What Is a Milk Frother? The Key to Making Barista-Style Coffee at Home

what is a milk frother

If you own an espresso machine with a milk steamer, a milk frother will make a nice addition to your coffee station. A milk frother is great for people who love coffee but want to enhance its consistency with a layer of foamed, steamed milk.

But what is a milk frother? Let’s explore what this device is and how it works.

What Is a Milk Frother and How Does It Work?

using handheld tool to create milk foamThe definition of a milk frother is rather simple: it’s a kitchen utensil that you use to create frothed milk. This milk foam creates a creamy consistency for coffee enthusiasts that’s similar to how coffee shops make their drinks.

There are several kinds of milk frothers: handheld, manual, and electric milk frothers. And you can choose the type that best suits your lifestyle. Regardless of the type, milk frothers work by adding air to milk (e.g. almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and dairy milk) to create a rich froth.

What Can You Use a Milk Frother For?

You can use a milk frother for your coffee—including hot and cold creations. With a milk frother, you can add a foamy, richer texture to a latte, cappuccino, cold drinks, or your usual morning coffee at home. You can also easily make tea-lattes and even your own coffee creamer using a milk frother.

The Different Types of Milk Frothers

Like we mentioned previously, there’s a selection of frothers on the market. Each of which presents its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Let’s explore those in great detail below.

Handheld Milk Frother

A handheld milk frother is probably the most popular type of milk frother, and as the name suggests, it’s operated by hand. Handheld milk frothers boast a similar appearance and operation as blenders; they feature a ‘wand’ part with a whisk at the end that looks like a propeller.


Most of these are powered by batteries and are small and compact, making them convenient to use and store along with your Nespresso machine or espresso maker.

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact
  • Affordable
  • Easy to operate
  • Convenient clean and maintain
  • Useful for foaming hot or cold milk

Cons

  • Can only froth milk in smaller quantities
  • Can create a mess of milk in your kitchen
  • Not always a durable design
  • Requires a longer frothing process
  • Can eat up a lot of power and requires spare batteries to hand
  • Doesn’t heat up milk at the same time

Manual Milk Frother

Manual frothers use a stainless steel or glass material with a lid to operate the kitchen appliance, similar to a coffee press. Inside the lid is a hole to allow the plunger to pass through along with a mesh screen at the base of the plunger. Each time you pump, the mesh screen creates froth or microfoam in the milk. Manual frothers are sometimes referred to as ‘stovetop frothers’ because you can position them on a stove while frothing milk.

Pros

  • Dishwasher safe
  • Doesn’t require batteries or electricity to foam milk
  • Generally inexpensive
  • Contains few components that can break, making it durable
  • Gives you control over the foam density

Cons

  • Doesn’t heat the milk
  • Involves physical exertion

Electric Milk Frother

An electric milk frother can look like a small kettle with a ‘wand’ and a lid. Since it is completely automatic, operating an electric milk frother is easy—you pour milk onto the jug, add the lid, and press a button to start whisking. You don’t need any special skills or have to whisk manually to create frothed milk. And best of all, it warms and froths your milk at the same time.


Furthermore, this type of frother comes with a range of settings, including temperature control and foam density. They are highly versatile and available in various styles and sizes. You can also use these frothers for various liquids, such as milkshakes, soup, hot chocolate, and of course, coffee.

Pros

  • Hands-free operation
  • Typically provides a variety of settings
  • Convenient and easy to use
  • Won’t burn the milk, which is ideal for beginners and coffee enthusiasts
  • Can usually warm and froth milk at the same time

Cons

  • Can be noisy during operation
  • Smaller units can only prepare a small number of drinks at the same time
  • Typically more expensive than other milk frothers

What to Look for in the Best Milk Frothers

If your espresso machine didn’t come with a milk frother, you might want to get one to add a creamier texture to your favourite tea- or coffee-based drinks. Here’s a buying guide to help you discover the right m. ilk frother for your needs and budget.

Durability and Quality

Perhaps the most important thing about a milk frother is that it should be high quality and long-lasting.

Many cheaper machines are lightweight and designed with low-quality materials. The body of the milk frother will be made with thin plastic, which can bend and crack easily—even with minimal pressure applied. In fact, the front and back panels can separate and cause the milk frother to split. This action can expose the frother’s battery and motor, posing a threat of malfunctioning and jeopardising your safety.

Instead, we recommend looking for a milk frother with a strong body that won’t crack or separate easily with regular use. Most of the best-quality frothers have an ergonomic handle to support the insides and avoid cracking while also making it comfortable to hold and operate. They also boast a heavier weight. The best frothers sport a sturdy grip that’s long-lasting and supportive.

Moreover, it would be best if you looked for high-grade materials, such as stainless steel. This will prevent the milk frother from getting rusty over time. With low-quality materials, the steam wand, motor, and whisk can become quickly worn down and develop rust.

Motor Speed

In addition to the frother’s durability and quality, you’ll want to consider the motor speed and power base. This is particularly important if you want to use the milk frother for various drinks, including lattes, whipped milk, and powders.

As a general rule of thumb, we suggest a motor rated 15,000 RPM that can whip up milk and powders. This motor powder will blend without difficulties since the ingredients’ thickness isn’t too high. On the other hand, to mix thicker and heavier powders and mixtures, you may need 18,000+ RPM with a 3V motor. This capacity provides plenty of power to mix anything, including sauces, making the milk frother incredibly versatile to use in the kitchen.

Battery Size

A milk frother with excellent battery life is ideal for making coffee drinks at home, and a powerful milk frother will run on two AA batteries, on average. This supplies plenty of power and for longer than smaller AAA alternatives. And, if you’re using smaller batteries every day, the frother might drain pretty fast. This is because buying and replacing batteries can be expensive in the long run.

Maintenance

Frothers can become sticky after use and more difficult to clean than cutlery. Fortunately, some are dishwasher friendly and don’t feature multiple components, which can make them easy to maintain. However, some electric frothers have a more complex design, making them more tricky and time-consuming to clean. Therefore, you should consider the health risks and maintenance involved when choosing a milk frother.

Choosing the Best Milk for Frothing

If you want to enhance the flavours of your morning coffee or your iced coffee recipes, you should use your ingredients well. Below are some of the best types of milk to consider when using a milk frother.

Soy Milk

This type of milk contains 6–7g of protein per 250ml and creates firm foam, but this can vary among different brands. On average, a Barista Blend, which is now sold in most stores, is the best option for creating the thickest foam.

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Lactose-Free Milk

There’s no reason why you can’t use lactose-free products to create frothed milk. Most lactose-free milk offers 11g of protein per 250ml. When you use a milk frother, those extra grams of protein can help to increase the foam, which will contain excellent bubbles.

UHT Milk

UHT milk is processed using a very high temperature to ensure that it’s sterilised before packaging. This treatment of heat can improve the frothing action, which produces firm foam, making it last longer than foam that’s made from regular pasteurised milk.

Some Facts on Milk Froth

Frothed milk can enhance the flavour, consistency, and appearance of your coffee drink. Whether you like cappuccinos, lattes, or espresso drinks, you can froth milk instead of just adding plain steamed milk for variety. Knowing how to froth steamed milk is also essential when you’re learning latte art.

But sometimes, the milk won’t remain completely frothed for a long time, depending on the type of milk that you use, along with the device you’re using. Sometimes, froth can disappear in just a few seconds, which is not unusual. This typically happens when free fatty acids, diglycerides, and monoglycerides are present, which are compounds that attack the milk fat. If there are too many of these new compounds, the foam bubbles can burst.

For the best results, we suggest using full-fat milk, as this ingredient produces a thick and creamier texture than skim milk. This can improve the foam’s consistency and make it firmer as you drink the latte. Alternatively, skimmed milk has a firmer consistency with a neutral taste. Soon after adding it to the drink, the foam’s suppleness can become reduced.

Choosing Milk Frothers

Now that know what is a milk frother and how it works, it will be easier for you to determine which type of milk frother best suits your needs and preferences. With the right machine for creating frothed milk, you and your guests can start enjoying creamier and more luscious coffee drinks.

Do you have tips on how to make the perfect milk foam? Share your tips in the comments.

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