How Does a Milk Frother Work: The Basics Explained

How Does a Milk Frother Work

Many coffee enthusiasts agree that adding frothed milk to a coffee drink can significantly improve the texture and flavour overall. Unfortunately, this added feature is also the reason why certain drinks become more expensive.

The good news is, some devices can easily froth milk, with some you can use from the comfort of your home.

You may already know how delicious a cappuccino or a latte tastes, thanks to the added milk foam. But do you know how frothing devices achieve this feat?

This article answers the question, how does a milk frother work? After reading this article, you will better understand each tool and maybe even learn about which one would be the best fit for your specific coffee consumption.

Milk Frother Basics Explained

Before we tackle how a milk frother works, let us first understand what it is, its different types, and the pros and cons of each.

What Is a Milk Frother?

A milk frother is a device used to create milk froth. Milk frothers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and design styles. Regardless of which type you use, they all make frothed milk by adding air to milk, causing it to expand, albeit in slightly different ways.

In general, milk frothers work quickly and take less than a minute to produce the finished product. Some types of frothers can even regulate temperature eliminating the need to preheat your milk.

Aside from animal milk, frothers can also create foam on plant-based milk like soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and more. However, it is most likely that the consistency will be a bit airier, and the froth will have larger bubbles.

Most Common Types of Milk Frothers

The most common types of milk frothers include:

  • Steam Wand: This version comes with a metal milk frother wand attached to an espresso machine. It is not common in homes and usually found on professional espresso machines. They make excellent quality milk foam.
  • Handheld: This is the most common type of milk frother found in homes. It features a wand with a propellor-shaped whisk on end. This type is inserted into a cup or bowl of milk and is battery-operated.
  • Manual: Manual frothers are also common for in-home use. They look and act like a french press and feature a disk-shaped mesh screen at the end of a plunger arm that protrudes out of the top.
  • Electric AKA Automatic: Electric milk frothers feature hands-free operation at the touch of a button. They are the most expensive option aside from a complete barista machine but are still relatively inexpensive. An electric milk frother often looks like a smaller version of a kettle. It features a heating element in the base, foam density settings, and is powered with electricity.

How Milk Frothing Devices Work

When you use a milk frother, they all achieve the same finished product. All frothers agitate and add air to milk, allowing it to grow in size. However, they vary in the precise method employed.

Due to the varying techniques used by milk frothers to achieve their goal, each type comes with its features.

Below are the different types of milk frothing devices you can use at home with their pros and cons. These pieces of information can help you choose which kind of device could work best for you and better explain how they function as a whole.

Steam Wand Milk Frother

A steam wand adds hot steam to a targeted area of liquid, usually milk. The pressurized steam comes out of the end of the metal wand at high speeds. It is regulated by a turn button and is extremely hot. It can create foam and heat the milk in a matter of moments, usually less than 20 seconds, depending on the quantity of milk and the desired temperature and amount of foam.

Pros:

  • Rapid foam production
  • Consistent foam
  • Highly manipulatable
  • Varying adjustable steam pressure

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Steep learning curve
  • Can scald the milk
  • Possibly dangerous if not used correctly

Handheld Milk Frother

A handheld milk frother features a propeller-style whisk at the end of a wand. The whisk rotates at rapid speeds, which allows it to add air to the milk. When you insert the wand into your beverage centre, a vortex is created, adding air throughout the entire liquid’s structure. Make sure to use a large container to prevent overflow when the whisk’s vortex expands the contents.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Easily portable and lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to clean
  • Suitable for small quantities of milk
  • It can be used on hot or cold drinks

Cons:

  • It takes a bit longer to froth drinks
  • Not as durable
  • Not suitable for large batches
  • Does not add heat
  • Possibly messy
  • The battery may drain quickly, depending on the device

Manual Milk Frother

A manual milk frother uses a hand pump to add air to milk and other liquids. They feature a fine mesh screen attached to the end of a hand plunger, similar to those you have seen on a french press.

Air flows through the mesh into the milk as you pump the plunger up and down at rapid speeds. The pressure and added air create a relatively even texture of foam in about 30 seconds to one minute. Keep in mind that with these milk frothers, it is essential to hold the top in place with one hand while you push and pull the plunger with the other hand to prevent an accidental mess.

Pros:

  • No need for main power or batteries
  • Most are dishwasher-approved
  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Some models can only do small amounts
  • Requires some physical labour

Electric Milk Frother

Electric milk frothers are easy to use because they do all of the work for you. This type of frother features an internal whisk or propellor that rotates rapidly to add air and create foam to froth milk. Electric milk frothers work similarly to handheld milk frothers but without the need to hold the tool and monitor its progress along the way.

Many electric milk frothers also feature an induction heating plate in the base, enabling accurate temperature control. As mentioned above, many of these frothers also allow you to adjust foam density based on the type of coffee drink you have and the specific way you enjoy it most.

When you change the foam density, it alters the speed at which the internal whisk propellor rotates and the length of time it spins. It affects the size of the bubbles as well as the quantity produced. Often, an electric milk frother can make as much as four times the amount of foam for your coffee when compared to a manual or handheld option.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • One-touch operation
  • Allows multi-tasking
  • Many are dishwasher safe
  • Adds heat to your coffee drinks
  • Enables foam density control
  • Won’t burn your milk
  • Automatic shut off

Cons:

  • Slightly more expensive
  • Some are trickier to clean
  • Can be noisy
  • May only make small batches, depending on the model
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What Is the Point of Frothing Milk?

Aside from the beautiful presentation enjoyed with cappuccinos and other coffee drinks, what is the point of frothing milk? Does it make an actual difference in your drinks?

First, it gives the milk a sweeter and lighter flavour profile. When you use a milk frother, it also alters your drinks’ texture and can reduce the espresso’s bitterness.

Aside from the apparent coffee drinks like a cappuccino or a latte, milk frothers can also be used to make foam for a myriad of other delicious beverages. Other popular favourites include teas like chai and matcha, cocktails, protein shakes, and hot chocolate.

You may even want to try using your milk frother to create extra fluffy eggs, whipped cream, or foam art in your fancy beverages, just like you see in some coffee shops.

Could You Benefit From Using a Milk Frother?

Now you know all about the most common types of milk frothers, all of the things you can make with them, and have the answer to our initial question, how does a milk frother work?

Milk frothers may work slightly differently from each other. However, they achieve the same goal: make the milk expand to add more flavour and texture to the drink.

With this new information, are you now interested in getting a milk frother you can use at home? Or, are you someone who has been using it for a long time now? Do you have other tips you’d like to add here to help others who are new to this device? What type of milk frother do you recommend? How was your experience?

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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