First a little background. I have been serving coffee for about 5 years now starting with sbux and quickly moving into indie/next wave shops.
I feel my espresso pulling skills and palette are very sharp. My problem is I am never happy with my milk steaming skills. I can pour very consistent 5.5oz caps steamed in 12oz pitchers but the hold time on my microfoam Is too short. What I mean by that is that the cap separates and bubbles within a minute or so.
So my main question is , what advanced techniques can I apply to tighten up my milk in my caps. I do not usually have this issue with larger pitchers and larger amounts of milk.
The pic attached is not a cap but similar size and illustrates the issue I am having.
Latte art can degrade quickly depending on the milk you use. I would suggest trying different brands of milk. You can even find some specially formulated "Barista Milk" (There are a few brands that do this in Australia). Try fresher, higher fat content, more calcium, etc.
Alternatively, if it's the pitcher size that seems to be the problem, try adjusting the steam pressure on the machine. The pressure might work great with larger size pitchers, but might be too high or too low for the smaller pitcher to achieve the same result.
All aspects of coffee have many different variables, even steaming. Sometimes it's not your technique that's off. Just like you can adjust the grind or use fresher or different coffee to get a better result with espresso, you can adjust the steam pressure or use better milk to get a better result with the milk.
Even if the milk you're using isn't the issue, I would recommend trying some alternatives - If you can find a better milk then your drinks will be better overall. This is even more important if you are working in a place where most of your drinks have milk in them.
this actually is about your timing.
First time how long it takes you to add all the air you typically add. Then Time how long it takes to fully steam the milk from beginning to end. The amount of time you spend stretching should generally be one quarter of the total steaming time. ie:pretty short and all in the very beginning of the process.
When you do it this way you give the air bubbles you have added in the beginning the opportunity to become smaller and tighter as they will be forced by the circular motion of the milk against the pitchers side.
So, add your air in the beginning for 1/4 the total steam time and your resulting foam should be more stable as it will have tighter bubbles that hold more liquid in suspension.
Great tips so far, I'll only add what I haven't seen addressed yet... use a pitcher that is as cold and heavy as you can, and take a few seconds to refine after you've finished steaming.
Chilling that pitcher down with ice (or keep them in the fridge) can buy you another second of refining time. Also, if you can, grab one of those thicker-walled pitchers (Motta, etc) for the tiny drinks that'll help even more. Though the thermal mass of the pitcher is not significant for bigger drinks, it can be a big factor for smaller quantities of milk.
Another thing that is helpful for texture is resting briefly, swirling, and thumping the pitcher. This can take care of the larger bubbles and smooth out the imperfections. Can't take too long on this step, but a couple of seconds are often beneficial.
Achieving perfect texture in small batches of milk can be tough. Good luck!
If I understood Andrew correctly, the problem isn't steaming the milk to the right texture but instead it is the foam separating too early.
I'm afraid foam separating to layers of foam and liquid thus creating nasty bubbles is not a question of technique but raw materials.
Stability of the foamed milk is greatly affected by the amount of proteins in milk. The two protein groups found in milk are Casein and Whey proteins (including lactoglobulins type A and B). The amount of casein is vital for the stability of foam and there's a correlation between the amount of casein and the time it takes for the foam to settle.
There's variation on the amount of proteins depending on the species of the cattle (jersey cows are rich in protein) and season (food affects both the taste and the proteins). It's also worth noting that colostrum milk has plenty of more proteins.
So: Just try different brands of milks, some of them work, some don't.