What is a milk frother? Well, the technical explanation is that a milk frother is a device used to aerate milk creating a dense foam composed of small bubbles. The resulting texture is light and more voluminous than unfrothed milk. In less wordy terms it’s a device which froths milk making a lovely foam which can be added to coffees, teas and hot chocolates for a lovely touch of frothy luxury.
That’s a pretty short explanation. But it nicely sums up what a milk frother is. But it doesn’t really tell us how the different types of milk frother works. Let’s address that. Firstly, we’ll look at the different types of milk frother, how they work and which may be best suited to you.
What are the different types of milk frother?
An easy to read guide
There are four types of milk frother. Some are more common than others, some easier to use and some better suited to different jobs. Let’s look at each type in more detail.
Handheld milk frother
Probably the type of device which most people conjure up in their mind’s eye when asked to describe a milk frother. They look like a mini version of a kitchen whisk.
Handheld milk frothers are mostly one piece devices which feature a plastic body with a hand grip and a stainless steel stem with a whisk head. A few devices come with than one whisk which are interchangeable but the vast majority have a fixed whisk. The head of which is around 2cm in diameter.
Most handheld frothers are battery powered. They use very little power and the batteries will last for ages. However, USB charged frothers are now beginning to appear. These have rechargeable batteries and can be charged up by your phone or laptop.
Whether they are battery or USB these little devices are surprisingly powerful. They can whip up a storm. Or at least a very frothy foam for use in your coffees and hot chocolate. And they are surprisingly fast.
It’ll only take 30 seconds or so to whip up a dense foam, but of course you can choose to make less foam depending on the drink. You’ll only need a few seconds for a flat white but 20-30 seconds for a cappuccino.
You can get an idea of how to use a handheld milk frother in the video below.
The big takeaway from the video is to only switch the frother on or off when the whisk head is in the milk. If you switch the frother on and then put it in the milk you’ll get the milk going everywhere. These devices are very powerful and you’ll find your kitchen wall wearing the milk.
You may have twigged at this point that your handy little frother doesn’t just have to be used for foaming milk. It’s perfect for dozens of jobs in the kitchen from scrambling eggs to whisking up a cocktail. We talk more about this elsewhere on the website.
One more thing about these versatile devices. They are fantastic value for money. A top of the range, very reliable handheld milk frother only costs in the £10-£15 range. So, well within the budget for anyone looking for a small appliance for their kitchen. Especially if you’re a lover of frothy coffees.
Top 3 recommended handheld frothers
Electric milk frothers
Electric or automatic milk frothers are the ultimate convenience when you want to make a frothy coffee. Most of these frothers have three settings; hot foam, cold foam and heat milk. Some though have many more settings with specific timings and temperatures for a whole range of drinks from cappuccino to hot chocolate to flat white.
As you would imagine from their name automatic milk frothers are controlled by a simple push button to select the desired function.
Most of these frothers are two piece devices. The container or jug which is usually made from stainless steel with an insulated plastic wrap connects to the base which in turn connects to the power source.
Most frothers have an insulated handle though some have a grip on the body of the container.
The capacity of the frothers vary though all can hold enough milk to make at least two cups of frothy coffee. It usually takes around two minutes to froth milk though some of the more powerful devices only take around sixty seconds.
A great thing about automatic milk frothers is how easy they are to clean. Just rinse under a running tap and wipe with a sponge.
Price wise you’re looking from around £35 up to £100 for the more feature rich devices.
Top 3 recommended Electric frothers
Manual milk frothers
By far the easiest way to froth milk is with a manual frother. They are so simple to use, very effective and easy to clean. What’s not to like? Well, there are a few things. Which we’ll come to in a moment. But firstly, let’s talk about exactly what these devices are and how they are used.
As the name suggests there is no electricity or batteries in a manual frother. The device itself has two pieces – the jar or carafe and the lid which has a plunger. Frothing milk is a pretty easy five step process:
- Pour the milk into the carafe being careful not to go above the maximum line. You won’t need much milk to create the froth for one or two cups of coffee.
- Replace the lid.
- Move the plunger up and down to beat or froth the milk.
- Repeat for about 30 seconds or until the froth achieves the required density.
- Pour and spoon the milk and froth onto your prepared coffee base.
Most frothers of this type are made from stainless steel though some have glass carafes. Warm milk can be used and the glass models have the advantage here as you can pop them in the microwave to warm the milk. Otherwise, warm the milk first before pouring into the carafe.
The big drawback with these frothers is the often fragile plungers. Care needs to be taken not to press the plunger too hard or it could easily break. However, sensible use will avert that problem.
Manual milk frothers are great value for money. They sit in the middle ground between handheld and automatic frothers. By their nature they won’t appeal to everyone. And those who like their gadgets won’t be fans.
But if you’re looking for a no thrill, no fuss way of frothing milk a manual frother will be a great fit for you.
Top 3 recommended manual frothers
Stovetop milk frothers
By far the least common and therefore least popular of the frother family. But they’re by no means the black sheep. This is a traditional way of frothing milk as the device is placed on the hob to warm the milk.
Basically, stovetop models are the same as manual frothers except they are placed directly on the heat source. Once the milk is heated the froth is created by moving the plunger housed in the lid up and down.
The downside with these frothers is that they can take a while to heat the milk. And most can’t be used on an induction hob.
To be honest I’m not a fan of these devices. I just don’t see the point. Milk can be heated in a much easier manner and for the same cost of a stovetop frother you can buy a good quality manual device.
Top 3 recommended stovetop milk frothers
Ok, so those are your options when it comes to choosing a new frother. Let’s move onto the questions readers most often ask us.
Milk frother FAQs
What is foamed milk?
Foamed milk is the fluffy foam that sits atop espresso-based drinks as a result of air being introduced into it by a milk frother. You can also add frothed milk to hot chocolate for an even richer flavour, or use in popular espresso-based beverages such as lattes and cappuccinos. Frothed milk has more texture than steamed milks – dryer but with better holding power.
Why does my frothed milk collapse?
The proteins in the milk attach to the surface of air bubbles and stabilise them. Milk contains more than enough protein to keep it solid, but eventually large bubbles form that can’t be stabilised any longer because there simply isn’t enough protein left for it. The moment these big one’s pop, they release all their gas into a foamy mess. This can happen if the milk isn’t fresh or cold enough.
What is the best temperature for frothing milk?
Milk is at its sweetest when it’s heated to a temperature of 135-150°F. That’s 57-66°C, but if you heat the milk too high (above 180 degrees Fahrenheit), then it will lose all sweetness and potentially scald. If the milk boils or burns not only will it taste horrible it won’t froth. To make sure you get the perfect temperature range for your hot cocoa or coffee drinks, use an automatic frother or a frothing thermometer. Whether you use heated milk or not depends on the drink you’re preparing. You can see how to use a milk frother thermometer in the video below.
Can cold milk be frothed?
Yes, absolutely it can. And many, many coffee recipes demand cold foam. You can use cold foam on cappuccino if you wish. Cold milk froths very well and the foam created with it is equally as dense and rich as that made with warm milk.
If you use an automatic milk frother you will notice there is a setting for cold foam. One tip when frothing cold milk is to use straight from the fridge. The colder it is the better it’ll froth.
Can I froth creamer instead of milk?
As an occasional treat do you sometimes use creamer (Coffeemate in the UK) instead of milk in your coffee? Or maybe you only use creamer. No worries. Yes, you can froth creamer. However, the resulting foam won’t be as rich or dense. When milk is frothed the thicker it is the less air will be in the foam and the denser the froth.
This is why the froth from whole milk is thicker than that from semi-skimmed. However, the froth from coffee creamer will be far lighter and the foam will dissipate quickly. Nevertheless, you can use creamer foam in drinks like cappuccino. Here’s how…
Making cappuccino with creamer and a milk frother
The first step involves creating the coffee: one third espresso or any kind of strong coffee, another third steamed milk and lastly frothed creamer (use a handheld frother) which should make up the final part. Then you’ll need your favourite mug (or cup); add the coffee, then the warm milk and finally top with your frothy creamer.
Now you’re ready to add your toppings – mocha powder if desired, whipped cream or crème fraiche on top and finally some cinnamon sugar sprinkled over it all for the perfect brew.
Why is my milk not frothing?
There could be a few reasons for this. But the top three are:
1 – You’re using the wrong milk. Or at least the milk you’re using isn’t really suitable for frothing. The best milk for frothing is whole or full fat. Skimmed and semi-skimmed will foam but not as well. Most milks will froth but the less fats and proteins the worse it will foam. This is why vegan or vegetarian milk isn’t very good for frothing. However, barista blend vegan milk will froth just as well as full fat dairy.
2 – It’s too hot. If you warm your milk too much it will burn. If it’s burnt it won’t froth. It will also taste awful by the way so be very careful when you’re heating milk to not scold it. You don’t want it to be above 65 degrees. If you have an automatic milk frother you won’t have to worry about burning the milk as they have automatic temperature controls.
3 – You’re not frothing it long enough. Some drinks will require microfoam but if for example you’re making a cappuccino you want a rich dense foam. If you’re using a handheld frother it will probably take 30 seconds or so to get the right texture.
How do I make my milk more frothy?
As you can guess from the answers above the first thing is to make sure you are using full fat milk. If you’re already doing that, another good tip is to make sure the milk is good and cold. Use it straight from the fridge. You’ll also get the frothiest results if the milk is fresh.
Other than the milk if you’re using an automatic frother make sure you’re got the correct whisk fitted. With handheld frother users can achieve better foam by rotating the whisk head as you’re frothing and keeping the whisk in the top layer of the milk.
Does frothed milk taste differently?
It does – it definitely tastes sweeter. The difference is most noticeable when you froth warm milk. This is because when you heat milk the lactose breaks down giving the milk a much sweeter taste. Which is why that cappuccino you get from Costa which has warm steamed and frothed milk tastes so much different to the one you make at home. Unless you use a milk frother of course.
Can I put sugar in my milk frother?
You can if you wish. If you’re making hot chocolate for instance you may want to add sugar into your milk before you froth it. But something to be aware of is that, as we discussed above, milk will taste sweeter once it’s been frothed. This means that when you make your cappuccino you don’t need to add sugar – unless you’ve got a very sweet tooth of course.
What is a milk frother pitcher?
I have to admit this catches a few people out. But it’s a jug. That’s it. But where people get confused is what exactly they should use the pitcher for. You need a pitcher if you’re using a coffee machine with a built-in frother wand. You collect the steamed and frothed milk in the pitcher to decant into your coffee.
It may surprise you but there’s a definite art in how you use a milk frothing pitcher. You can see more about this in the video below.
But you can also use the pitcher with your automatic and handmade frothers. It’s just a very useful piece of kit to have around. And buying one won’t exactly break the bank. You can learn more about milk pitching jugs and how to use them here.
Does a frother heat up milk?
An automatic or stovetop frother will heat up milk, manual and handheld frothers don’t. If you need a frother to heat milk by far the easiest solution is an automatic or electric milk frother. As we pointed out right back at the top of the page an automatic frother can produce warm foam or it can be used simply to warm milk. This is why these devices are far more versatile than the other types of frother.
That being said – some manual frothers like the Bodum Latteo can be popped into the microwave if you want to heat milk. But there is of course a chance you’ll burn the milk this way. A simpler way as we’ve pointed out is to use an automatic frother which has built-in controls to ensure your milk is warmed to the perfect temperature.
What is a milk frothing wand?
Don’t confuse a frothing wand with a milk frother. They are different – but then again not. A frother wand is attached to a barista espresso machine.
It’s the piece of equipment which you see professional baristas using to steam and froth milk. If you want to be a barista in your own home you need an espresso machine with a milk frothing wand. Get one and you’ll soon be turning out coffees to make Starbucks green with envy.
All of which brings us nicely onto…
Should I buy a milk frother or a coffee machine?
Good question. And an easy one to answer. There is no point buying a milk frother unless you already have a coffee machine.
The key thing to remember here is that a milk frother only froths milk; it doesn’t make the coffee base for your cappuccino or latte. You make the coffee separately and then add the milk / foam you’ve made with your frother.
Of course, if you already have an espresso machine, pod or filter coffee maker than you should definitely buy a milk frother.
However, if you’re looking for a single device to make the coffee and froth the milk than you should buy a barista coffee machine.
These devices can do the full process from grinding the beans to making the coffee to steaming and frothing the milk. They are great fun but of course they are much more expensive than a traditional espresso machine and separate milk frother.
So, whether you buy a milk frother or coffee machine depends very much on what you already have in the cupboard or sitting on the worktop. Most of us will already have a coffee machine and if this applies to you then grab yourself a milk frother.
But, if the coffee machine is on its last legs or you want to channel your inner barista, choose an espresso machine with built in milk frother.
What is the best milk frother for home use?
An automatic frother is the most convenient device for home use. They are easy to use with different settings selected by the simple press of a button. Most have three settings with hot and cold foam or heating milk. Some automatic frothers have many more settings (or temperatures) for specific drinks such as cappuccino and hot chocolate.
However, if you’re looking for a frother that can do more than foam milk you should look at a handheld frother. These handy little devices can do lots of jobs around the kitchen as they are basically a powerful mini whisk.
To help you make your mind up about which frother is best for you here is a list of this week’s top selling milk frothers on Amazon.
- The Milk Easy will beep twice to tell you it’s finished.
- Maximum capacity for milk frothing 120 (internal level indicator: foam) ml
- Maximum capacity for milk heating 180 (internal level indicator: milk) ml
- Embrace your inner barista and froth up lattes, mochas and milkshakes with this handy milk...
- At the touch of a button, its stainless steel coil whips warm milk or cream into a delicious...
- It's not just a coffee frother - use it as a mini electric whisk for egg whites, salad...
- 4 in 1 functions milk frother, you can make cappuccinos, coffee, macchiato, latte, hot...
- Milk frother can be cleaned quickly and easily because of not sticky design inside of the pot.
- 4 different modos, with this milk frother, you can get Latte, cappuccino schiuma, caffè Latte,...
- Have your choice of milk at the touch of a button. Perfect for making lattes, cappuccinos, flat...
- Perfectly frothed or heated milk at the touch of a button. From cold to hot milk in about 80...
- Two Layer non-stick coating prevents milk from sticking to the interior of the machine making...
- Dense Milk Foam: SHARDOR milk frother jug use upgraded irregular magnetic whisk which could...
- Large Capacity: The milk steamer has a bigger capacity than most frothers, it can froth milk up...
- 3-in-1 Multifunctional Milk Frother: SHARDOR electric steamer include 3 different settings can...
What coffees can I make with a milk frother?
You can make whichever coffee you wish. Feel free to experiment. But you can find our list of 10 popular Italian and other frothy coffees here. But let’s look at some easy coffee recipes you can make with your milk frother. But, as we said, experiment and the only rule is – there are no rules. Enjoy.
We talk about how to make a cappuccino in more depth here but an easy recipe is to use equal parts of coffee, warm milk, and warm foam.
Prepare 40ml of coffee, at the same time heat your milk in the frother or microwave.
Pour the coffee into a cup, pour the warm milk on top of the coffee, then spoon the froth on as the final layer.
Make this with equal parts of coffee and warm milk. Pour 50ml of strong coffee into a cup and pour the heated milk (with a very thin layer of microfoam) onto the coffee.
You can discover the best frothers to make a flat white here.
This is very similar to a cappuccino though a larger cup or glass is used. Use slightly more coffee than milk.
For a large latte pour a double shot of espresso (80-90ml) into a cup. Top with warm frothed milk. Do a slow pour to make the froth extra creamy. Move the milk frothing jug forwards and backwards to form latte art.
This is a lovely drink to make with your frother and it differs from those above in that for a macchiato you add the coffee to the milk rather than vice versa.
Warm and froth 50ml of milk and pour into a large glass. Make 240ml of coffee and then pour into the centre of the glass. If the temperature is right the drink will magically form before your eyes into three layers with foam at the top and the coffee at the bottom of the glass.
For all these recipes it is important that the milk and the coffee are prepared at exactly the same time. If the coffee is ready well before the milk it will go bitter when the milk is added.
There you go. We’ve explained what a milk frother is and how you use it. It’s been a long read but thanks for staying with us.
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