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New Coffee Drinkers Guide: Milk Frother vs. Steamer – What’s The Difference?

If you’re an avid coffee drinker, you may have experience with baristas asking if you’d prefer your milk frothed or steamed.

We’re going to compare milk frother vs. steamer to help you understand the differences.

A quick explanation between the two is that a frother adds air into the milk while a steamer heats the milk, causing it to have a thicker texture.

Both of these options can help improve the flavor of a drink.

Keep reading as we look at what a milk frother does vs. what a steamer can accomplish.

We’ll also talk about the procedure and equipment needed for both processes.

Milk Frother vs. Steamer

Ah, the infamous battle of frothed milk vs. steamed milk has been raging, well, probably since the technology started to allow us to have these options.

Thanks, Starbucks, for getting us addicted!

Decades ago, the only way to have a specialty made coffee was to visit a coffee shop and pay an excessive amount of money after standing in a line of rude, impatient coffee addicts waiting for their fix.

But thanks to the advancement of modern coffee makers and scaled-down tools, you can now make specialty coffees in the comfort of your home.

There’s no need to hire a barista or take special classes.

Being able to prepare your specialty coffee using steamed or frothed milk at home means you no longer have to deal with cranky patrons, overworked baristas, and crowded shops.

All you need is the appropriate tools and the proper technique.

Let’s look at what you need to make your milk frothed vs. steamed.

We’ll discuss the specialty tool for each option, but we’ll also discuss ways to have both without buying the gear too.

Frothed Milk

When you froth milk, you are adding air into the mixture, which forms into a foam. It’s kind of like when you were a kid, and you’d blow bubbles into your milk with a straw, except these bubbles are more like the size of small soap suds.

There are multiple methods you can use to froth milk without any specialized tools. We’ll discuss these in a moment.

But the easiest and fastest way to froth milk is to use a frothing wand.

A frothing wand is like a small hand-held mixer with a single whisk.

When you insert the wand into your milk and turn it on, the whisk spins, causing the milk to expand (be sure there’s plenty of room in your cup) and turn foamy.

Some frothing wands come with two whisks, one that forms the bubbles and a second whisk that delivers steam.

You can use these wands to froth or steam.

You can also use your frothing wand for steamed milk, although you’d need to heat the milk first (if your rod doesn’t have a steamer).

Remember, when using a frothing wand for steamed milk, you won’t get the smooth, creamy texture you would when using a steam wand.

It can be challenging to form a microfoam using a frothing rod – but it’s possible!

Frothy Milk Without the Frother

But if you don’t have a frothing wand, or maybe you’re not sure if you’d like the taste of a frothed coffee and don’t want to risk wasting your money, there are some DIY ways to do this process.

One option is to add milk to a large Mason jar and close the lid tight.

Then shake the contents until the milk froths (20 to 30 seconds).

If you have a coffee press, you can heat your milk and then add it to the coffee press.

Then work the plunger up and down vigorously for 30 seconds.

And of course, you can always go old school and use a manual whisk or small electric mixer like you use for baking.

Steamed Milk

When you steam milk, you use steam to heat and texturize the milk, which stays liquidy, unlike when frothing.

Steamed milk becomes thicker than regular milk because it forms microfoam, which provides a silky texture with a high glossy look.

This ingredient is the secret to baristas who create latte art – the cool white designs poured over a latte.

Making steamed milk is easiest using a steaming wand. Most espresso machines come with the option of a built-in steaming wand.

This piece is a small metal tube with an open tip that channels the steam into your drink to form air bubbles.

Many say that steaming milk properly is a learned science that will require trial and error. It can be a challenging process to master.

Here’s a great step by step tutorial that walks you through the process.

Steamed Milk Without a Steam Wand

Many cheaper, primary coffee machines don’t come with a built-in steam wand.

But that doesn’t mean you have to give up your cappuccino or latte fix.

If you have a milk frother, you can use it to make steamed milk, although you will forsake the silky smooth texture you’d get with a steam wand.

A frother isn’t going to work for latte art.

Your French Press can do both frothing and steaming – well, kinda.

You can use your press to create a microfoam, but you will have to heat your milk to the correct temperature beforehand.

And you won’t have the same texture from using a steam wand.

Frothed Vs. Steamed – Which is Better?

By now, you should have a strong understanding of the differences between milk that’s been frothed versus steamed.

When it comes down to it, froth wands and steam wands are pretty darn similar.

You can use a steam wand to froth or steam your milk. Or you could use your froth wand to make your milk frothed or steamed.

As you can see, these tools are interchangeable. But both types create a different texture for your milk.

Which one would be better depends on how you want your milk prepared.

Final Verdict

If you want to enjoy specialty drinks at home, you may be debating – milk frother vs. steamer.

Which one you pick would depend on how you want to prepare your milk.

If you prefer a thick foam, you’d need a frother.

If you want a silky smooth thick milk for cappuccino or latte, you will do better with a steam wand.

image license: Freepik

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