Question RE: Frothing Milk

Q: Is there anyone here who knows anything about frothing milk for Cappuccino? I purchased a 'Solis Cappuccino Maker', and the Espresso it produces is excellent. However, I can't obtain what I think is a properly frothed milk. At Starbucks and other coffee shops, the milk is so solidly frothed that it seems positively rigid in the cup. But with the Solis I have been able to obtain only a very soft froth that mostly disappears when I pour the milk into the espresso. The milk is foamy but not really frothed. Any tips? Ideas? Info? Is the rigid froth at Starbucks a result of additives? Of a higher or lower fat content milk?

A: I've never seen an adequate explanation for this "milk fat thing" either. Even professional baristas disagree on which type of milk froths better or easier and we don't really agree on what those terms mean. I imagine that commercial operations also have different requirements for hot milk preparation and storage and so their definitions might differ from those of the home Espresso enthusiast. What I've gleaned from personal experience is that lower fat milks hold their foam longer. Higher fat content milk tends to droop sooner but, of course, the mouthfeel and taste components are superior in whole milk (Or even cream. Remember when you could eat cream? Anyone ever tried to froth cream?) Home machines generate "wet steam" that contains a high percentage of hot liquid water in proportion to the water vapor. All that hot water can dilute the milk and raise its temperature before a good head can be obtained. Commercial machines put out a huge volume of "dry steam" that is capable of rapidly making a stiff, dry emulsion of the milk. I tend to agree with Corby Kummer on the issue of foamed milk. Personally, I prefer a softer, gooey foam. I find it tastes better than the dry kapok we Americans seem to think is the sign of good Cappuccino craftsmanship. I think you may be onto something here. Now that I've been using the machine for a while, I've found that if I expel all the "wet" steam and allow the steaming mechanism to heat even beyond the time the light indicates the steamer is ready, the steam becomes "dryer" and a finer vapor develops. It does not dilute the milk, and the milk froths with greater volume and more quickly, producing a much more satisfactory result. Admittedly I don't know what the gold standard is in frothing milk, I only assume that Starbucks and other such specialty shops do know, and their milk usually develops a relatively high-volume, stiff froth. I have become happier now with what I can get from the Solis machine. Guess it just took a while for me to learn some of the nuances.