Steamed vs Frothed Milk: The Most Important Differences To Know

Mike C
Written By Mike C

I've been writing about coffee and espresso machines for 3 years. My goal is to provide you with helpful content that you can trust based on my own personal experiences, information from manufacturers, and tips and tricks I've gathered from other coffee and espresso machine users.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Steamed Milk And Frothed Milk

If you want to start making lattes and cappuccinos at home, then you’ll need to understand the difference between steamed milk vs frothed milk. That’s because different types of coffee drinks require different milk preparation.

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What Is The Difference Between Steamed vs Frothed Milk?

Preparation Method

Steamed milk is made by heating milk in a small stainless steel pitcher using a steam wand. Many mid-range and premium espresso machines will have a built in pressurized steam wand. Place the wand just below the top of the liquid. Then, position the wand near the pitcher edge so the liquid will swirl and heat evenly.

Frothed milk is made by adding small air bubbles to the milk. These bubbles will build into a thick layer of fluffy white foamed milk. If your coffee machine doesn’t have a frother built in, you can buy an electric frother. Many of these will have a temperature control so you can even use it to steam.

Milk Temperature

Steamed milk will always be warm since it is prepared by heating. Nearly all warm espresso drinks will use some steamed milk. In addition, you also need steamed milk for hot chocolate.

Frothed milk can be prepared hot or cold. Frothing is all about the air that is injected into the milk; the temperature can vary.

If you are making a hot drink, you would steam the milk to heat it while also frothing it. But if you are making an iced drink, you can simply add air into cool milk for a cold froth. The result will be “cold foam,” a popular option seen on the menus at third wave coffee shops like Starbucks.

Steamed milk is prepared by heating the milk
Steamed Milk <meta charset=utf 8> Photo by Chevanon Photography

Amount of Milk Foam

Both steamed milk and frothed milk will have bubbles known as milk foam. The key difference between steamed vs frothed milk is in the size and thickness of the foam layer. When steamed, the there will usually only be a thin layer of some bubbles on top that comes from the heating process. Baristas call this layer microfoam.

There is a much thicker layer of foam in frothed milk. Because frothing is the injection of air, it makes lots of small bubbles. This builds into a tall, fluffy cloud-like layer called macrofoam.

Frothed milk has a thick layer of foam
Frothed Milk Photo by Chevanon Photography

Taste and Texture

Steamed milk ends up becoming heavier and creamier than frothed milk. It is sweeter too. The heat added during the steaming process breaks down the lactose milk sugar and caramelizes it lightly for a mild sweetness.

When To Use Milk Frother or Steamer?

A warm latte uses only steamed milk. Brew the espresso into your mug and then add in the creamy, steamed milk. If you are feeling creative, use the microfoam to create latte art!

A cappuccino uses both steamed and frothed milk in an equal ratio to the espresso. First brew the espresso, add the steamed milk and then top it with the fluffy foam.

What Type of Milk Froths Best?

For dairy milk, whole works best. That’s because it has the lactic sugar level, protein content and fat content that results in just the right level of creaminess and amount of foam. If you don’t like whole, we’d recommend going to 2% instead of skim milk. With 0% fat, skim can’t yield the taste or texture most people expect with their latte or cappuccino.

For people who prefer to drink plant-based milk, the best options are almond milk, oat milk or soy milk. All of these will froth well and create foams. Other types of non-dairy milks like cashew milk or coconut milk won’t make a foam that is as dense as the others.

What Are The Best Milk Frother and Steamer Devices?

Here are some of the best frothers on the market as of the last edit date this post. If you have a Nespresso machine, you may also want to consider an Aeroccino frother.

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Best Premium Pick: Breville Milk Cafe Milk Frother

breville milk cafe milk frother

The Breville Milk Cafe frother has advanced features you won’t find in lower priced models. It comes with 2 insertable discs, one for cappuccinos that will make a thick and creamy froth and one for lattes that will make milk that is silky smooth. You can even use it to make hot chocolate!

In addition, the Breville frother uses induction heating for gentle and even steaming and has a variable temperature control. If you like iced drinks, you’ll enjoy the “cold stir” setting. The large pitcher holds enough to froth up to 3 cups of milk, perfect if you serving friends or family. The pitcher is also dishwasher safe.

The biggest complaint is that the minimum level of milk needed is a lot if you are just preparing one drink. The large pitcher is best for people who make coffee for a few people at a time rather than individual drinkers.

See the Breville frother in action!

Best Mid-Range Pick: Secura Milk Frother

secura milk frother

The Secura frother has two insertable discs, one for steaming and frothing and one for steaming only. There is also a setting to make cold milk foam. The single-serve jug has a spout so you can pour without splashing it.

Both the non-stick stainless steel jug and the lid can be cleaned in the dishwasher. Some complain that it takes a bit longer than other machines (5 to 7 minutes).

Best Budget Pick: Bodum Bistro Electric Milk Frother

bodum bistro electric milk frother

The Bodum Bistro frother has a sleek black look and uses a powerful motor for great results. You can store the cord in its removable base so you can keep your kitchen counter looking neat. It quickly heats 1 cup of milk at a time, making it ideal for individual use. The inside has stainless steel with a non-stick coating for quick cleanup.

Even though the Bodum says it has auto-off functionality, if you don’t manually switch it to OFF it will turn itself on again to bring any remaining milk back up to temperature.

How To Use A Handheld Milk Frother?

If you don’t have space for an electric frother, you can get a handheld milk frother. These are affordable and easy to store whisks that are usually use AA batteries for power. Just stick it in your pitcher and press the button to start the whisk. While the whisk is stirring the milk, move it up and down to thicken the foam.

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