How to Make Better Foam on a Home Cappuccino Machine

This is a guest post from my beloved, Brian, who has gifted me with chocolate-topped cappuccinos every morning for more than 18 years. So, yeah, he has a bit of experience with foam, a-hem.

How to Make Better Foam on a Home Cappuccino Machine - An Oregon Cottage

Nearly every morning since our daughter was born, I’ve been making cappuccinos on a little home espresso machine. Well, to be accurate, what I make is actually a macchiato. It’s an espresso drink where you pour the coffee through the foam (instead of pouring the foam onto the coffee). I’ve used a variety of cheap little home cappuccino machines made by Braun, Krups, and Mr. Coffee. They all work on a similar system. The machine heats up the water to force it through the coffee grounds and you use that same steam to foam your milk. There’s no electric pump. It all happens at once.

The resulting drink tastes just as good as a $3.75 double-shot cappuccino you’d buy at a coffee bar.

Since you can always find these machines for about $15 or less in the thrift stores, I figured there’d be a few people buying them without instructions (like us). So I made a video showing how I make our macchiatos. It’s had a surprising number of views (are there really more than 200 people who want to know how to do this?). And I’ve found that one of the questions people often ask after making their own cappuccino is, “How come I don’t get thick foam?”

The answer is usually “You don’t have enough steam pressure.” Low pressure causes the nozzle to blow bubbles in the milk but not make nice foam. However, there can also be other problems as well, like you don’t have that little snorkel attachment on your nozzle or your milk isn’t deep enough. None of them, however, are too difficult to figure out.

There are basically four major problem areas to check to get better foam on a home cappuccino machine:
  1. Your Equipment – Are any of the little holes clogged? Do you have the snorkel attachment?
  2. Your Coffee – Is it ground fine enough? Do you have it packed firmly enough? (BTW, if you need a new grinder, I highly recommend this KitchenAid Blade Coffee Grinder , which is an affiliate link)
  3. Your Milk – Is it deep enough?
  4. Your Timing – Are you waiting long enough in the process to foam your milk? Wait until at least half the coffee is in the carafe before you start frothing. The best pressure is near the end of the process.

It’s a lot easier to show than tell where to look for the problem, so we made a video called How To Make Better Foam on a Home Cappuccino Machine. Consider this “Foam School 101″  – watch it and you will become an expert in achieving rich, thick foam on your little home espresso machine.

 

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links and by clicking on them you help support AOC at no extra cost to you – thanks so much! (Oh, and you can always read our entire disclosure page here.)

Comments

  1. Jeannette says

    Hi Jami:) I purchased Real Food Recipes for Weight Loss. My husband wanted me to let you know that he gives ‘thumbs up’ to your Thai curry recipe. We had it for dinner last night and the whole family loved it! I really enjoy your blog. Your creative practicality has been so inspiring and helpful. All the best, Jeannette in Southern California.

    • says

      Wow, thanks so much for the thumbs up, Jeannette – you made my day! So happy to know you’ve found helpful things here. :)

  2. Lisa in Chicago says

    What? A $15 Thrift store machine does not come close to the steam pressure of a commercial grade espresso machine. A blade grinder does not offer the consistency required for brewing a proper espresso on an espresso machine. You don’t address how many grams of fresh coffee to use or how to measure it. Why don’t you talk about a thermometer for the average person to use to achiever the proper serving temperature? Very disappointing!

    • Brian (Jami's husband) says

      Lisa,
      You sound like my friend who works for Starbucks : ). You’re right on both those counts. But you can get the same thick foam on a home machine that you get at a commercial coffee bar by making sure it has maximum pressure. I didn’t mention milk temperature, but in our video on how to make a macchiato, we “cheat” and preheat the milk in the microwave. We end up with nice and hot milk under the froth–hotter than we’ve had at some popular espresso stands around where we live.

      • Lisa in Chicago says

        Hi Brian,

        I don’t work for Starbuck’s. I’ve been in the specialty coffee industry for years. Proper serving temperature is between 150 and 160 degrees. Anything more than that and the sugars in the milk have been burnt and you are forced to add sugar to cover up the terrible flavor. You also burn your taste buds. Microwaving products isn’t good. If you do that to coffee you will change the chemical composition of the product. Its better to throw it out and start over. Check out a website like Coffee Geek. There are plenty of people out there who are passionate about specialty coffee. Local roasters who are members of (SCAA) the Specialty Coffee Association of America many times offer barista classes to the public.

        Good luck. Many people make a living out of pursuing the best tasting coffees in the world. Visit farms and buy directly from those farmers (not through middle men) and work hard to put the best cup of coffee across the table every day. Coffee that isn’t masked by flavorings, milk and sugar that tastes naturally like plums or dried nuts and toasted cocoa nibs. Can you imagine being able to sit down and enjoy a beverage and discover nuances about that coffee that a particular farmer spends his whole life working to achieve? Our little beverages that we sometimes take for granted is someone’s life work. Imagine that?

        Have a great week!

        • Brian (Jami's husband) says

          Lisa,
          One more reply. (Thank you for your in-depth comments, BTW.) The purpose of our videos is to show people how to use their cheapo little cappuccino maker at home in the few minutes they might have before work. They will definitely want to get certified as a barista if they are going to open their own coffee bar.

          Grinders: After having gone through three burr grinders in the past 5 years, I recommend the blade grinder in the video. It’s faster, neater, and quieter. Yes, a burr grinder will give you a more evenly sized coffee particle, but when you want the beans ground as finely as possible like we do, there’s not much variation with a blade grinder. We like the KitchenAide model mentioned above because the metal basket lifts out for easy pouring and cleaning.

          Milk: We don’t microwave the coffee, just the milk to take the chill off. The foaming process brings it to the 150-160 temperature you refer to.

          Measuring Coffee: The coffee basket on the espresso machine should be full for 4 shots and half full for 2 shots. I don’t have any way of weighing something that light.

          Flavorings: Agree wholeheartedly. We like coffee that tastes like coffee. To lightly sweeten our macchiatos we use a half teaspoon of raw sugar and a drizzle of home made chocolate syrup.

          Thanks again,
          Brian

  3. Lisa in Chicago says

    Hi Brian,

    We stopped using our home espresso machine years ago and donated it to charitable organization.

    We love the Mazzer Mini for using at home but the current price at $743.00 is crazy thanks to the USD/Euro conversion so a Baratza Preciso is a better option. Again, burr grinders offer a more precise grind. The coffee bean is cut into various sizes that a blade grinder gives. When brewing a beverage you need to be precise in order to obtain an optimal product. Spend a little money on quality products and ingredients and they will serve you well for a long time. My current grinder is from Cunill (Spain). I’ve had it on the counter since 1996. The burrs were changed two times. We brush out the chamber after each use and vacuum it out as well.

    As far as measuring goes, get yourself a digital scale that can measure ounces and grams. Again, can be used for many things around the house. (I’m a knitter as well and frequently use the scale for yarn.)

    Lots of people in Chicago who really want to know about where their coffee comes from and how to make drink like their favorite baristas take classes. They have know intention of opening their own shops.

    We heat our water on the stove with the Hario V60. Weigh and grind 48 grams of coffee. Then use 45 grams in a ceramic coffee dripper. Then pour the water just off the boil into the Hario Server while on the scale measuring at 720 grams. This gives us a few outstanding cups of coffee. It we are brewing for a few people, we’ll use a Chemex Brewer or for the holidays, we’ll use the Technivorm Moccamaster. Check out SCAA.org for more information.

    I’m not trying to tell you to part with a lot of cash but sometimes you have to spend some money along the way to be able to save money in the long run. We tend to bring a little brewer and coffee with on trips so we don’t have to waste our money on bad coffee that looks like tea and taste like awful.

    Have a well-caffeinated day!

    Lisa

  4. Barbara in NYC says

    Thank you, Brian for this info! Unlike some people, (ahem previous commenter), most people don’t have the cash to plunk down $1000+ dollars on acoutrements for daily coffee making. I too try hard to source family owned, fair traded beans but I can only do as much as my budget allows. I think it’s great that you make your wife a macchiato everyday! I have the same little cappuccino maker and it’s served us well for nearly 10 years now. I think they still make them so, there must be a market for them, right?
    I will definitely be trying your tips for getting more foam! Thanks again!
    Love this blog!!

  5. Jackie in Canada says

    Thanks for doing this Brian. I am sure Jami appreciates her morning macchiato! We can rarely find the little espresso machines at our local thrift stores. When I have seen them, they usually have parts missing. I do manage to do something even without an espresso machine. I make my coffee (usually a little on the stronger side), heat my milk in the microwave in a mason jar, & use either an immersion blender, or whisk to create froth on my heated milk. I sweeten mine with a little vanilla simple syrup that I make & drizzle chocolate syrup (Jami’s recipe) on top. Works like a charm. During the holiday season when the peppermint mocha drinks are all over the place, I just add a bit of peppermint extract to my coffee. My daughter likes the caramel macchiato drinks from Starbucks & I use the same method for hers. Sometimes I sprinkle some toffee bits on top of the froth with the caramel syrup drizzle.
    Love your blog. It is full of so many helpful ideas.

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