Starbucks really simplifies how to steam milk while you are in training to make it easy for all 130,000+ (as of July 2011) partners to understand. Think of it as the idiots guide to making lattes.
In my non-Starbucks experience, I have found a few things to be helpful. (Randy G., you may need to verify some of this. You have more experience)
- While steaming, NEVER aerate milk past 90°F. The "tearing" sound should never be heard after the milk passes the 90°F mark. If you do, it will create the airy/dry/gross foam that we're told to scoop off. If you use milk that is around 35°F to start, it makes it way easier to accomplish this, as it takes longer to make it to the 90 mark, and as a result have more time to properly create the right amount of foam for your drink. I also keep my pitcher in the freezer to keep it as cold as possible.
- Our Mastrena steam wands have an extremely high flow compared to most home espresso machines. The boiler is designed to produce enough steam to last all day without stopping, and as you can see during morning rush, this is true. When your mechanic comes to make repairs, take a look in the machine, there's actually quite a bit of engineering genius in there. As far as super-auto's go, it's a pretty decent machine.... but, as I said, it's a super auto... using Starbucks beans. If I recall correctly, the Breveille home espresso machines tend to aerate, and as a result expand, the milk more than most commercial machines. One of my coworkers got one from a friend, so we were practicing on it, and no matter what we did, it wouldn't stop expanding the milk.
- As @12345678 said, many easy-to-use machines try to make it as simple to make foam as possible. I have seen on some espresso machine maker's websites videos saying to simply put the milk under the want and turn it on. Obviously, you have no control over how the milk is prepared.
A bit of trivia, Thermoplan AG, the company who manufactures Mastrena and Verisimo 801, make a machine for coffee kiosks, hotels, restaurants (including mcdonalds, I believe), etc, that automatically makes steamed milk inside of the machine. There is a "hopper", a la the sureshot, that holds dairy and it steams, aerates, etc. the milk inside the machine, then spits it out of a spout above the cup after the shots have been pulled.
MOAR about steaming milk, if your store has a Mastrena (mostly all stores), you can adjust the pressure of the steam wand, similar to how the Marzoccos (the machines from 10 years ago) work. If you pull the handle down, then push it half way back up, it stays in the auto-temp mode, but you can control the pressure of the steam. This is great for KHC and other short drinks, because you don't make a pitcher full of gross foam.
Finally, as if I haven't said enough yet, there are a few stores in the Seattle greater area that are testing/recently tested using Nuova Simonelli Aurelia (http://nuovasimonelliusa.com/aurelia.html) espresso machines they are semi-auto machines used at the World Barista Championship.