A barista just asked me about the difference between steaming Mocha syrup in the pitcher with the milk or adding the steamed milk to a cup with the syrup in the cup. I've always added syrup to the drink and added steamed milk to it.

Will it make a flavor difference adding mocha to the milk and steaming both together?

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The problem I have heard about and have found is that the steaming wands can suction up what ever you are steaming back into the pressure tank. As a person who has trained many a beginners, I have also found that they forget to clear the steam wands before and after steaming. I could imagine that if people were to add the syrup to what ever they were steaming that they could potentially suck up the sugars, chocolate, syrups and anything else up into the tank if not careful... At one of my old shops we used to add just certain things like caramel to apple juice when steaming.... but we decided to just steam chocolate milk instead of regular milk at my current shop for mochas and all other syrups are just added to the cup before pouring the milks...
While it is certainly true that as steam in the WAND will contract after steaming, I don't believe there is any way the contaminants can actually make it into the steam BOILER. Milk will get sucked into the wand along with whatever is suspended or dissolved in it. I was just last week in a shop where the cleaning habits of the owners are in the 99th percentile of any coffee shops I have ever seen. Purging the steam wand is never skipped. They were in the habit of pumping chocolate syrup in the pitcher. Even with good purging, I found a significant coating of chocolate in the pipe and tip. This will reduce the effectiveness of the steam wand (I have seen a steam wand clogged to the point of zero steam when the valve was opened). This is easy to clean out, but also easy to avoid.

I use the heat of the espresso to melt down the chocolate sauce in the cup before adding the steamed milk. I can't honestly say there is a difference in flavor, but this way you have white milk with which to pour into deeply rich chocolate and coffee. It can make for a really great presentation.

So the answer isn't about what's right for the drink so much as it is about whats right for the maintenance and function of the equipment. Always put syrups in the cup.
Thanks for the suggestions!
I have messed around with the chocolate sauces and have and found that mixing the chocolate and espresso tastes better than adding the sauce to the milk pitcher and steaming it into chocolate milk. Some of the things that might make it taste different is the amount of milk being poured in the pitcher with chocolate. Just a couple of ounces off will make a difference. So I normally fuse the flavors together then pour the milk on top. I guess it's kind of like why we don't froth milk with the espresso already in it.
i would never never let my steam wand touch chocolate. eeeeekkk
from my understanding, it's a pretty good way to ruin your steam wand.
As I understand it, with proper barista technique there is no risk to the equipment with either approach. Cut off the steam and remove the wand from the pitcher as soon as the steam stops. Always. Contraction of the steam takes a few seconds to start, so if you are quick no milk will go into the steam wand (test this with plain water if you don't believe me...). Forget chocolate for a second - do you even want plain milk up in your wand?

We steam chocolate with the milk. I find we get a much better texture and more rounded flavor. It is a bit of a pain though, much easier to just pull the shots onto the sauce.

Taste it both ways, it is an easy experiment.
Brady is right, there's no risk of damaging your equipment. There's a one way valve to prevent that on every modern machine I can think of.

We steam Monin syrups and Ghiradelli chocolates with milk for steamers for kids and Starbucks aficionados. For our flavored lattes and mocha's we add to the cup then pull espresso on top and steam plain milk. I think steaming with the sauce in the milk results in a sweeter drink, but I don't think you can get the quality of texture with a sauce in.

Brady said:
As I understand it, with proper barista technique there is no risk to the equipment with either approach. Cut off the steam and remove the wand from the pitcher as soon as the steam stops. Always. Contraction of the steam takes a few seconds to start, so if you are quick no milk will go into the steam wand (test this with plain water if you don't believe me...). Forget chocolate for a second - do you even want plain milk up in your wand?

We steam chocolate with the milk. I find we get a much better texture and more rounded flavor. It is a bit of a pain though, much easier to just pull the shots onto the sauce.

Taste it both ways, it is an easy experiment.
If for some reason the pressure on your machine drops below its ideal level and you are steaming milk regardless of what else you have in the milk it can get into the boiler .....and your boiler is done with.......it's not a fun experience, I'm just saying.
So just to clear up the urban legend of the Barista who sucked milk into the boiler, which then had to be entirely replaced at great expense, let's cover exactly what needs to happen to set up the perfect storm.

1-The pressure does need to fall way "below its ideal level". In fact, it needs to fall below the 0 on the pressure gage. This happens one of two way: a) the machine has been turned off, or b) the heating element is no longer functioning.

2-The vacuum breaker valve has to stick shut. The purpose of this device is to allow air back into the boiler in the event that one of the two conditions above have been met.

3-The steaming valve has to be open at the moment, or soon after, the pressure falls below 0. A continued suction inside the boiler could still pull the vacuum breaker open at any moment.

4-The wand must be submerged in a pitcher of milk at this critical time.


It is true that all the planets can align and this can happen. It is true that this has happened. It is true that the boiler then needs to be replaced. However, this is not ever something that happens under normal operating conditions, at not caused completely by slack technique. How would these things ever happen at same time, you may ask yourself?

1-A very old espresso machine, which has never been turned off, and which has been using hard water for many years, has a vacuum breaker that use to hiss a little bit years ago. Calcium and lime deposits, which had been slowly escaping from the breaker, built up a chunk of scale which now prevents the breaker mechanism from opening.

2-Old age has also caused an electrical malfunction, and at 3:27 in the afternoon the heating element stopped receiving eclectic current, so the boiler is cooling off. It is not a busy time of day, so no one has noticed anything unusual. The steam has cooled off so much now that steam in the boiler has contracted to the point that it is no longer pushing out, but sucking in. A vacuum has been created inside the boiler.

3-Someone orders a Latte, and the Barista gets the milk pitcher ready to steam, submerging the tip below the surface of the milk. This is where poor technique has come into play. The Barista should have purged condensed water out of the wand before steaming, and would have noticed that no steam came out. But instead, the moment the steam valve was opened, the barrier between the inside of the boiler (now with negative pressure) and the outside world has suddenly been broken. A rather large amount of milk from the pitcher is drawn very rapidly up the wand, through the valve, and ultimately, into the boiler. It will curdle. It will curdle badly. Even once you fix the electrical and get the thing working again, you can never get rid of the stench of foul milk out of the boiler.

So yes, it can happen. The moral of the story is- Always purge before steaming. No exceptions.

Small amounts of milk will always get in the wand, even with good technique. Milk by itself is easy enough to clean out with regular maintenance. Chocolate milk, or syrup, will coat with inside of the wand with a thicker layer of sticky crud than just plain milk. So I maintain that syrup in the cup is always the best technique for mixing flavors into the drink.

And that my friends, is the end of Barista Bedtime Stories for tonight.
Thanks for the clarity and bedtime story. Now I can rest peacefully! I'm helping them develop good habits and that is the message I'm picking up here.
Excellent. Thanks Phil.

On the subject of cleaning the steam wand... aside from removing the tips, do you just give them a good soak with solution and then use the steam to blow it out a couple of times? Or do you use one of those skinny little brushes?

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