The tricky subject of automatic milk frothing for speciality coffee has taken a new turn, with an unprecedented claim from Rancilio that its latest steam wand produces milk good enough for the creation of latte art.
The steaming of milk is one of the great skills of speciality coffee. It requires using the steam arm on an espresso machine to inject just the right amount of heat into the milk, and also just the right amount of air, so that the milk ‘expands' and contains air bubbles of just the right size.
To overcome skill shortages among catering staff, espresso machine-makers have been fitting automatic milk-frothers for some time. These produce frothed milk to a good standard, but it has generally been acknowledged that mechanically-prepared milk is not quite as good as the result achieved by a skilled human.
A new claim for the standard of automatically-steamed milk has now come from Rancilio, the machine brand distributed here by Drury. Its latest automatic steam wand, the Mk 2 iSteam, is now said to produce a milk good enough to pour latte art, the design to be found on the top of some speciality drinks. This is a very significant claim.
To the customer, the novelty of latte art is the visual effect, but in the coffee trade it is an indication of skill level. A latte art design can only be done with milk which has been steamed and textured perfectly, and so the design signifies that the barista has prepared the drink to a very high degree.
For Rancilio to say that its automatically-steamed milk can now be used to pour latte art is, effectively, a claim that a machine can now produce ‘perfect' cappuccino milk.
"We are using the example of latte art to show that the i-Steam now produces frothed milk of very high quality," confirms Marco Olmi of Drury. "We are not saying that automation replaces training, but we are now proving that if you are very busy at one end of the espresso machine, and you need the i-Steam to work automatically for you as ‘another pair of hands' at the other end, it will give you milk of a quality which you can then take and pour as art."
The Mk 2 iSteam is fitted as standard to the Rancilio Classe 10 machine. When fitted as an option on the Classe 8, it has a list price of £375.
The latte art in our picture was created by milk frothed automatically by the i-Steam Mk2, then poured manually by Drury's barista trainer Lynsey Harley.
By Ian Boughton