Milk steaming and frothing are common terms when adding milk or creamer to your coffee for drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, and flat whites. Most people use the terms steaming milk and frothing milk interchangeably. However, frothed milk does not always mean steamed milk and vice versa.
So, what is the difference between a milk steamer and a milk frother?
A milk steamer uses pressurized steam to heat the milk and in the process adds air to create foam. A milk frother, on the other hand, whisks the milk and does not always heat it up. For example manual, hand, and some automatic jug frothers can make cold milk-foam.
You are able to control the amount of foam and the temperature of your milk with a milk steamer whereas automatic milk frothers have a preset temperature and you have very little control over the amount of foam.
Types of Milk Steamers
Now that we have established that milk steamers have a steam wand that incorporates pressurized steam into the milk and that they always heat up the milk, let’s look at the types of milk steamers that are available:
- Electric/automatic milk steamer
- Stovetop milk steamer
1. Electric/Automatic Milk Steamer
Electric milk steamers are available as attachments to espresso machines or as standalone milk steamers. They have an internal boiler that heats water to generate steam and build internal pressure to a level that the pressure of water and steam inside the boiler is higher than atmospheric pressure.
Some electric steamers have a vacuum breaker that prevents milk residues in the steam wand from getting sucked into the boiler. Some also have a pressure gauge that allows you to monitor the level of steam pressure.
2. Stovetop Milk Steamer
A stovetop milk steamer is a pressure pot that has a stainless steel container with an attached steam wand and a safety valve that releases excess pressure. It is portable and convenient for home use and, is compatible with electric and gas stoves.
To use a stovetop milk steamer, add water to the unit’s chamber to a fill level that is between the halfway line and a third of the pot and tightly close the lid. Ensure that the steam valve is closed and place the unit on a stove to heat the unit.
The water in the unit will boil and create steam and pressure that is enough to steam your milk.
How To Use a Milk Steamer
Milk steamers, whether electric or stovetop, work in the same way when frothing milk. The milk steamer internally boils water and produces steam. The steam is held inside to generate pressure.
If your steamer has a pressure gauge, the pressure of about 1-1.5 bars is ideal for steaming milk. For milk steamers that do not have a pressure gauge, open the steam valve to eject some steam, and if you notice droplets in the ejected steam, your steamer is ready to use.
Steps To Follow When Frothing Milk With a Steam Wand
Now that we are sure that there is enough pressure to steam our milk. Let’s go through the steps to follow when using a steaming wand to froth milk.
- Pour some cold milk into a stainless steel pitcher
- Purge the steam wand to release any water droplets
- Insert the steam wand into the milk so that the wand’s tip is just below the surface of the milk and place the palm of your free hand under the base of the pitcher to monitor the pitcher’s temperature
- Open the steam valve and firmly hold onto the pitcher. The wand makes a hissing sound as it adds some air to the milk to foam it
- After about five seconds, lower the wand inside the milk to stop adding more air to the milk. The milk will make a vortex as it continues to steam
- Steaming is complete when the temperature of the pitcher becomes a little too much for your hand.
- Remove the wand from the pitcher and place your pitcher on your worktop
- Use a damp lint-free cloth to wipe milk residues from the wand. Purge the steam wand to eject milk residues inside the wand
- Tap the pitcher against the countertop to break bubbles in the milk. Carefully swirl the milk to create a uniform texture.
Adding the milk to your espresso shot will give you a delicious cup of latte or a cappuccino depending on the amount of foam that you generated. When making a cappuccino, adding more air to the milk will generate more foam.
Types of Milk Frothers
There are three types of milk frothers:
- Handheld frothers
- Manual frothers
- Jug frothers
1. Handheld Milk Frothers
As the name suggests, handheld milk frothers are battery or electric-powered frothers that you hold in your hand when frothing milk. Hand frothers include handheld frothing wands and hand mixers.
Hand frothers do not warm milk. However, they can froth both hot and cold milk.
To froth hot milk with a hand frother, heat the milk to the desired temperature before frothing. Some people prefer frothing cold milk and then heating the frothed milk in an oven.
How To Use a Handheld Milk Frother Wand
- Pour hot or cold milk into a pitcher, a mug, or any open container
- Plug the frother’s cord to a source of power or if battery-powered ensure the batteries are sitting properly.
- Insert the wand in the milk so that the whisk is just below the surface of the milk and turn the wand on. The whisk will whirl and create a vortex in the milk. Continue frothing until you have generated the desired foam.
- When frothing is complete, switch off the wand, unplug it and set it aside.
- Add your foamed milk to your cup of espresso
2. Manual Milk Frothers
Manual milk frothers, also known as hand-pump frothers, include a french press and other frothers where you use a plunger to add air to the milk to make foam. A manual milk frother has 3 components: a chamber, a lid, and a plunger with a handle.
How To Use a Manual Milk Frother
- Add cold or hot milk to the container
- Place the lid so that the plunger is inside the chamber and the lid is not too tight to allow the flow of air
- Use the handle to gently raise and lower the plunger inside the chamber to pump air to the milk until you create enough foam
- Add your frothed milk to the espresso
3. Jug Frothers
Jug frothers are electric and can be stand-alone or an attachment to a drip coffee maker. Popular jug frothers include the Keurig milk frother, Breville milk cafe frother, and the Nespresso milk frothers.
Jug frothers, as the name suggests, have a frothing jug and a frother base that features a power cord. Jug frothers simultaneously warm and froth milk at the press of a button. They are ideal for home use because they are portable, easy to use, and cheaper as compared to electric milk steamers.
Some also have a setting for frothing cold milk for your iced latte or iced cappuccino.
How To Use a Jug Frother
- Add chilled milk to the jug to the desired fill level as shown on the fill lines inside the jug. Most of the frothing jugs have two fill lines: for latte and cappuccino respectively.
- Close with the lid and place the jug on the frother base.
- Power the jug on and press the frothing button. Press the respective latte or cappuccino button when using a frother that has both capabilities
- Depending on the type of frother you are using, the lights on the jug might blink to indicate that the frothing process is done.
- Pour the foamed milk into your coffee and clean the jug immediately to avoid the build-up of milk stains
Milk Steamer vs Milk Frother Recap
Steamed milk involves adding air and pressurized steam to foam and heat the milk and, therefore, steamed milk is always hot. Frothed milk, on the other hand, can be hot or cold.
Although electric milk steamers that are attached to espresso machines are relatively costlier, their advantages outweigh the cost and make them ideal for both home and commercial use.
The advantages include
- most espresso machines generate sufficient pressure to make proper espressos and lattes at home
- they steam and foam milk in a shorter time as compared to milk frothers that take anywhere between 3-15 minutes.
- electric steam wands are easier to clean on the go. Simply purge and wipe it down with a cloth
If you are looking for a cheaper way to froth your milk at home, you can choose between milk frothers (manual, handheld, and jug frothers) and stovetop milk steamers.
Some jug frothers that are attached to coffee makers such as the Keurig K-Cafe and K-Latte enable you to use the same coffee maker to brew your coffee and froth your milk
When choosing a jug frother, we recommend jug frothers that can make both cold and hot froths. Jug frothers are easy to clean and hassle-free to use.
If you are on a tight budget but you desire to exercise more control over the frothing process and to create a foam that is easy to make beautiful latte art at home, a stovetop milk steamer is a good choice for you.
FAQs About Milk Steamer vs Milk Frother
Should Milk Be Hot or Cold For Frothing?
Cold milk froths much better than warm milk, especially when using a steam wand. For regular milk frothers (not steam wands), it doesn’t make a big difference whether the milk is hot or cold.
If your milk frother is foaming but not heating milk, warm the frothed milk on a stove or in a microwave. The type of froth (hot or cold) that you need depends on whether that you are making a hot or cold drink.
Is Frothed Milk the Same as Steamed Milk?
Frothed milk consists of more foam and can be hot or cold depending on the frother’s capability. Steamed milk, on the other hand, is hot as the steaming wand uses hot air to heat and foam the milk.
Does Steamed Milk Taste Different?
Steamed is sweeter than normal milk because the steamer adds hot air that breaks down the lactose compounds into simpler sugar compounds which increase the natural sweetness of the milk.