What is the difference between a handheld and manual milk frother?

A handheld milk frother is powered by batteries or charged by USB and is inserted into the milk to be frothed. However, a manual frother has a container which holds the milk and has a pump action handle which creates the foam for your frothy coffee. That’s the quick answer. And it pretty much sums it up perfectly. You’re welcome.

But… if you want to know whether a handheld or manual milk frother would suit you best, the answer is a little more involved. It’s going to take a little longer to point you in the right direction. We need to think about what you will use the device for, how often you will use it and how much you want to spend on it.

Let’s start with a more in-depth look at your options.

What is a handheld milk frother?

It’s a really simple device to use, cheap to buy but surprisingly good at what it does. As the name suggests you hold the frother in your hand. It’s around 20 – 30cm long including the whisk and weighs between 40 to 220 grams. So, very light. And completely different from the large automatic electric milk frothers you plug into the mains.

Handheld frothers are mostly battery operated – usually by two AA batteries. They have a plastic body which holds the battery and has a simple on / off switch. Inserted into the body is a stainless steel whisk on a stem. This whisk is usually fixed though some handheld milk frothers have interchangeable whisks.

Alternatively, there are now handheld devices which are powered by USB. These work in exactly the same way except the battery is rechargeable.

How to use a handheld milk frother

These devices are very easy to use. Though manual frothers are probably just a tad easier. But, to use a handheld milk frother you first of all hold it like a pen. Then lower the whisk into the milk (or coffee if you’ve already added the milk). Once the whisk is in the liquid press the switch to turn on the frother. The whisk will immediately start spinning.

Slowly rotate the whisk and the milk will begin to froth. Keep the whisk in the top layer of foam and after around 30 seconds you should have a lovely thick foam. Switch off the frother, remove from the milk and rinse it off under a running tap. And that’s it.

An important tip here is to make sure you switch the device on and off ONLY when it’s still submerged in the milk. Otherwise, you’ll splatter milk and coffee everywhere. Despite their small size the whisks are very powerful.

To learn more read –  7 tips on how to use a handheld milk frother

What can I use a handheld milk frother for?

It seems a silly question on the face of it. Of course, you can and will use the device to create a wonderful thick foam for your coffee. You’ll have wonderful cappuccino or lattes at home in no time. And. as you can see in the video below you can make amazing hot chocolate too.

But you can also use a handheld frother for other tasks in the kitchen. It can beat your eggs, whip meringue, mix soup, whisk cake batter, blend your protein shakes and so on. Basically, anything a whisk can do. Of course, it won’t be able to handle the bigger tasks a large electric whisk or blender can do but for light jobs a handheld milk frother is perfect. So, you get a lot of bang for your buck.

What to look for when buying a handheld frother

These types of frothers basically break down into two distinct groups. The first are well made frothers which are extremely powerful, robust and have a decent lifecycle. Most will come with extended guarantees. They can be used regularly and are manufactured from good quality materials.

The second group are very much lower in price, not very well made and are not expected to last more than a few months to a year. They are almost disposable items. Because of this they are ridiculously cheap with prices starting at a pound or two.

When you think about which handheld frother to buy the main consideration is how often you intend to use it. If you drink plenty of coffee go for a well-built device like those from Bonsenkitchen or  Zulay. They look great, do an excellent job and have a long lifecycle.

If on the other hand you only anticipate using the frother every now and again the cheaper ones are still powerful enough to do the job for you.

Another thing to consider is weight. The heaviest handheld frothers only come in at just over 200 grams. But if you suffer from arthritis or struggle with your hands the lighter the better. Or better still consider an electric frother.

How much do they cost?

As we’ve mentioned handheld milk frothers are great value for money. The top of the range devices come in comfortably under £20. At the other end of the scale a few pound coins will bag you a frother such as the Ikea model.

What are the downsides?

It mostly comes down to build quality. Handheld frothers are by definition more fragile than a small appliance frother. So, they can be easily damaged. Another negative is that as they are battery powered it’s easy to forget to replace them or for the charge to run out. Which is more than annoying when you want a frothy coffee right now.

What is a manual milk frother?

This is the only type of milk frother which doesn’t require electricity, batteries or heat to operate. They really are completely manual. They consist of a container for the milk which has a lid which when closed seals the container. Within the lid is a plunger which, when depressed and raised, powers a whisk within the container to froth the milk.

How to use a manual milk frother

Manual frothers are without doubt the easiest ones to use and they are great fun as a well. Pour your milk into the container (hint: you’ll get excellent results by using barista blends), close the lid and pump the plunger up and down for 20 – 30 seconds or so. Lift the lid and be amazed by the wonderful froth you’ve made. Then simply pour the milk onto the coffee you prepared earlier. Result? A wonderfully frothy coffee.

To learn more read – 10 tips on how to use a manual milk frother

What can I use a manual milk frother for?

Frothing milk. And that’s about it. Manual frothers aren’t as versatile as the handheld models. But they make amazing foam.

What to look for when buying a manual frother

The capacity of the container is probably the most important consideration. You’ll want one large enough to handle two cups of coffee. But also ensure the container is heat resistant so you can froth warm milk. You may also want to see if the device is dishwasher safe for easier cleaning.

How much do they cost?

More expensive than the handheld models manual frothers are nevertheless really good value for money. They certainly won’t break the bank. You can find a good manual frother for between £15 and £25.

What’s the downsides?

A common issue with manual frothers is a weakness on the plunger. They can break especially if you’re over-zealous with the plunging. To be fair any device with moving parts can break. If handled properly you shouldn’t have an issue but do bear in mind this can happen. Other than that, there really isn’t any downside to a manual frother unless you feel faint at the prospect of pushing a handle up and down for twenty seconds.

Should I buy a handheld or manual frother?

If you’re a traditionalist who wants a no frills, no fuss and easy way to create great frothy coffee you should go for a manual frother. They are so easy to use and create a wonderfully rich and dense foam.

On the other hand, if you want a versatile device that can whip up a creamy foam in 20 seconds with no effort at all you should opt for a handheld milk frother.

Whichever device you opt for, enjoy your frothy coffee.

If you want to know more about particular milk frother check out our reviews or have a look at our  buyer’s guide in which we choose our best devices or check out the video below:



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