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 used to produce cold milk foam. This foamy milk sits on top of your drink and gives it a silky smooth texture.
There are several types of milk frother you can use:
- Manual milk frother
- Electric mains milk frother
- Battery-operated milk frothing devices (a handheld milk frother)
How Do Milk Frothers Work?
These handheld milk frothers generate tiny air bubbles by agitating the milk, trapping them in the liquid you’re frothing.
The bubbles this gadget produces pile on top of one another until they create a rich, tasty foam in the container. This foam is then used in your favorite drinks.
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 handheld milk frother and froth the chilled milk until it produces the amount of foam you need.
Why Do People Use Milk Frothers?
The foam produced by milk frothers makes beverages appealing and aesthetically pleasing, and gives them 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, and the frothy milk is used to create fun and exciting twists on any kind of coffee drink.
Which Frothing Milk Should You Use?
Milk frothers work with a wide variety of milk types. This includes:
- Traditional cow’s milk
- Goat’s milk
- Non-dairy options such as almond milk, soymilk, cashew milk, or coconut milk
Milk frothing works better with skim milks rather than whole milk because of fat content. Lactose-free ones, unfortunately, don’t froth as well in milk frothers.
What Type Of Drinks Can You Make With Frothed Milk?
Frothed milk is usually added to espresso-based coffee drinks.
But you can also froth milk to go on different brews as well as other beverages like tea, hot chocolate, or even used on top of a cup of warm or cold 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.
There are a few types of milk steamer you can use:
- Handheld milk steamers
- Milk steamer wands (most espresso machines have a steam wand)
- Compact electric milk steamers
- Stovetop milk steamers
It's worth noting that stovetop milk steamers are not easy to use.
The electric steam wands that can be purchased separately from the espresso machine are fairly straight forward to use to steam milk, but won’t create the same smoothness as the steam wand does.
How Does A Milk Steamer Work?
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 steam 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 steam 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 steam 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.
Why Do People Use A Milk Steamer?
Steamed milk, produced by a milk steamer, has a silky texture and gives a nice, reflective shine when poured into the cup.
The steamed milk elevates your favorite drink and gives it a creamy hot milk layer which makes your drink even more indulgent.
Plus, the milk steaming process creates a warm milk froth rather than cold foam, giving your drink another layer of warm goodness.
Which Steaming Milk Should You Use?
Just like with a milk frother, you can use a milk steamer with many types of milk, including:
- Dairy milk
- Plant based milks like oat milk, coconut milk, and soy milk
The milk steamer works best with whole milk because of the high fat content, but it can be used with skim milk too.
Plant based milks can take longer to steam and you may not achieve the same creamy texture.
What Type Of Drinks Can You Make With Steamed Milk?
Steamed milk is used to froth hot milk, and the hot steam involved in the process means that it's best for hot coffees.
Milk steamers, either a steam wand or other electric milk steamers, are typically used for hot, frothy milk drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and flat whites.
The hot milk means that it won't in cold drinks.
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Milk Frother Vs Steamer - Differences Between Them
When it comes to milk steamer vs milk frother there are two key differences; temperature and texture.
Milk frother introduces air into the milk, making the foamy milk froth from cold milk. The process of frothing milk doesn't change the temperature and the frothed milk foam remains cold.
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.
When you use a steam wand hot air heats the milk, the fat content in it breaks down because of heated lactic sugar.
The exposure to heat from the steam wand means that steamed milk is hot, which is why it's only used to top hot drinks.
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.
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.
Both steamed milk and frothed milk gives a velvety texture, but steamed milk is less foamy. This makes it smoother, but means it doesn't hold its shape as well.
Which Is Best For You?
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.
Some espresso machines have a built in steam wand which can do both of these functions and they're usually simple enough to use.
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.