It’s a question we’re often asked. Should I buy a milk frother or a steamer? Fortunately, it’s an easy one to answer. Pick a milk frother every time. Far more versatile, inexpensive, and easy to use a milk frother should be on every coffee lover’s counter top. We explain why.
Making a great frothy coffee
There’s a lot of things that need to be considered when making the perfect cup of coffee. When you watch your local barista whipping up a cup of this delicious hot drink, you will notice the wealth of equipment they use.
Although in a coffee shop, this equipment is usually set in one large machine. For the home user and coffee lover the equivalent of the huge machines you see in Costa or Starbucks is a barista coffee machine.
You will notice that many coffee recipes call for either frothed milk or steamed milk, both of which can be easily made with the right equipment.
In these recipes, you will also see that tools like the milk frother and milk steamer are often mentioned. But what is the difference between the two and are they interchangeable?
What is a frother?
Milk frothers come in various shapes and sizes. There are small handheld devices that are put into the milk, vigorously agitating it so that tiny air bubbles are created, giving you that foamy texture that you know and love.
However, true coffee lovers might opt for something a little more advanced and the automatic milk frother is a quick and easy way to get that all-important texture.
What’s great about these products is that, unlike a handheld frother, they also give you the option to heat the milk which brings out the creamy texture associated with steamed milk.
These appliances generally have two whisks. One if used for frothing milk while the other is used for heating. A product like this allows you to get the best of both worlds.
What is a steamer?
In recipes like the latte, steamed milk is technically what should be used although a lot of people will go for foamed or frothed milk. If you want to create the most authentic drink possible then you will need a milk steamer.
If you look at a barista style coffee machine, there is a steam wand that is used for making steamed milk.
That said, on smaller domestic coffee machines, the steam wand is a feature that is almost always present. This wand directs high-pressure steam into the milk, heating it and altering its texture.
It is also possible to purchase a standalone milk steamer like those that are used in commercial settings. However, the major disadvantage here is that these can come with a pretty high price tag.
What are the differences between a milk frother and a milk steamer?
If you’re new to making coffee, you are probably racking your brains to understand the difference between a milk frother and a steamer.
In essence, they are very similar pieces of equipment that aim to change the texture of the milk; but the texture that they create is very different.
When using a milk frother, the result will be very lightweight and foamy milk. This is a result of the tiny air bubbles that get into the liquid causing it to increase in volume. This is the kind of milk you would use when making drinks such as a cappuccino.
Conversely, a milk steamer uses heat to give the milk a new texture. Rather than being light and foamy, steamed milk has a much heavier and thicker texture.
The way these two appliances change the milk’s texture is also very different since one uses high heat and the other relies on the introduction of air.
How to use a steam/frothing wand on your barista coffee machine
When you first get your coffee machine, you could be forgiven for feeling a little overwhelmed. While it’s true that it can take a little practice to learn how to make the perfect cup of coffee with frothed or steamed milk, it isn’t as difficult to get started as you might think.
To begin, you will need to fill a jug or another container will milk. It is important to keep in mind that whether you are frothing or steaming, the milk will increase in volume so be careful not to add too much, lest you be faced with a spillage.
Now take your jug to the wand and immerse the wand about halfway into the liquid. You can now activate the steam but as you do this, you’ll need to move the jug downwards allowing the steam to interact with the surface of the liquid.
You only need to do this for a few seconds and it is vital that you are careful as things will get very hot.
Once the milk has steamed, and any noise has subsided, you will need to bring the wand back down to the milk, submerging it once again and allowing the steam to work at the bottom of the jug.
If you tilt the jug slightly, you will notice an even better texture. It might take a few times to get it perfect but as they say; practice makes it!
Of course, a standalone milk steamer is very different and is more at home in a commercial environment. It’s probably unpractical and too expensive for the home kitchen.
Should I buy a milk frother or steamer?
When buying any piece of coffee-making equipment, it is important to keep in mind the type of coffee you want to make. Look at your favourite recipes and see whether they call for steamed or frothed milk.
Of course, if you like a variety of drinks then you might just end up buying both! That said, if you simply prefer the texture of either frother or steamed milk, you should go with this.
Even if the coffee you are making is typically made with another kind of milk, you can alter it to your tastes so that you always get a cup of coffee that makes you smile.
However, when determining which is the better option, you need to take certain factors into consideration. For example, you should think about your budget since a milk steamer will typically cost much more than a milk frother.
Moreover, you want to think about how easy the appliance is to use. As we have said, you may require a little practice before you get things spot on but using a steamer will certainly be more of a learning curve than using a frother.
Once you’re finished, you will also want an appliance that is easy to clean and maintain. Again, a milk frother comes out on top.
For versatility, ease of use and value of money a milk frother should be top of the shopping list for every coffee lover.
Combining the two
Of course there is another option. Whilst I would never advise buying a standalone milk steamer you could go for a barista coffee machine.
This is a more expensive option but the appliance has everything you need to make all types of frothy coffee including a steam wand which can steam and / or froth milk.
The appliance can also include a coffee tamper, a grinder, pre-programmed selections, cup warmers, automatic descalers and cleaners.
These types of machines are an all in one appliance which can start at under £100 but run up to many hundreds for the more sophisticated models.
To learn more read this article – Why you need a barista coffee machine at home.
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