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Microfoam - really struggling with move from Breville -> Isomac

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  • Microfoam - really struggling with move from Breville -> Isomac

    Hi all

    Haven't posted much here but I've been a lurker for a long time and have picked up lots of great info here. I'm hoping someone can give me some advice about my particular issue.

    My much loved Breville Ikon (with depressurised baskets) finally died recently so I decided to make a move upwards. After toying with getting a Silvia I ended up getting an Isomac Zaffiro, the current model. In terms of actual shots, all I can say is holy crap! This thing is amazing. Same beans, same grinder, infinitely superior results.

    However, I am from a milk-coffee drinking household1 and I am really, really having a hard time with milk. We only really drink flat whites. The good old Ikon was a pretty weak steamer but over about 60-70 seconds made absolutely perfect microfoam for two flat whites. It had a ball joint wand with two small holes on it. The Isomac comes with a monster cool touch wand with two large holes in it. I estimate it does the same amount of milk to the correct temperature in about 15 seconds.

    So far I have the following results:

    1. Trying to keep the wand just below the surface, small 'tearing' sound, for whole time = hot, thin milk with a small layer of acceptable microfoam. This is despite a very strong whirlpool (borderline too strong...) going the whole time and the volume appearing to increase an appropriate amount (around 50%).

    2. Keeping the wand a bit deeper, only a small amount of 'tearing', strong whirlpool or tumbling = almost nothing but hot milk, marginal increase in volume (say 25%)

    3. Introducing any significant amount of air earlier in the process (first 5 seconds, say) and then working it through as hard as possible by tumbling/whirlpooling without adding any more for the remainder = frothy, cappucino style foam (which I loathe). Massive increase in volume. Waste of milk.

    4. Blocking one of the holes in the wand with a toothpick (leaving one open), repeating #1 above = much closer to acceptable milk, but still not great and there seems to be a signficant quantity of just hot milk under a 'head' of pretty average quality microfoam.

    I have read a lot about technique both before and after getting the Isomac. What I used to get on the Ikon was a whole pitcher of fairly evenly dispersed microfoam, i.e., not a 'head' and 'body', but a homogenous pitcher of creamy blended milk. I have a BES840 at work which I can get perfect milk on every time, too.

    I am using cold milk straight from the fridge, I've tried a narrow 300ml and wider 500ish ml pitcher. I've tried different types of milk. I've tried using more milk than I need. I'm letting the steam build up in the boiler and properly flushing the wand before steaming. None of this has really helped much (more milk and full cream milk helps seems to result in a small improvement).

    It seems to me that the fact that blocking one of the holes improves performance indicates that the tip is not doing its job properly, or my technique is wrong for the tip. I have read that less total hole area in the tip = higher speed steam and slightly slower heating = more ability to break bigger air bubbles down into smaller air bubbles.

    However, I can't help but think that proper microfoam should be achievable on this machine, and that it's down to operator error/incompetence.

    So - any tips? Has anyone made the same sort of transition to an Isomac/Expobar with the cool touch steam wand and had to re-learn their technique?

    Has anyone tried this replacement tip2 and if so was it worthwhile?

    1. Yes I know a dual boiler/hx machine would be more efficient for milk drinks, but in terms of a balance of price, performance and not using up my entire kitchen bench the Zaffiro is perfect for me and does fine making the two coffees at a time we generally need.

    2. Non-sponsor but I don't believe this part is available from any sponsors so hopefully this is ok?

  • #2
    I think Chris at talk coffee is trying or is sourcing those tips. I used one on a machine with a cool touch wand that previously had a 2 hole tip with larger holes and it improved my milk steaming in a big way


    • #3
      Thanks - I've ordered one of the 4 smaller hole version, will report on my progress.


      • #4
        I found that an extended purge made a big difference - making sure it is dry steam coming through. It is a bit more challenging using a powerful steamer and small volume of milk and it is easy to overheat resulting in thin textureless milk.


        • #5
          Just an update, unfortunately the 4 hole tip was significantly worse. While it does seem to have higher pressure steam, it just doesn't behave itself and inevitably either produces massive amounts of foam or just very hot milk. This is after numerous tries (and many litres of milk) with different techniques, including the 90 degree tumbling technique and whirlpooling.

          I would rate the quality of textured milk as follows:

          1. Two hole cool touch tip with toothpick stuck in one hole - by far the best
          2. Two hole cool touch tip - pretty average but at least possible to get some sort of textured milk
          3. Four hole tip - hopeless

          As a reference point, my old Breville Ikon (may it rest in pieces) beats all of the above.

          Fortunately 5 Senses have been very cool about the issue, so absolutely no criticism of them. They have thrown me a male-male converter so I can try a 'traditional' Isomac two hole tip with smaller holes.


          • #6
            Buy a simple single hole.

            I've tried a few different two hole tips on my Lelit DB machine, and keep going back to the standard single hole every time.
            Steaming anywhere from 90 to 900ml is not a problem


            • #7
              I hear you caitsith01. I have also recently upgraded to Lelit PL62 from Breville Dual Boiler. Breville was so slow but getting the milk right was never in question. Lelit's steaming power is pure evil. My problem is that I only have one milk drinker in the house so I have to make smaller amounts to avoid wasting milk and make the cows happy.

              I was toying with the idea of replacing tips but then I remembered, it took me some time to learn to steam on Breville too, so I will probably find a way here. After a few days of playing, I am getting reasonable results but I did make some changes to help the process. I changed the milk to full cream, extra fat gives me a few seconds to play with (and it tastes heaps better). I am also now using a thermometre in the jug instead of touching to test the temperature. That freed up the hand and can hold the jug still and move around as necessary. When I see the thermometre hitting 120/50 I stop. I made a great flat white for the missus and still had a couple of good dollops of microfoam left so turned my double into a macchiato. Oh boy, why can't I handle more caffeine so have to wait until the morning for another one :-)


              • #8
                Have you read my technique that has helped countess amount of people
                As you read the thread you will also see some videos of the technique from impressed and satisfied users
                Here you go --


                • #9
                  I had the same dramas moving from a breville ikon, where I could reliably get good microfoam, to a VBM Jr, which is a two-hole tip at 45-ish degree angles pointing outwards.

                  I have two bits of advice I guess, one is to read kosmo's advice closely and give it a go.

                  Second is the milk is probably getting to temperature way quicker than you think, especially compared to the breville. With the breville I would stop when the jug felt 'right' but now I have to go by sound since the milk gets to temperature so quickly the jug is lagging behind.. So maybe you're over doing it without realising?

                  I wonder also if your method that produced 'cappuccino style foam' could be tweaked, try to introduce a bare minimum amount of air at first then whirlpool until it sounds like it's getting there without introducing any more air. Hrm words.

                  That was something else I learned from moving on from the breville, I used to introduce air for over 5 seconds at first but now it's literally 2 seconds max or it's too much.

                  Try kosmo's method! Works for many different setups and folks.

                  Good luck :S


                  • #10
                    Microfoam - really struggling with move from Breville -> Isomac

                    Glad I found this thread, have just upgraded from a Breville BES820XL to a Sunbeam EM7000 and experiencing EXACTLY the same thing!! The Breville produced a slow and steady amount of steam and, with a fair bit of practice, I got used to making very consistent micro foam with any volume of milk in pretty much any pitcher! Moving to a machine with a whirlwind of steam is a big adjustment. Unlike your Isomac, the Sunbeam still has a single hole tip, so I don't think that is a problem. Hoping it's just a matter of re-learning to steam!

                    P.s, there is this old commercial EXPOBAR at work. I had the same issue when I had a play with that, but that had four holes in the wand - made a fair mess with that one :-p


                    • #11
                      Very interesting. I am having a similar issue. I can make great silky milk with an EM 4800c, and my "original" EM6910.

                      But, another EM 6910 (bought for my daughter for when I visit!) I am having real trouble getting the silky milk.
                      It heats too fast, and the silky isnt silky, it is foam on top, and milk slightly stretched underneath.


                      • #12
                        ECM/Profitec produces a special series of steam tips with holes much much smaller than the regular steam tips to achieve great microfoam.
                        Yes, the dimension of the holes counts.

                        There are 1,2,3 and 4-hole versions. They are very easy to use. You can use them as long as you have a male thread on your tip or, otherwise, you will have to get an adapter.
                        I use them regularly and they made the process much easier.


                        • #13
                          I should update this thread, seeing as how I started it...

                          In the end I got another third party two-hole tip with smaller holes. This helped a bit. This is a non-cool touch setup, having disassembled the cool touch wand that came with the machine.

                          Then I hit on the fact that you need to catch the heating cycle perfectly to get good steam throughout the process.

                          Basically, on my Isomac (and probably most 'manual' single boiler machines) when you flip the steam switch the unit starts heating the water in the boiler up, and steam pressure starts building in the boiler. On my machine, the 'heating' light comes on while this is happening, and the pressure dial starts rising. When the pressure dial gets to a certain point the heating cuts out and the boiler just sort of sits there with steam in it, slowly losing pressure.

                          So, if you wait until the light goes out, you are then releasing pressurised steam from the boiler without any heating happening to keep generating more. So you get a good first part of the milk blending process, but then you lose pressure rapidly and before your milk is done you have very weak steam pressure. Eventually the heating kicks in again, but far too late to give you decent pressure.

                          However, if you learn the point right where the machine usually stops heating the steam, and start blending your milk just before the heating cuts out, then the machine will keep heating the boiler right through the blending process and you get much better pressure and, ultimately milk.

                          The pressure's even better if you let the boiler go through two heating cycles for steam before blending, i.e., heat up, cut the heating, bleed off steam until it starts heating again, then wait until the pressure is as high as it gets. But this is undesirable insofar as you have a shot of coffee sitting there going stale.

                          So the upshot of the above is that between an aftermarket, two-hole tip and 'surfing' the heating cycle of the boiler in steam mode, I am now able to get really consistent microfoam out of my Isomac.

                          However, I think these problems reflect two serious design flaws:

                          1. The basic cool touch wand and tip is utter garbage on Isomacs.

                          2. The boiler heating cycle for steam is poorly calibrated, and the machine should not simply stop heating the boiler for an extended period when you are actually heating.

                          I would also add this comment: with the greatest of respect to the experts who post about 'proper technique' here, the problem in my case absolutely was not technique, it was hardware-related. I do not do anything fundamentally different now to what I did before, but because I now have a better amount of steam being released from slightly smaller holes at a more consistent rate, I can achieve good results when before I could not. So it's all very well to advise people to get better at the human operated part of the cycle, but that only helps if they have the necessary steam to work with. I would advise people with similar machines to look into ditching the cool touch wand, after market replacement steam tips and to learning how to trick the machine into continuing to generate more pressure while you are blending.

                          Hopefully the above helps someone!


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by caitsith01 View Post
                            because I now have a better amount of steam being released from slightly smaller holes at a more consistent rate, I can achieve good results when before I could not.
                            I second that. When I was using the EM6910, it seemed that "techniques" were quite important to get good milk froth. But after I recently switched to a BZ10, it is much easier to get proper microfoam. I have a new problem with "thicker" milk and I have to re-learn the pouring technique.