Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Trader Joe's Milk Is Crappy For Steaming and Lattes/Cappuccinos

I found a few mentions of this online, but I wanted to make a large, explicit post for any of those interested: Trader Joe's milk sucks for milk steaming. Do not try to make lattes or cappuccinos out of this. You will not get microfoam. You will get vaguely good-looking foam that disintegrates after nothing more than a single tap on the carafe.

I've encountered this before in other milks as well, but never with the consistency of Trader Joe's. I have never gotten a gallon of milk that worked. Other brands, be they Garelick, Hood, or Rhody Fresh, have had the odd bad jug, but by and large, they're fine.

I read one theory that is associated with the age of the milk. I know the basics of milk steaming chemistry, and had never heard of age having a significant effect on milk steaming performance. This also didn't line up with my experiences of Rhody Fresh, which as the name says, is fresh. Namely, I have had more bottles of Rhody Fresh than any other brand that simply would not steam.

I think it has to do with the pasteurization process. Trader Joe's milk, as with most supermarket milks, is pasteurized. That means that the milk is raised to a temperature of about 150 degrees Fahrenheit for about thirty seconds. The temperature isn't high enough to cause breaks in the proteins and lactose, meaning that after it cools down, it should steam up just fine.

What I suspect happens sometimes is the milk doesn't cool down as they expect, the temperature gets too high, or they heat the milk for too long, thus causing the proteins to break, thus making smoothly steamed milk impossible. I don't know why Trader Joe's is more affected by this than other brands. Moreover, I don't even know if it's just my Trader Joe's locations. I'd imagine that different farms provide milk to different stores.

So if you buy a lot of milk at Trader Joe's, and you've found that your ability to steam has fallen off a cliff, it's not in your head. It's actually the milk. Just go buy something else.


Unknown said...

Absolutely correct, I am a avid TJ shopper and have experienced this problem with my Keurig Rivo

Unknown said...

Absolutely correct, I am an avid TJ's shopper and have experienced this also

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend has the same problem. Thank you for this post. It gave her some peace of mind. We live in Queens.

Anonymous said...

Yep, absolutely, happens every time. It just will not foam. Glad it's not just me.

Karen Paul Holmes said...

It's late 2016 and Trader Joe's milk still isn't frothing. I won't buy it again. I don't like the fact that it's packaged in plastic either-- could that affect frothing? All other brands I buy are in regular waxy, paper milk cartons.

Aaron Martin-Colby said...

Karen, the container shouldn't have much of an effect, if any. I've used plastic, paper cartons, and glass from a local milkman and they've all done well. The local milk usually worked best for creating rich foam, but that's probably because its fat content was highest.

A good recommendation if you don't know what else to use is Parmalat. It's surprising, but it steams very well.

annie said...

So, I usually buy half gallons in paper cartons just because of the paper. My experience with Trader Joe's is that the half gallons of non organic whole milk steam wonderfully, but the organic? Forget about it. I'm getting so frustrated. It's my little morning ritual and it's been all shot to hell by Trader Joe's organic whole milk. So now my question is, is it a freshness issue? A pasteurization issue? Something else entirely?