How Do Milk Frothers Work?

by Véronique Raymond
milk frother review

Milk frothers are pretty underrated tools.

They pair excellently with espresso machines and other coffee makers to elevate the quality of your coffee drinks.

Whether lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, mochas, or hot chocolates are your beverage of choice, a milk frother can quickly become an integral part of your at-home barista lifestyle.

When you order a specialty drink at a coffee shop, you likely don’t think about how it’s made; now, it’s time to understand exactly how a milk frother works.


Is A Milk Frother The Same As A Steam Wand?

milk frother review

Milk frothers and steam wands are often confused for the same kitchen tool, but they are in fact two unique machines.

A milk frother can come in a few different forms and is not connected to any other appliance.

A steam wand, on the other hand, is a built-in component of a coffee machine or espresso maker.

A milk steamer connects to the broiler of a coffee/espresso machine, and nearly every model will have one included, even countertop models.

The steam wand is used to heat milk to very high temperatures, but if you hold the spout at an angle and don’t submerge it too far, you can also create frothy milk with a steam wand.

The ability to produce both steamed milk and frothed milk is the main reason it is included in nearly every coffee machine, even ones like Nespresso pod machines.

Milk frothers are standalone units that can function manually with a plunger, similar to French press machines, operate as handheld electric tools, or function as completely automatic countertop appliances.

None of these three types of milk frother can steam milk, but they are safe to use with both cold and warm milk.

You could also use a stovetop steamer to heat up your milk first.

If you’re feeling like an iced coffee day, you’ll appreciate that a milk frother can create a cold foam to pair nicely.

A frothing wand can be used with any type of milk, including non-dairy kinds of milk like oat milk, almond milk, soy milk, and more.


Types Of Milk Frothers And How They Work

milk frother review

There are a few different types of milk frothers that can be used to create foamy, textured milk to top off your cold brew, hot coffee or espresso drink.

All three types are available for purchase from Amazon and other online retailers, as well as in-store.

They clean easily in a dishwasher or by hand in soapy water, and they can all come with various attachments.

Some of the best frother brands are Breville, Milk Cafe, and Aeroccino.

Let’s delve into the differences between each type so you can decide on the best milk frother for your home.

Handheld Electric Milk Frother

Handheld milk frothers are the middle ground between manual models and automatic models.

They look like a wand with a very small tight coil on the bottom that acts as a whisk.

These models are almost always cordless; they run on removable batteries or are USB rechargeable.

Due to their compact design, highly affordable price, and versatility, they are one of the most popular types of milk frothers for at-home use.

The functionality of a handheld frother is quite simply.

There is a small motor in the handle that turns the wand component at very high speeds.

Some models may have multiple speed options, but most are equipped with a simple on and off switch; this will be sufficient for most uses.

These models can be used for frothing milk, whipping cream, beating eggs, and some other similar functions.

They are the easiest type of milk frother to clean, too.

Manual Milk Frother

Manual milk frothers are the least expensive type of frother you can buy.

They lack the complexity of handheld electric and automatic milk frothers because they do not use electrical power.

Instead, they rely on your manual efforts to add air to your milk.

You use a plunger to manually add air bubbles into milk, and this method offers you supreme control of how dense your foamed milk becomes.

The longer and faster you pump the plunger up and down, the more air is added into the milk and the denser the foam becomes.

You may have some difficulty achieving the exact same texture every time—user error comes into play here—but it is a great option for those that aren’t too particular about their coffee.

Manual frothers can be used with either hot or cold milk.

Automatic Milk Frother

Automatic milk frothers will be the most expensive style, but they are also the most precise and user-friendly.

Automatic frothers are essentially composed of a jug where you put the milk and an internal component that functions as an aerating wand/whisk attachment.

The high-speed spinning of the stainless steel wand creates a vortex that introduces air into the liquid over time.

Automatic machines are designed for full functionality; all you have to do is add the milk and decide on your settings.

Most automatic models offer multiple levels of frothing for you to choose from so you can always achieve your ideal texture, and most can also heat the milk for you so you have the option of a hot or cold foam.

These machines are also great for serving large groups because they don’t rely on any input from you.


How To Use A Milk Frother For Beginners

milk frother review

For all the specialty coffee newbies out there that may not quite be ready to create their own latte art, you may be wondering how exactly you make simple, basic froth for your coffee.

Follow the tips below to become a quick pro!

  1. Use skim milk: a higher fat content has a negative effect on the ability to create froth. Skim milk will produce a lighter foam with large bubbles rather than the highly sought after microfoam texture that comes from whole milk, but the lower nutrient content will help you get the hang of the process.
  2. Use cold milk: While a steam wand is traditionally used to heat milk to high temperatures, your milk frother will have an easier time aerating the milk when it is cold. The air bubbles are able to hold their form better.
  3. Start with small volumes: whether you are using hot milk or cold, non-dairy milk or regular, you should always froth a small volume, especially while you’re learning how to make your ideal milk foam texture. A handheld milk frother can get bogged down in high volumes due to their small motor.


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