Intelligentsia Venice Milk Steaming Workshop Review
I’ve spent many hours reading how-to posts on blogs, forums, and watched countless YouTube videos on how to steam milk, but have always known something missing from my technique both visually and in taste compared to cups I have been served by pro baristas. Recently I had some free time so I took the opportunity to sign up for the milk steaming workshop offered at Intellgentsia Venice. IntelliVenice offers various workshops on a weekly basis with limited class sizes for only $10-$40 each. In my milk steaming workshop our instructor Elaine, spent some time going over the basics of milk chemistry, proper temps for various drinks, stages of steaming, pouring fundamentals like grip and posture, and then quickly transitioned us straight into hands-on milk steaming with a La Marzocco GS3 they had setup for our use on their slow bar. Getting a chance to play with a $6500 espresso machine was pretty exciting in itself, but I was particularly interested in this machine, since at home I use a Crossland CC1 which is produced by Bill Crossland, the engineer behind the GS3. After Elaine demonstrated how to operate the GS3, we each took turns practicing milk steaming while she gave us pointers on our technique. We were making cappacinnos so we used their preferred small Rattleware 12 ounce milk frothing pitchers and steamed the same Straus Organic Barista Milk they serve, which is homogenized to miminize fat separation for more consistent blending results.
Here’s a better description I found online of the special milk Intelligentsia uses: “We worked with many top Baristas and local coffee shops owners to create this product. The milk is homogenized so it is easier to work with than our regular cream top milk, which can be difficult to steam sometimes and since it is cream top, the fat content will vary from cup to cup. So, that is why we formulated the Barista Milk. It’s lightly homogenized to highlight the coffee flavor and maintain tight, uniform bubbles while adding a smooth creamy texture.” - Liz Scatena from Straus Family Creamery.
First off the GS3 is an awesome machine, and I was little overwhelmed by the steaming power compared to my home machine. During my first turn I must have finished aerating and coming up to temp in what felt like only 4-5 seconds! Everything happens so fast you really need to keep an eye on the milk so as not to over steam, but at the same time there is no need to be super accurate with steam wand angles like I am so used to doing since the dedicated boiler pumps out so much steam through the 4 hole tip that it can create the necessary rolling of the milk pretty much positioned anywhere in the pitcher. After practicing a couple of times, Elaine then began to teach us how to pour latte art which has always been out of my reach, due now I realize largely in part to my poor steaming technique. With glassy, micro-foamed steamed milk ready to pour, Elaine was able help me break down the basics on how to pour latte art into easy to understand steps. 1) Hand-cup position 90 degrees. 2) Pour high to break through crema. 3) Halfway full increase pour. 4) Lift and finish. I know words here are not enough to explain the process, which is why it was invaluable for me having a pro barista point out exactly what I was doing wrong. Now I just need to practice, practice, practice. Talk about being under pressure, I was so impressed watching the baristas at Intelligentsia pouring latte art so fast and effortlessly with a line 20 customers deep!
Here’s my first pour at home after taking the class…not bad progress from only a two hour workshop, considering my usual pour used to consist of a big round glob of foam, you can now kind of see an actual heart shape (?), but more importantly the taste of the sweet properly micro-foamed milk is the best! Much thanks to my instructor Elaine and the whole IntelliVenice crew for a great time! RB.