Milk steaming and frothing are two terms you’ll come across when you start creating your own coffee drinks at home.
Unfortunately, many people are using them interchangeably. While they sound like they are the same process, the result of each method is very distinct from one another. But to understand their difference, you need to know what device is used for each of these processes and how they work.
In this article, we will discuss the difference between milk frother vs. steamer, how they work, and when you should use them.
Milk Frother Overview (The Basics + Pros & Cons)
Milk frothers are small kitchen devices available in different manual, electric, or battery-operated devices. These appliances can generate tiny air bubbles by agitating the milk, trapping them in the liquid you’re frothing. Basically, the bubbles this gadget produces pile on top of one another until they create a rich, tasty foam in the container. This foam is used in your favorite coffee drinks.
The foam produced by milk frothers doesn’t only make beverages appealing and aesthetically pleasing, but it also has a rich consistency, giving a unique texture to the drink. The top layer of the foam, where the bubbles are encapsulated, is rich and silky. No wonder frothed milk is used to create fun and exciting twists on any kind of coffee drink.
To froth milk, you need to choose the correct container. The right one should be twice as large as the volume of the milk you're trying to froth. Using a smaller container can affect the final product. Once you have that ready, all you have to do is turn on the device and froth the milk until it produces the amount of foam you need.
You can froth many types of milk, including traditional cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and non-dairy options such as r almond milk, soymilk, cashew milk, coconut milk, or any other kind of milky beverage. Skim milks froth better than whole milk. Lactose-free ones, unfortunately, don’t froth well in milk frothers.
Frothed milk is usually added to espresso-based coffee drinks. But you can also use it on different brews as well as other beverages like tea, hot chocolate, or even used on top of a cup of warm milk.
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Milk Steamer Overview (The Basics + Pros & Cons)
Milk steamers are kitchen gadgets typically found within espresso machines, even on smaller versions, that create fluffy and warm milk. Steamed milk is usually found on top of your latte, often used by cafes to create incredible and delectable espresso-based drinks. The milk produced by the milk steamer has a silky texture, providing a nice, reflective shine when poured into a cup.
If you’re using a steam wand on an espresso machine, you need to ensure that the container or pitcher you’re using has plenty of room since the milk will expand. To use this wand, all you have to do is submerge it halfway through the milk and turn the steam on. Then, quickly bring the milk pitcher down so the steam wand will brush the surface for a few seconds.
However, this should be done carefully, or else the milk will splatter if you put the wand far above. At first, it may sound like there’s something wrong, but as you introduce more air to the liquid, the noise will be quieter. The introduction of air helps create tiny bubbles that are responsible for giving the milk its delicious creamy microfoam, which makes your latte unique from your usual cup of coffee.
Once the noise from the steamer is quiet, submerge the wand again to the milk. You don’t have to put it all the way down, but just below the surface. Then, tilt the container slightly until the liquid swirls. This will create a vortex or whirlpool that will heat the milk evenly.
Apart from the steam wand, you can also steam milk using compact electric milk steamers and stovetop milk steamers. However, stovetop milk steamers are not easy to use. There are also electric steam wands that can be purchased separately from the espresso machine. This type can be operated with a touch of a button, but it won’t create the same smoothness as the steam wand does.
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Milk Frother Vs Steamer - Differences Between Them
Milk frother introduces air into the milk, making it foamy. On the other hand, a milk steamer exposes milk to hot air that heats it while giving it some texture. The process of steaming milk is also a bit more complicated compared to frothing it. Since hot air heats the milk, the fat content in it breaks down. This is because of heated lactic sugar.
Another significant difference between the two devices is the consistency of the milk they produce. When you use a steaming wand from an espresso machine, you can create a velvety texture that’s perfect for a latte, thanks to its microfoam. However, the foam in it isn't as light as frothed milk. If a professional barista steams milk, you can also see a glossy finish on it.
Steamed milk is supposed to be less foamy. If you see a lot of bubbles in your steamed milk, you have introduced a lot of air into it. But don't worry. If this happens, you just need to settle the bubbles by giving the cup a front tap on the counter then swirling it around.
On the other hand, frothed milk is light and air--think of cappuccino. Unlike steamed milk, it can hold its shape, primarily if you use manual frothers. You’ll only need a smaller amount when you froth milk since it will increase its volume significantly. You need to use a bit more milk for steamed milk as it doesn’t expand as much.
Now that you understand how the milk they produce differs, the biggest question is: should you get a milk frother or a steamer? Deciding which one to buy isn’t as easy as you think it is. First, you need to think about whether you love milk-based coffee to begin with. Purchasing any of these gadgets is an investment, so you need to know if it's going to be worth your purchase.
If you love milk in your coffee, both milk frother and steamer are excellent choices. First, they can help you make unique coffee drinks--you’ll never get bored of drinking the same coffee drink again! Second, you’ll save more money by making your own coffee at home instead of buying it from coffee shops. And, of course, steamed and frothed milk can bring out the best flavor from your coffee beverage.
But you need to note that some devices, such as stovetop steamers, require some practice and may take time before you achieve the consistency you want. But don’t be discouraged; you own the device already, so you can practice until you perfect it. If you’re still having trouble choosing which one to get, look for a device that can do both so you can enjoy foam and steamed milk.
Common Milk Frother and Steam Wand Questions
Should milk be hot or cold for frothing?
You should heat your milk between 140 and 155 degrees Fahrenheit before you froth it. If it’s not heated enough, it won’t be as sweet. If it’s too hot, it won’t froth well and won’t taste as good.
Do milk frothers heat the milk?
Yes, an electric milk frother does heat the milk. This means that you don’t need to heat it before. However, manual frothers require you to heat the milk.
Can you steam milk with a frother?
Unfortunately, you can’t. You need a steamer to steam the milk.
Is Nespresso milk frother worth it?
As with most products, this will come down to your personal tastes and how much you love froth milked. For those who can't go without it in their favorite cup of coffee, the Nespresso milk frother is worth every penny.
Now that you know that frothed milk and steamed milk are two different things, it will be easier for you to decide which one is best for you. If you can afford to buy an espresso machine with a steam wand, do this instead of buying a milk frother. However, if you just want something compact, a milk frother may be the best option.