has been transformed into foam. Milk that is foamed at a higher heat can develop a burned aroma that transfers its taste to the coffee. It might also break down and lack body, becoming runny enough to change the mouth feel of the coffee when it is added.
Creating an acceptable micro froth at home requires patience. Professional machines can kick out the perfectly textured foam in just a handful of seconds, but a home coffee steamer, even a good one, will take closer to two or three minutes. The wand has to deliver sufficient pressure to create the foam as the barista moves the cup in gentle circles. This technique takes some doing to master.