The Unforgivable.

Author: george Posted: June 1, 2009

Okay, here’s the deal.

I can forgive a bad shot of espresso.

There are times when a barista can pull a shot, have it pour just like the last one they pulled (which they personally tasted and found to be excellent), have it show all the visual signs of a great mother flecking shot, and yet it will somehow taste about as good as wet cement.

Like I said though, I can forgive that.

Steaming your milk too hot, however, and then serving it to me?  Head on over to the confession booth, because that is not in my power to forgive.

If we, as baristas, are serving in the front line of infantry in the war against bad coffee, then steaming milk too hot is a war crime.

What is too hot, you ask?  Let’s take a look together.

Note:  The following applies to all drinks 6 ounces or smaller.

Casually speaking: If you can’t take a sip/hold the cup the instant you’ve picked up your drink, then it’s too hot.  Probably obvious to most people, but you’d be surprised.  Even at some of the city’s most elite, award winning cafes, I will somehow manage to pick up a macchiato or capp that cluster bombs my taste buds, leaving them unusable for the rest of the day.

Technically speaking: 130ish is great.  Anything over 140 degrees is unacceptable.  This is a 6oz drink that is meant to last a few minutes, not the rest of the week.  After this point in temperature the protein compounds in the milk begin to break down and events start taking place that are reserved for mention only in the book of Revelations.

I won’t even bother to go into any more explanation on here, as Aaron DeLazzer already has said everything you need to know in an article on coffeegeek.  Definitely click here if you haven’t read it.  May I also add that he wrote it in 2003, giving everyone more than enough time to put the words into practice.

Personally speaking: I’ve been known to go as low as 120.  I know that’s probably a little extreme though.  Feel free to slander my name through the streets and alleyways of Vancouver and the blogosphere if you feel the need to.

So what’s the point?

That steaming milk should be routine and consistent.  And seeing as there isn’t a single uncontrollable variable involved, there really is no excuse for it not to be.  Except of course, if you never knew before.

But now you do – so no excuses.

Note: Sometimes it’s hard to capture a tone in a blog, so take note that I’m not jumping around screaming this into a mic on a podium in front of a nation, but rather using my after dinner conversation voice.
Please don’t make me be one of those people who has to mod their drink at the cash, that’s so uncool.  It’s almost comical sometimes at how much care a barista will put into the espresso shot, but then make it completely irrelevant by ruining their milk.

Thoughts?  Am I a minority here?

15 Responses to “The Unforgivable.

  1. MAS says:


    Back when I lived in San Diego and actually bought lattes, I ordered one from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. I asked that they not make it so hot. They told me they have to make it 160 degrees – for safety. The barista said something about the magic 160 mark makes the drink safe for consumption. Then I pointed out that they serve that same milk as iced drink and it failed to register.

    I don’t miss San Diego coffee.

  2. Spencer says:

    But what if I want a drink that I can sip on for a couple of hours? It will get, like, cold if you steam it to 130. I guess you can just double cup it too keep it warm, right?

  3. Spencer says:


  4. Jimmy says:

    Are ya talking temperature in the demi, or termination temperature? Cos if it’s one or the other, it’s a total game changer.

  5. ya.wei says:

    Majority drink 12 oz and beyond; minority drink 6 oz and under.
    My observation of the majority’s drinking habit:
    I think most people like to sip on their super sized drink for hours but they specifically like that last little bit of 6 oz remaining to be around 130 so I get many “extra hot” mod. It really bothers me sometimes because I know the texture of the milk is not gonna be great and it totally kills the sweetness. Sometimes I would ignore the mods to see maybe they can appreciate a better textured and sweeter drink. “can you just stick this in the microwave for me (it’s just not very hot) then double cup it? btw, where are the straws?” is what I sometimes get in response to my effort.
    As for the minority: WE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER!!!!!!

  6. Julian says:

    130, huh? At my coffee shop, we steam our drinks to 150, BUT we have “Starbucks” sizes. Like what ya.wei said, there is the occasional customer that says (imagine le snooty voice): “This drink is warm! Can you make it hotter?” Sure, I’ll NUKE the bloody thing until it catches fire; that hot enough for ya?!

    On a side note that ya.wei brought up, wtf is with this new ridiculous trend of drinking coffee through a straw? Have adults regressed back to their infant years where they require a sippy cup? I’m going to put myself in their shoes and think that the drink is too hot to sip, so a straw will make it easier. SOLUTION: Don’t ask for it extra hot (esp. in 31 Celsius weather)!

    BUT one thing that peeves me off even more than “extra hot” are the NO FOAMS. I’ll leave that for another blog rant.

    But I digress: I’ll try steaming some 6oz drinks for myself @ 130 and try ‘em out.

  7. Kyle Wheeler says:

    Preach it! I want to be able to actually drink my coffee when I recieve it.

  8. John says:

    This post applies to all drinks 6 ounces or smaller. See the note near the beginning of the post. At Crema, our 12oz. drinks are done at 150 as well.

    A few reasons why some customer prefer their coffee with straws:

    1. They don’t want to stain their teeth. This is more prevalent with brewed coffee.

    2. Customers on the go –especially commuters, find it easier to drink in their car or while walking, using a straw. It helps prevent spills too.

    3. It looks more posh when your wearing lipstick.

  9. Julian says:

    Interesting… I’ll keep those tips in mind, John. I wouldn’t have thought of #3, but the first two make sense, I suppose. Though, I still think they look a bit odd.

  10. Julian says:

    Also, question w.r.t. caffe mochas: would it really matter how hot the milk is steamed to, since the taste of both the milk and espresso are “masked” by the chocolate flavour? At D’s, I have one regular that gets a 20 oz”near-boiling” hot mocha so he can bring it home for his wife. So… is there a limit to how hot a “large” drink (over 6 oz) can be steamed to?

  11. Jimmy says:

    A few cents to add:

    A good house rule for extra hot is if you want it extra hot, that it needs to be in a thermal mug. for one reason, if you want your drink at 165 or higher, there’s a good chance the to-go cup is going malform from heat, leading to a lid popping off. it happens. the other reason is, if you want it extra hot to take to your wife… love her a little more and bring a friggen vacuum thermos. a considerate barista will preheat the cup.

    A lot of the time, instead of saying no and creating disconnect, we like to look at as an educational opportunity or try to solve the customer’s problem in a more elegant way.

    Lastly, a little heat (never over 150-ish) IMHO is a good thing – when your capp is too easy to drink, and goes down like chocolate milk.

  12. John Giannakos says:

    Julian, there’s no golden rule for what a 12oz+ drink (or any drink for that matter) should be steamed to. I can only speak for myself and our cafe when I say, we always try to serve it at 150, by default. If a customer orders extra hot, we make it 10 degrees hotter. If a customer wants it at 180, we bite our lips and make it 180.

    The Mocha. Let me give you the easy answer: it always matters. If you can’t already smell the difference in milk steamed just off boil, you’ll without a doubt taste it. If your dosage of chocolate can hide that taste, you’ve got a different problem ;)

    Regarding the house rule “Manditory Thermal Mug”… All I can say is, you better have a stockpile of vaccuum thermos to give away for free with every coffee. Because that’s the only way I can see that working. . I’m a pretty passionate guy when it comes to educational oppurtunities with customers, but I pick and choose my fights, and this isn’t one of them.


  13. Tyler says:

    There is a fine line between arrogance and educational opportunity. I have never been asked to serve a 6 oz drink to a person who would complain about it not being hot enough. It kind of goes with the turf, if one is ordering a 6oz drink they generally know the appropriate temperature. So if someone said “hey whats this trad mach thing” and tries it, well it doesn’t make to much sense to come down on them when they mention its not very hot. Now here is the perfect time for an educational opportunity.

    But, the original post seems more directed to those preparing the drink than those ordering it. So….rant received and concurred.

  14. Grady says:

    Love it George. And I especially love that after-dinner voice of yours…

  15. Ben E. says:

    I rarely build a drink for myself that’s larger than 8 oz. Scratch that. I never drink lattes, I would never make them for myself. I also always steam to 150. I pour it, I enjoy it. Maybe I dilly-dally too much and the drink cools before I get to it. I want that drink as hot as it can possibly be without effecting flavor by the time I get it, and that usually means 150 in the pitcher.

    Yeh, I need to start temping my final drinks just to see how much heat I’m loosing because I totally don’t get what you’re saying here.

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