FAQ #1 - How do I make microfoam?
If this is your first espresso machine, or if you are upgrading from a single boiler machine, you may at first be overwhelmed by the steaming power of the dual boiler Vivaldi. Chances are, if you are like most people, your first attempts will probably result in a big, overheated “cottonball”. But don’t get discouraged, with a bit of practice, it IS possible to make excellent “latte art” quality microfoam in roughly 20 seconds with the stock setup.
If you will be making steamed milk for a latte (also known as a “flat white” in some parts of the world), you’ll need to start by adding 6 oz of cold 2% to 3.5% MF milk, into a 12 to 16 oz pitcher, which has been stored in the freezer. (The frozen pitcher will give you an extra couple of seconds to work with). Don't bother trying to steam milk for 2 lattes at one time. This involves a whole set of "pro" techniques, that I won't get into here.
The key to working with a powerful steam machine is to understand that less movement is best. Concentrate on simply keeping the pitcher steady, and let the wand do the work. On smaller single boiler machines, you may get away with “working the pitcher” by raising the steam tip intermittently above the milk surface to suck air down into the milk (which is generally a sign of poor technique). But if you try this with the more powerful steam from the Vivaldi, you’ll end up wearing most of the milk!
If you have “tapered pitcher” (my favourite for the Vivaldi), start by putting the steam tip in the middle if the pitcher with the tip submerged about ¼” below the surface. Turn on the steam and raise or lower the pitcher only VERY slightly to find the depth where you start to hear the “tsssss” sound from the steam as it breaks the surface. If the milk splashes at all, you have raised the wand too much, you will get large bubbles that can not be mixed in (start over, or make yourself a "dry capp ). You should hear this “tssss” noise for ONLY 6 or 7 seconds, after that you will use the remaining 15 seconds to mix in the small bubbles you have just created.
To start mixing in the bubbles, slowly sink the wand tip a ½” below the surface, and try to get the best “rolling” action you can make by "bouncing" the steam jets off the sides of the pitcher (it takes a bit of experimenting to find mixing "sweetspot" for each pitcher). Think of it like using a food mixer. You need to “fold in” and emulsify the small bubbles with the milk. The air will eventually separate and come to the top, but the better you can emulsify the air and milk into a single phase, the longer your microfoam will last in your latte. You can mix using either a “toroid” (donut) pattern where milk rolls up from the pitcher’s edge and down at the center, or using the “swirl” (whirlpool) pattern. Straight wall pitchers work best for the swirling pattern, tapered or the Espro Toroid pitcher works best for the other pattern (personally, I find the toroid pattern mixes the most effectively).
Do NOT steam for longer than 22 seconds. You should stop when you reach 155F. You’ll get to know this point by the change in sound, but for the first few times, you may want to use a thermometer. The thermometer disrupts the mixing pattern, so you want to stop using as soon as possible. You will typically stop about 3 seconds after the pitcher bottom becomes too hot to touch.
Final tip, you can save on milk by practicing using Scott Rao’s “water and one-drop of dishwashing soap” technique until you are confident enough to switch to milk.
If you are at wits end and find you need more time to steam, you may wish to get the new 4 hole “no-burn” tip on the stock wand, which despite being advertised as the same as the stock tip, is actually a little slower (the La Spaziale holes are larger than advertised). The longer and shorter wands are no different for steaming, though I usualy use the shorter stock wand since it reaches deep enough with my 12oz pitcher, and still tucks away over the drip tray. I dont recommend the "no burn" wand. It's oddly angled and requires the 4 hole tip to make work (2 hole tip is WAY too fast for singles).
For video tips on steaming, try having a look at my “making a latte” video link below, and also Scott Rao’s “soap and water latte” video link.
Making a Latte Video
Soap and Water Latte Video