What’s the difference between a coffee machine and a milk frother?


Making fresh, delicious coffee in the comfort of your own home rather than traipsing down to a high street cafe is truly one of life’s little pleasures. The aroma of freshly ground beans, the taste of quality coffee topped with delicious sweet frothy milk. What could be better? And brewing those amazing beverages in your own kitchen makes it all so much more enjoyable.

However, you must keep in mind that to make an amazing cappuccino or cafe latte having the right equipment is essential. Remember, we’re talking proper coffee here. Not a cup of instant.

One indispensable piece of kit you will need is a milk frother. Otherwise, how will you achieve that foamy deliciousness we all crave? In addition, you’ll also need a coffee or espresso machine.

Coffee machine or milk frother?

Unfortunately, many people confuse a milk frother with the coffee machine when these are actually two totally different pieces of equipment. Nonetheless, both are still essential for making a barista style coffee at home; but what’s the difference?

A milk frother is a tool that is designed specifically for created foamed milk; the kind you would use in frothy coffee drinks. On the other hand, a coffee machine is a device that is used to create the coffee on which the frothed milk is poured.

I explain more about milk frothers in the video below.


And while some barista style machines include a milk frother, many domestic coffee or espresso machines do not. Which is why you need a milk frother too.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. So, allow us to give you a more detailed introduction to these essential coffee making appliances.

Must read article: Barista style coffee machines under £200

Aren’t coffee machines and milk frothers the same thing?

If you head down to your local cafe, you will see that the barista uses a professional coffee machine. These machines are designed to do pretty much everything and scaled down versions are available for purchase in domestic situations – but more on that later.

For most people, an at home coffee machine is something much simpler. You might use a pod machine, a coffee filter or an espresso maker.

But one thing that all these things have in common is that they are used primarily to make a cup of coffee. They are not designed to make foamed milk.


Foamed, or frothy milk is a key ingredient in many coffee-based drinks and things like bubble tea and even hot chocolate.

However, to get your milk nice and frothy, you will need to use a milk frother. This tool is not something that is typically found on a regular coffee maker so you will usually need to buy a separate one; that said, they’re not expensive.

Must read article: Lavazza A Modo Mio Jolie and milk coffee machine review

Do milk frothers make coffee?

Your milk frother is not designed to make coffee. As we saw in the video earlier these are usually handheld tools that are inserted into warm milk and act in a similar way to a whisk; moving quickly to agitate the milk and produce tiny air bubbles.

There are also jug type milk frothers into which you pour the milk and it is agitated from the inside of the jug. Again, these types of automatic milk frothers are not designed to make coffee.

Must read article: Nobebird milk frother review

An exception to this is if you were to use a French press to make your foamed milk. These pieces of equipment are not designed to froth milk but many people use them for this.

Of course, since these are designed to make pressed coffee, you can, in theory, achieve both things with one item.

But I’m not sure why you would bother as the results aren’t as good as with a genuine milk frother and it takes a lot of messing around too. My advice is to stick to a milk frother

Do all coffee machines have a milk frother?

Not all coffee machines are the same. There are some larger coffee machines that come with a milk frother but for the most part, you will find coffee machines that are designed with one purpose in mind; to make coffee.

That said, there are a lot of coffee machines that come with a milk frother – these are called barista coffee machines and can include everything from a grinder to tamper to a coffee maker and frothing wand.

But the type of coffee machine you buy really depends on what you are looking for.

Most of us prefer to use two separate tools and if this is the case, then buying a regular coffee machine and a standalone milk frother is your go to option.

However, other people prefer the convenience of having a coffee machine with a built-in milk frother and there are plenty of options out there.

The only downside of this is that coffee machines with a milk frother tend to be more expensive though some brands like Nespresso sell their coffee machines and Aeroccino milk frothers in bundles to make them more attractive and better value for money.

But then, if you want something that resembles the type of coffee machine you would see in a cafe, a barista style coffee machine is a must.

What is a barista coffee machine?

A barista coffee machine is the perfect choice for anyone who wants a convenient coffee machine that does it all. Without the need for separate pieces of equipment, you are able to easily and quickly prepare coffee.

What’s more, you’ll only have one device to clean and maintain so the aftermath of your morning cup of coffee won’t be as difficult.

There are many barista coffee machines on the market, some being far more advanced than others. These machines are designed to do everything and include things like a coffee grinder and a milk steamer.

High pressure forces water through the coffee grounds which in turn makes a beautiful, strong cup of espresso which you can use as the base for many coffee drinks. The frothing wand then adds the steamed and foamy milk.

barista working makeing coffee with c

Some barista coffee machines will also come with a range of accessories such as cappuccino cups and stencils for coffee art. But one thing you will generally find on all barista coffee machines is a milk frother.

What’s great about these machines is that many of them are automatic.

You can set the program, press a button and let the machine do all the hard work for you. In some cases, you can have coffee in as little as 30-45 seconds, meaning that when you’re in a rush in the morning, you won’t need to use up precious time preparing coffee.

The downside of barista coffee machines is that they have so many different components that they can be unreliable.

If one component breaks the machine is useless. And they are very expensive to replace which is why an espresso machine and milk frother is often seen as a more reliable, affordable and efficient alternative.

Is a frothing/steam wand the same as a milk frother?

If you have been looking at barista coffee machines, you will almost certainly have heard of a milk steamer (it seems things only get more complicated, right?).

But don’t worry, while there is a key difference between this and milk frother, it’s not difficult to get your head around.

A milk frother uses a whipping or whirring action to cause tiny air bubbles to enter the milk.

Once the process is finished, you are left with very foamy and light milk. On the other hand, a milk steamer is used to heat milk at the same time as altering its texture.

Barista holding pitcher full of milk frothing in the cappuccinatore of coffee machine

Using the frother wand

This method uses high pressured steam, hence the name, and while it does texturise, this will be very different from the texture of frother milk.

You see, steamed milk is usually not as foamy as frothed milk and so isn’t the ideal ingredient for drinks that need to be light. It has a heavier texture but is very creamy so is often used instead of foamed milk when you want something a little smoother and richer.

Is it best to use a coffee machine and a separate milk frother?

Whether or not you should use a coffee machine and a separate milk frother will depend on several factors. Of course, the first thing you should think about is what you prefer. There are some real coffee purists out there that believe using separate equipment is the only way forward and if this is your way of thinking, go ahead and enjoy.

In this case, you would typically be using one of the pod machines or a standalone espresso maker.

You may have even opted for a coffee press, but you will also need a milk frother. The best options are those that also heat the milk as this saves you the hassle of having to heat it in the microwave or on the stove.

Alternatively, you might go for a handheld milk frother which is super quick and convenient as well as being compact enough to store in your cutlery drawer!

You may also wish to think about how you intend to use the milk frother.

For people who are going to be making lattes and cappuccinos with their coffee machine then having a built-in frother is far more convenient and will use the same pressure as the coffee.

However, if you want to create foamed milk for other drinks, it might be worth using a standalone milk frother to avoid dirtying the coffee machine just for the sake of some milk.

Cutting through the jargon

When it comes to making coffee, there is a lot of jargon and often a huge variety of equipment that you could use. For people just getting started with making coffee at home, this can feel overwhelming and it isn’t difficult to confuse the many different pieces of equipment.

One of the most common misconceptions is that a milk frother is the same as a coffee machine. While there are some coffee machines that have a built-in milk frother, these two devices are not the same.

A coffee machine is used to make coffee, particularly an espresso whereas a milk frother is a tool designed with the sole purpose of frothing milk.

So, should I buy a coffee machine or a milk frother?

Although the decision will come down to individual preference, mine is always to have a separate coffee machine and milk frother. To be honest I have several of each and which one I use depends on the coffee I’m making.

But briefly I have an espresso machine, a filter machine and a pod coffee maker.

I also have and automatic milk frother for when I have the luxury of time to prepare along with a manual and a handheld frother for when I want to make a frothy coffee in a hurry.

In the past I have had several barista style coffee machines and whilst it is cool to pretend, I’m a Costa barista I find that, unlike milk frothers, this type of appliance is not very reliable.

When they work, they are brilliant but all too often they develop problems within six to twelve months if used regularly.

Of course, that’s a generalisation and perhaps I’ve just been unlucky.

But buying a coffee maker and a separate milk frother is far more affordable and reliable than splashing out possibly hundreds of pounds on a barista style machine.

Now, you may think differently – but let me know if you do. You can leave a comment below.

Most popular milk frothers and coffee machines

Milk Frothers

Bestseller No. 1
Lavazza A Modo Mio Milk Easy Frother, For Milk-based Recipe, Black
  • 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
Bestseller No. 2
KitchenCraft Le'Xpress Electric Milk Frother Whisk
  • 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...
SaleBestseller No. 3
ARVOV Milk Frother, Automatic Milk Frother Machine 4 in 1 Functions Milk Frother Machine for Coffee, Hot Chocolates, Latte, Cappuccino, Milk Frother 240ml (Black)
  • 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,...

Coffee Machines

SaleBestseller No. 1
DeLonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Piccolo XS Pod Capsule Coffee Machine, Espresso, Cappuccino and more, EDG210.B, Black & Red
  • Over 40 beverage varieties including Nescafe Dolce Gusto or starbucks coffees
  • Hot and cold drink capability for hot and cold beverages prepared with one easy move of the...
  • Easy to clean as all the coffee grinds stay in the pods there is no mess, no fuss
SaleBestseller No. 2
De'Longhi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Mini Me, Single Serve Capsule Coffee Machine Starter Kit, Including 6 boxes of Coffee Pods, EDG155.BG, Black & Grey
  • Compact designed machine with six boxes of pods included
  • Easy to use - all you need is the machine, some water and pods
  • Easy to clean - as all the coffee grounds stay in the pods there is no mess, no fuss
Bestseller No. 3
De'Longhi Magnifica, Automatic Bean to Cup Coffee Machine, Espresso, Cappuccino, ESAM 4200.S, Silver
  • INTEGRATED GRINDER: Includes an integrated Coffee burr grinder with 7 adjustable coarseness...
  • MILK FROTHER: Be your own barista and prepare your idealy Cappuccino with the adjustable MILK...
  • CUSTOMISE Coffee: Make all your Coffee shop favourite drinks with the Magnifica ESAM 4200;...


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