I'm really surprised this hasn't come up more often here. I anticipate that several of you will say it's unnecessary to use a thermometer, and instead, we should develop the touch and the ear to know when the milk hits it's sweet spot. But, in our shop with 12 different baristas I think it's important to maintain consistancy.

I'd like to know who as a favorite brand or a design that they particularly like. I'd really like to find one with minimal lag and a small dial.

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Ignore those little dial thermometers - they're far too slow. Get yourself an electronic multimeter or something similar with a good long probe and some kind of simple clip to attach it to the jugs. They produce far quicker readings, and you can position the unit somewhere where you can clearly see the display pretty much anywhere making it a great aid for multitaskers.
While I don't personally need to use a thermometer anymore I like this Taylor for training.

And for spot checking myself. Couple days ago a lady asked for her latte at 140f. I told her my norm is 145f, and I'd go a bit cooler. Went by touch, then checked it with the Taylor. 139f. So oh darn, 1f off:-)
That's excellent, Mike!

However, with twelve different people driving the machine, I agree that a thermometer is the way to go. But hey, if some don't need it, fine. Just be sure that they really don't need it. I've met more than a few who would claim to have Mike's skills, but don't come even close.

Myself, I've done lab work all my life and feel pretty comfortable with some sort of thermometer for pretty much everything I do. In the lab I liked mercury thermometers which were good to a 5th of a degree.

For milk steaming, I like the simple 5 inch Easy Steam by Rattleware. Not high tech, and probably not as accurate as Mike, but pretty good. The first thing I did was throw away the clip. I hate them. Yes, it has lag time but the lag time is known and consistant. I have a few and check them in ice water and boiling water every week.

What I like about a conventional thermometer is the big dial. I have vision problems and a digital wouldn't do me much good. The moving dial I can easily see and keep in mind as I move my hand up to the valve. My temps are pretty consistant, I think.
We have over 40 baristas working in our four cafes and I've trained them all to not use thermometers, and we don't have any problems with consistancy. I have seen so many cafes that use thermometers and they have major consistancy problems. Just my two cents.
I don't have a favorite thermometer yet, but I think it's great that you are using them in your shop. I have worked in shops that use them and shops that don't, and there were inconsistencies with both methods. The shops who did use thermometers didn't calibrate them very often and the drinks still ended up at different temperatures. My husband and I are opening a shop early next year and I hope to make thermometer calibration a daily activity, if not twice a day. I really believe the consistency in our beverages will be one thing our customers will come to count on, especially since it varies so much with the other coffee shops in our area.

I'm really interested to see what suggestions people come up with. Does anyone have objections to digital thermometers?
You will hear it echoed, you knew it would happen, but I train all my baristas to not use thermometers. I know that that doesn't sound possible with 12 baristas, but honestly, once it's taught, it can be achieved by all more effectively and easily than trying to make sure your thermometers don't come missing, are calibrated, batteries work, yada yada yada.
Again, I do understand your concern, but it really is easy to learn and teach, and is very effective. I learned after years and years and have never looked back. Even my wife, who isn't in coffee at all, can do it now.
Like your shop we have 14 baristas and all of us have been taught by touch... I used to use a thermometer at the first shop I worked at and depending on where in the pitcher the thermometer was there would be more or less of a lag on it... digital would definitely be better than the little dial ones... we have no consistency issues so its possible even with a lot of baristas, just takes a little learning time... I will also say, I think it is much more productive to learn touch, faster in high volume times and makes the drink more of an art as well...
If you're going to use a thermometer. I would go with the digital taylor. It's very accurate. However, I find that sometimes training baristas to rely on a thermometer allows them the option of being lazy and only trusting what the thermometer reads and they don't use their senses.
You're right Jason, I expected to hear from people who don't need to use them and don't recommend them. That's cool, I respect that level of expertise, but I feel like we need to keep using them here. They give me some level of comfort that I otherwise wouldn't have. Some of my baristi would do fine without, but I'd worry about some.

Yes, there's lag time, but that's a consistantly predictable amount, varying only with the volume of milk. And, they really don't get out of calibration all that much. I check mine at least once a week and they rarely need more than a degree or two of adjustment. I was mainly interested to see if anyone had tested several brands against each other and found a favorite. I've used four or five different brands over the past several years and they all seem pretty much the same. The Taylor digital looks interesting but I wonder if it would be hard to read. My 50 year old eyes won't focus up close like they used to, and those buttons on the face look like a potential germ harbor. I haven't tried the Rattleware yet, maybe I'll give them a try.

Thanks everyone for your input.

Jason Dominy said:
You will hear it echoed, you knew it would happen, but I train all my baristas to not use thermometers.
I vote for the Taylor digital. Have used the slower dial thermometers in the past, but the digital is pretty much instant, doesn't require calibration (not very often anyway), etc. BUT don't let them get wet too often.

I know some people like to go by the sound or feel of the pitcher, but in our area the Environmental Health people require the milk to hit 140 degrees min. and to me it just makes sense to use thermometers for that purpose as well as for consistency and to let the customer have the satisfaction of knowing it's being used. I also have made it a habit of smelling the milk for freshness each time I open the container just to let the customer see that as well and several have positively commented on me doing so. Later!
I am a newbie to espresso making so a thermometer is pretty important to me at this point in time. However I am beginning to recognize some of the changes that occur as the temperature rises, such as; the condensation on the outside of the pitcher, the temperature of the pitcher and the sound from the steaming. I have read Scott Rao's book several times and he feels strongly about using a thermometer and altered a pitcher by bending the the top of a pitcher at the handle and create a hole to insert a thermometer. I duplicated this and use it regularly. It eliminates those clips that always seem to get in the way.

At this time I don't know if I will continue to use a thermometer or not. Most likely as I become consistently familiar with the temperature I will not.

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