I’m calling on the Vocabulary Angels to help me out here. Describing something this rare isn’t easy. But it’s worth a shot because I’m talking about one of my great pleasures in life, and I really believe if more people knew about it, there would be more of it in the world.
Foam. Thick, glassy, tight microfoam, silky whole cow’s milk foam, the kind you find in an epic cappuccino or a deep wet foam latte.
Not the airy foam you can spoon out of the milk pitcher, that sits stiff and puffed-up, holding its form as the barista reaches the spoon back into the pitcher to pile more on top.
Not the foam that says, “Our cafe is too cool for foam, so there’s your millimeter of foam that’s gone in two sips,” or, “Latte art is more important to us since it’s the trend. Sorry, no deep thick foam for you!”
Think totally different. Possibly even something you’ve never had before, because of all the times I’ve asked for it this way, I mean really tried to describe what I’m wanting to the barista… it’s still only like 3% of those times that it’s actually been delivered.
I’m talking about foam that makes your whole mouth collapse into a silky cave of bliss.
Foam that sits at least one inch deep in the mug, and with the best baristas, almost three.
Foam that seduces your lips to sip it right away, so you miss as little as possible of it, as it dissolves from the bottom, into milk, and you’re left with one last mouthful of puffball silk to swallow at the end of the mug.
Foam that’s an explosion of creamy hum.
Foam that caresses your mouth in a puddle of succulent pleasure.
Blissed out lips, straight to the tongue, ecstasy in a mug. Getting a feel for it now? Or perhaps you're thinking, Old news... because you live in a part of the world where this foam is the norm, and I need to visit more often. (Do tell.)
Thing is, in a Northern Sacramento Valley, California college town called Chico, I’ve been able to get foam like this for years. Not every time, but usually. I don’t know where it all started, and I’ll skip the history I do know to just say that as of today there are still at least three people in town there who can bust the deep-wet-foam moves like no other.
My foam maestros, who often light up at the chance to make an oceanic mug full o’foam, are Sara Baxmeyer and Josh Gladfelder at The Naked Lounge, Garret Goodwin at both B Street Public House or Great Northern Coffee Company in the old train car on 5th & Cherry, and Kyle, who might be taking a break from the coffee world for a while but once worked at both the Naked Lounge and Great Northern.
As soon as I walk in, I see their eyes catch blaze and their sleeves roll up, ready to show me what they’ve got. Sure maybe they like me, but it’s not about me. These people take pride in their art. They’ve got latte art tricks up the wazoo, but they know making foam like this is few and far between. And they love the challenge, not to mention my moans of appreciation.
On and off, I surrender my shameless sermon for this kind of foam. I am not that annoying customer who acts all entitled to their quadruple shot, half caff, 145 degree latte with milk from pink cows.
Then I drink some again.
Is it the espresso machine? How good or clean it is? The quality or temperature of the milk? Barista skill level? The size of the pitcher used to steam and make foam?
Depends on who you ask.
And my main desire here is to: 1) Celebrate something that brings me great joy, pleasure and delight, and 2) Support a few open-minded baristas who’ve expressed genuine desire to learn how to make foam like this.
So, I filmed all the maestros: Sara, Josh, Garret and Kyle.
Ladies first. Here’s Sara, who emphasizes a clean, large pitcher, very cold milk, very brief steaming followed by removing all the bubbles, and how she works the pitcher at the end.
Next up is Josh, who’s been a master with foam for as long as I can remember. Ten years? 15? It doesn’t matter to him whether the pitcher or the milk is super cold, but the finished temperature of the milk definitely matters. He also uses a bigger pitcher “to contain all the foam” (oh gawd that part got me excited). Undoubtedly, Josh has made me 100s of the best Apple Style espresso drinks I’ve ever had.
The gifted Garret didn’t say much about how he does it, but he did bust a norm by using a small pitcher and still delivering stellar foam.
Woe, I can’t find my Kyle video right now. But those three alone are gold.
It feels good to give voice to something we love, however rare it is in the world. Maybe there’s someone else out there who devours the decadence of foam like this as I do? Or someone who knows of another town with at least a few cafes known for competence in great foam? Or someone with a Magic Wand to mobilize a movement for deep wet foam lattes, a revolution in Apple Style mania.
Please introduce yourself.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, a mother, freelance consultant and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.