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Making the Perfect Frothy Cappuccino

by Allen Burt October 14, 2018

Making the Perfect Frothy Cappuccino


When you get an espresso maker, you want two things: a perfect espresso and a perfect cappuccino.  Okay…you want some other milk-based drinks, but the point is you want it to be perfect.  The milk needs to be hot, silky, and smooth with just the perfect milk to foam ratio. So what choices do you have to achieve this bliss in a cup?  There are several milk frothing options, so familiarize yourself with the options to choose the one that will perfect for you.

As superautomatic espresso machines have evolved over the years, the milk frothing devices that come with them have as well.  When superatuomatics were first released, they came equipped with a simple steam wand…but over the time, devices like a pannarello, milk foamers or cappuccinatores,  milk carafes, and milk cups have emerged – how do they work, what are the benefits of each and how do you maintain each device?  These are important questions.

With these two ingredients, espresso and milk, the number of drinks you can produce are numerous. While skill is one component of achieving that perfect cappuccino, the device you use will also play a factor.  The devices described below are based on the Saeco brand of superautomatic espresso machines.  Note that each manufacturer may have a different name for the device but the concept of how it works is the same. 

What is a Steam Wand?

Any machine that has milk frothing functionality will come with a steam wand.  The steam wand is a just that – a wand with either a single or multiple holes that allows steam to flow through it.  While it seems pretty simple, the art of frothing milk is a skill that takes time and patience.  Understanding how far into the milk pitcher you need to place the wand and how you froth the milk without scalding will come with practice.

Steam want

Benefits of steam wands:

  • Easy to clean
  • You can achieve any temperature you desire simply by the length of time you steam the milk
  • You can inject more air to create more foam or less air simply to heat your milk
  • A steam wand can produce a dense microfoam- meaning a really thick, silky milk foam

Drawbacks of steam wands:

  • It takes time and practice to learn how to foam milk to a smooth, velvety consistency without scalding milk

How to Clean a Steam Wand

  • Wipe down with a clean damp cloth after each use

What is a Pannarello?

A pannarello is a sleeve that fits over the steam wand. Pannarellos come in both plastic or stainless steel.  The pannarello was introduced circa 1988/89.  Even the design of the pannarello has evolved since it was introduced. The old style pannarello had a small air intake hole at the top and three steam holes at the bottom.  The new model which was introduced around 2008, has a small air intake hole at the top and a diverter at the bottom. The pannarello is designed to create a lot of foam.  Even if you do not have much practice or have skill in frothing milk, don’t despair because the pannarello was designed to do that job for you.

You can usually buy a pannarello as a separate accessory.  Pannarello are specifically designed for different brands and models.  Be sure you order the right pannarello for your machine.

Stainless steel pannarello

Benefits of a Pannarello

  • Easy to clean
  • User can achieve any temperature desired

Drawbacks of a Pannarello

  • It will produce lots of bubbles or foam even if you don’t want it
  • Will not be able to achieve a microfoam

How to Clean a Pannarello

  • Remove it from the steam wand (either unscrew or slip off) depending on model and rinse under hot water 

What is an Automatic Milk Foamer?

An automatic milk foamer was the next evolution of milk foaming devices.  It was introduced in the espresso world circa 2004. Some brands, such as JURA, are built exclusively with a milk foamer concept.

While some models come equipped with this device, a milk foamer can be attached to some steam wands.  It can be purchased as a separate accessory if desired. Just be sure your model can support a milk foamer before you purchase one.

The device consists of a tube which can be placed directly in a milk container, such as a milk carton or jug of milk.  This tube draws milk into a frothing chamber, which measures the quantity of milk and dispenses the foamed milk into a cup.  In models like JURA the espresso is also directly dispensed into the cup.

Milk Foamer

Benefits of a Milk Foamer

  • It ensures a consistent milk/foam ratio
  • Produces a good foam texture

Drawback of Milk Foamer

  • The unit needs cleaning and disassembly after each use
  • Practical for making multiple drinks in a row but requires some effort to clean if you are making a singular cappuccino

How to Clean a Milk Foamer

  • After single use you could the tube in a glass of water and rinse it through the system right after milk frothing. This will avoid disassembly after single use but it is highly recommended you disassemble it every few days.
  • A more thorough cleaning requires disassembling the milk foamer and soaking the components in a milk cleaning solutions like Cafiza or other milk system cleaners.
  • Milk system cleaners are food safe degreasers especially made to clean espresso machine components that come into contact with milk.  It is difficult to say exactly how often you should use them because it really depends how often you have milk based espresso drinks and how good you are about cleaning the components on a regular basis.
Milk Foamer components

    What is a Milk Carafe?

    It’s an external device (which looks like milk pitcher) that attaches directly to the espresso machine.  Cold milk is poured into this pitcher. Any remaining milk, once a drink has been made, can be placed with the pitcher back into the refrigerator for later use.

    The introduction of milk carafes, circa 2010,  was a significant revolutionary change in espresso machine technology.  This milk frothing device changed the landscape in the ability to achieve a milk-based drink at the touch of a button.  This functionality is often referred to as one touch cappuccino (OTC) or some brands refer to it as a Smart Cappuccino. 

    When a milk-based drink is selected, such as a cappuccino, the device is activated. The machine will draw cold milk from the pitcher, the espresso machine will steam the milk and froth the desired amount of milk and dispense it directly into the cup.  This technology does not require the user to be skilled in frothing milk. It is convenient and efficient and significantly diminishes milk waste.

    Milk Carafe

    Benefits of a Milk Carafe

    • Consistent product quality
    • The dosage is always programmable, so you can decide how much milk will be dispensed
    • Can be used safely without concern of burning yourself
    • Easy maintenance – the carafe only needs to be cleaned every few days

    Drawbacks of a Milk Carafe

    • A milk carafe has a pre-determined temperature setting. It dispenses milk at approximately 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If hotter milk is desired than a steam wand or pannarello is better suited
    • Additional cleaning supplies are required

    How to Clean a Milk Carafe

    • Every few days a milk carafe should be cleaned and sanitized
    • Unused milk is to be thrown out, the carafe rinsed, and the components should be disassembled, soaked in warm water with milk cleaning product such as Cafizia or other milk system cleaners
    • Milk system cleaners are food safe degreasers especially made to clean espresso machine components that come into contact with milk.  It is difficult to say exactly how often you should use them because it really depends how often you have milk based espresso drinks and how good you are about cleaning the components on a regular basis
    Milk Carafe soaking in Cafizia

      What is a Milk Cup?

      The milk cup is the latest release of Saeco. It is the feature on their 2018 released model, Xelsis. It works much like the Jura milk frothing system in that it draws milk from a container (cup), heats, and froths the milk directly into your cup.  Thus far, it sounds very much like the carafe.  The difference is that when you want to add an espresso to this milk, there is no need to press any other button.  It is a one-touch system. 

      Benefits of the Milk Cup

      What is new with the Milk Cup system from Saeco is the maintenance part. They have introduced a new HygieSteam system.  It will clean up the whole milk circuit with steam, from the spout to the milk tubes at your command.  In addition, each time you make a drink with milk, Saeco Xelsis automatically cleans the milk system with a jet of hygienic steam, so it is clean and ready to make your next drink.  This will save you time and it so easy.

      While the quality of the milk is similar to that of the other milk frothing options, how it cleans itself is really an exceptional bonus.  The importance of regular cleaning and maintenance of milk frothing devices cannot be stressed enough. 

      Xelsis with milk cup

      Importance of Regular Maintenance of Milk Frothing Devices 

      From time to time you will need to thoroughly clean your milk frothing devices.  Milk have fats (grease) which can build up over time.  For more thorough cleaning , use products specifically designed to clean milk frothing system.

      It is difficult to say exactly how often you should use them because it really depends how often you have milk-based espresso drinks and how good you are about cleaning the components right after you make a drink.

      Superautomatic espresso machines are popular because they offer the user the opportunity to not only make an espresso easily, with the push of a button but also the opportunity to froth milk.  The ability to easily froth milk means specialty milk-based drinks are also very accessible. When you can make your own cappuccino or latte, you will be saving money and time because you don’t have to go to your local café to enjoy your drink of choice.

      This article has described the milk frothing options that are available with superautomatic machines.  While each brand may use a different name for each device, the premise of how they work , their benefits and drawbacks are the same. Be sure you are aware of your options before you purchase your machine and the maintenance required so you are equipped to make all the milk-based specialty drinks you want with the knowledge and know how of a true barista. 

      Remember we are always here to help answer any of your questions, contact us.


      Allen Burt
      Allen Burt

      2 Responses

      Modern Dairy Machines
      Modern Dairy Machines

      December 10, 2018

      Simple and clear-cut information about perfect frothing of Cappuccino and benefits of Steam Wand. I hope people like me will get some insights to make some wonders in reality after reading your article!


      October 25, 2018

      Thank you. I learned a lot. Good day.

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