Whether you’re training to be a barista or simply love your coffees, you need to know the difference when it comes to frothed vs. steamed milk. A lot of people think it’s the kind or amount of coffee that makes all the difference. Well, this is true in most cases.
However, when you’re making espresso beverages like a cappuccino or a latte, it’s actually the milk that makes all the difference. More specifically, it all comes down to whether you are using frothed or steamed milk.
So, keep reading to find out what’s the difference between the two, how to make both of them at home, and some important tips to remember to make great coffee.
What is Frothed Milk?
As the name suggests, frothed milk has a lot of froth, foam, and an overall airy texture. It is made by aerating the milk and adding air bubbles in the milk, which creates that frothy and foamy texture.
Good quality frothed milk usually has fluffy yet also dense foam which adds a unique texture to your coffee and makes it feel more creamy and delicious. The foam can hold its shape and add some complexity to your normal cup of coffee.
Normally, drinks like cappuccinos use frothed milk as they need a good amount of foam in the drink. Otherwise, you can’t really call it a cappuccino, or at least a good cup of cappuccino. You can also use frothed milk for ice cappuccinos.
What is Steamed Milk?
Steamed milk is quite different from frothed milk. Steamed milk also has foam and a unique texture. However, this foam is nothing like the foam you find in frothed milk. Rather, steamed milk has what you call ‘microfoam.’
This is much more gentle foam with smaller air bubbles in the milk. This kind of milk is made by adding steam to the milk which creates that slightly foamy texture while also heating the milk. It results in a more velvety, shiny, and richer consistency that can make your coffees taste more mellow.
Steamed milk is typically used for making lattes as the milk consistency and the microfoam is perfect for creating beautiful latte art. It can also be used for mochas or even hot chocolate.
Frothed Vs Steamed Milk – What’s the Difference?
When you really get down to it, there are several key differences when it comes to frothed vs. steamed milk. Here’s what you need to know about it.
The biggest difference between the two is the texture of the milk. Just looking at both types of milk, they might seem the same. However, when you add them to your espresso shots, they can result in two very different kinds of coffees.
Frothed milk has a very foamy texture with large air bubbles. This makes the espresso beverages taste more light and airy. Steamed milk has more delicate foam with smaller air bubbles, which makes drinks more heavy and creamy.
Frothed milk is considered dry milk since the excessive amount of foam makes the milk more stiff and dense. It retains its shape better and can sit as is over the coffee.
In comparison, steamed milk is considered more watery and silky as it has softer foam that can be easily diluted with the coffee.
Another key difference between the two is temperature. Steamed milk is always hot since you are exposing the milk to hot steam.
While the milk is being aerated, it eventually heats up as well. Therefore, you can use steamed milk for hot espresso drinks only.
On the other hand, frothed milk can be hot or cold. Depending on the type of milk frother you use, you can get hot or cold frothed milk. If you are using cold milk and a simple handheld milk frother, you will get cold frothed milk and will have to heat the milk separately for hot frothed milk.
Either way, this means that you can use frothed milk for hot as well as cold beverages, such as normal cappuccinos or iced cappuccinos.
How to Make Frothed Milk at Home
Now that you know the difference between the two, it’s time to try your hand at actually making frothed milk at home.
If you already have an espresso machine at home, this will make things easier. Otherwise, there are plenty of ways to froth milk without an espresso machine as well.
Making Frothed Milk Using an Espresso Machine
Most espresso machines have a steam wand that can be used to make frothed as well as steamed milk.
To make frothed milk, the first thing you need to do is get a pitcher and some milk. A metallic pitcher with a spout that is designed for milk steaming and frothing is the best choice.
Fill your pitcher about halfway with milk. Don’t overfill it or else as the milk expands, it will overflow and cause a huge mess.
Once you have the milk ready, slightly tilt your pitcher and position the steam wand inside. The wand shouldn’t be too deep or else it won’t create a lot of foam.
Similarly, it shouldn’t be right at the surface or you will have a big frothy mess on your hands. Ideally, the wand should be submerged just below the surface of the milk.
Now the whole frothing process doesn’t take more than a few seconds so make sure you’re ready to pull the wand out as soon as the milk is done.
When you put the steam wand in, you will hear some weird sounds from the frothing process, but don’t worry. That’s a good sign.
Once the milk has developed lots of air bubbles and doubled in volume, turn the steam wand off and remove it from the milk.
Give the frothy milk a few taps on your kitchen counter to get rid of any big bubbles. Keep swirling the pitcher or else just letting it sit like that can cause the milk to separate it. Pour the frothy milk from the spout into your coffee shot and enjoy a frothy and delicious coffee.
Making Frothed Milk Without an Espresso Machine
If you don’t have an espresso machine at home, no worries. There are several ways to make it without one as well.
Fill up a mason jar with the amount of milk you need, but not all the way as you need some room for the milk to expand. Screw on the lid tightly and start shaking the jar vigorously.
After a while, the milk would have turned frothy with lots of foam on top. Remove the lid and microwave the jar for about 30 seconds. This will help warm up your milk and stabilize the foam as well. Your frothed milk is ready.
Handheld Milk Frother
Another super-easy way to prepare frothed milk at home is using a handheld milk frother. These are readily available at most stores and are inexpensive as compared to espresso machines. All you need to need to is insert the frother in the milk and turn it on.
After a while, it will turn your milk frothy and bubbly. However, similar to the mason jar, it won’t heat your milk and so, if you need hot frothy milk, you will need to warm up the milk separately.
You can also get frothy milk using a pan on a stove and a whisk. The good thing about this technique is that it warms up your milk while frothing so you have hot foamy milk ready at the end. Add the milk to a saucepan and place it on your stove.
Turn on the heat on a low setting, and start whisking your milk vigorously. Once you have enough froth and foam on top, turn off the heat and pour your frothed milk into your coffee. Make sure you don’t burn the milk or else it will ruin the taste.
How to Make Steamed Milk at Home
The bad news is that there aren’t a lot of ways to make steamed milk at home. Since this kind of milk requires a bit more technique and creates a more delicate and smoother foam, you need a steam wand that comes with espresso machines.
Again, you will start off with the milk in a pitcher. However, this time, make sure the milk, as well as the pitcher, is cold. This helps ensure you don’t burn the milk during steaming. Since the milk won’t expand as much, you can add more.
However, try to keep it below the point where the spout starts for even heating and smoother consistency. With your pitcher ready, position the steam wand inside the milk, just below the surface like before. Slightly tilt your pitcher as it will help create a whirlpool later on.
Turn on the steam wand and let it infuse the hot steam into the milk for a few seconds or till it starts foaming up and the milk turns warm. Then, push your steam wand a few millimeters inside the milk till you see a kind of whirlpool inside the pitcher.
Once you’ve created that whirlpool inside, keep steaming it till the milk reaches the desired temperature, and then remove the steam wand. All this won’t take more than a few seconds so make sure you don’t lose focus.
If you are using a thermometer, turn off the steam wand once the temperature reaches 135 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re going by touch, turn off the steam when the pitcher starts turning uncomfortably hot to hold.
Just as before, if you see any big bubbles, give the pitcher some taps and keep swirling till you are ready to pour.
Important Tips to Remember When Making Frothed or Steamed Milk
Frothed vs steamed milk, regardless of which one you are making, there are some important tips to remember to make your milk comes out perfect each time.
Especially when you are using a steam wand on an espresso machine, you have to be extra careful about hygiene and cleanliness. Many people make the mistake of simply wiping the wand after every use. However, this is not enough.
The tip of the wand and the space inside it as well can be the perfect spot for bacteria to grow. Therefore, what you need to do is purge the wand before using it. This means letting some steam out. This expels any germs or even water inside the tip and prevents it from getting into the milk.
Once you’ve steamed or frothed your milk, clean the milk residue with a cloth and give the wand another purge. This ensures that the wand is clean every time and prevents any milk from getting sucked all the way back into the machine.
Use the Right Kind of Milk
While most kinds of milk will give you satisfactory results, if you want the best frothed or steamed milk, whole milk is best. It allows you to create a lot of foam with great taste as well. However, this can be a little hard to handle for beginners. Non-fat milk is the easiest to create foam with but it lacks a bit in flavor.
Keep an Eye on the Temperature
Whether it’s frothed or steamed, you don’t want to burn your milk in any case. As mentioned earlier, stick to a temperature between 135 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. After 150 degrees, the milk starts losing its sweetness and once you cross 175 degrees, you burn the milk.
There’s no doubt that Americans love drinking coffee, and that too, several cups a day. While there are people who love their coffee black, there is a higher percentage of people who prefer their coffees with some milk or cream.
So if you’re planning to become a barista or even wish to serve good coffee to your friends and family, you need to get your milk right.
Technically, both frothed and steamed milk are frothy. However, it depends on the amount of froth and the type of foam that you are adding to the milk which determines whether it will be frothed or steamed milk.
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