As a barista, this is possibly the most intensely soul-crushing request known to the barista race. Worse than the scene in Star Wars where Darth Vader tells Luke Skywalker that he’s really his father—please, throw as much shade as you want, I’m not really a Star Wars fan.
With that being said (I know, your hopes and dreams have been crushed) the reason why this request sends chills down our spines, is because in order to do so, the barista would either have to miraculously tamper with the temperature at which the espresso shot extracts, or they would have to burn the milk to a higher temperature than when your friends tell you to drop it like it’s hot—something us white Afrikaans folk aren’t too well acquainted with, unless it’s sokkie—at which I’m still hopeless.
What does burning the milk do?
Firstly, burning the milk makes it a lot thinner, ultimately making the overall coffee far less enjoyable. The reason for this is because there is little volume to it (you may as well order an espresso shot or an Americano if you’re in the mood for crushing a barista’s soul). A cappuccino or latte prides itself on the texture and consistency of the milk. Well steamed milk complements the drink; it’s the Robin to its Batman, the Jenny Curran to its Forest Gump. Can you imagine one without the other? If you can, you should question your sanity – just kidding.
All jokes aside, any espresso drink including milk depends on sweetness derived from purely steamed milk which complements the espresso shot – yes, it’s complicated. Burning the milk steals all those lovely nutrients and turns them into virtually nothing; it robs the drink of its sweetness. The sweetness we refer to is the result of a chemical process that is initiated when milk is heated up: the proteins and relevant sub-particles engage in a process that combines the particles together, resulting in the consistent sweetness experienced when milk is steamed perfectly.
Secondly, burning the milk kills the espresso shot. By doing this, you rob yourself of the opportunity to taste the pureness of the bean, from the fruity flavours derived from African beans, to the chocolatey body produced by Central American countries. If you’re extremely confused at this point, it’s more than likely due to the fact that you have not yet tasted a coffee that fulfils these intense requirements. Aside from the actual espresso shot and the taste, burning the milk will sometimes require the barista to burst your eardrums – that screeching noise you sometimes hear is the criminal behind the crime, depending on how hot you request your drink to be.
Have you ever wondered why some drinks have gone down a lot quicker than you’ve expected, or by the end of your cup, there seems to be nothing really remaining, nothing clinging to the edges of the cup? That is because the milk either has very little body (not enough foam/froth) or it’s because the milk is burnt, basically making it easier to finish the drink – to put this into perspective, imagine drinking water and fruit juice. The core ingredient being water, is complemented by fruits to make it fruit juice and although water by itself is good, it’s a lot easier to drink by itself – now compare it to an espresso shot and well steamed milk that complements an espresso shot – the espresso shot is far easier to consume by itself, whereas with steamed milk it should take longer as there is more body to consume.
Have you ever ordered a burger, or food along those lines, and told yourself that you need to eat it slowly to savour the taste? The same applies to coffee. If everything is done perfectly, it’s a lot harder to just sip it down so quickly; you develop an appreciation for each sip. Although it’s also true that as you develop a palate for it, you tend to drink it a lot quicker cos you can; the milk is steamed well, and it just fills your tummy with a warm fuzzy feeling that sends you to your happy place for a brief ten seconds.
So, next time you’re in a rush, don’t take it out on the coffee; those beans have feeling too. Be nice, take a seat and enjoy the beauty in a coffee that is at perfect drinking temperature.