What would you get out of reading an entire article telling you how to froth milk?
Well, maybe you’ve seen some truly gorgeous pictures of latte art and are inspired to turn your coffee into a drinkable canvas.
It’s also possible that you want to pretend to be a barista, in the same way you pretend to be a "Top Chef" contestant when making your breakfast (although that may or may not have ended up with your pancake on the ceiling.)
Most likely, though, you’d like to learn how to DIY your coffee. In other words, whenever you feel like pampering yourself, you’ll be able to make creamy and delicious cappuccinos and lattes at home without needing to pay $4.65 a cup. (And, in 2020, without needing to sterilize everything until it tastes like hand sanitizer.)
When we talk about frothing, foaming, or “stretching” milk, what we’re really talking about it is making “microfoam.” This means that we’re not just creating a layer of froth at the top – we’re actually incorporating the foam into the body of the milk itself so that it’s thicker, creamier, and tastes better.
If you really harbor a secret dream of becoming a barista, you could go all the way and get yourself a fancy espresso machine. The steam wands attached to the machine will definitely make for some seriously professional “microbubbles.” But at $300-700 apiece, we’re guessing you’ll gladly pass on that option.
So, without further ado, here is your comprehensive guide to making coffee-shop worthy drinks at home… without the $300-700 machine.
*Pro tip: for awesome espresso machines that are under $300, check out this list.
Deciding what type of milk to use
Although the process of frothing is the same no matter what type of milk you use, each type of milk varies in terms of its “frothability” (and yes, we invented that word.)
Type of Milk
Difficult to froth up due to its fat content, but produces the smoothest, creamiest result.
Froths up easily, and even though it’s not as creamy as full-fat, it yields a better result than non-fat milk.
Froths easily, but doesn’t taste like $4.65.
Nut milk (soy, almond, coconut, oat)*
Froths up easily, but the foam loses its bubbles quickly. If you’re having trouble with this, consider reducing milk quantity, frothing pressure, or temperature.
(Why would you even consider this?)
*Pro tip: keep in mind that different brands will react differently to frothing. You can find a few “frothable” brands listedr here.
General tips for frothing milk at home
In a moment, we’re going to look at the different equipment you can use to froth milk. But first, there are a few things you need to keep in mind no matter what method you use:
- You’ll need to heat your milk to 140-155 degrees Fahrenheit (60-68 degrees Celsius) before frothing. You can always use a thermometer for accuracy.
- Make sure that the milk does not come to a boil otherwise it won’t froth.
- Use a stainless steel frothing pitcher to hold the milk you’re going to froth. You can get one at your local coffee shop.
- Make sure you only fill the pitcher up 1/3 of the way. Because we’re introducing air into the milk, its volume will naturally increase.
- Remember that how much “microfoam” you need depends on what type of drink you’re making. For a cappuccino, the “microfoam” is double the volume of the original milk. For a latte, less is more.
- After you’ve done frothing your milk, you’ll want to pop any large air bubbles. You can rap the pitcher or container against your kitchen counter and then swirl it around a few times.
- When you’re pouring the frothed milk into your coffee, stir your flavored syrup or sweetener in at the same time (or right before) for a barista-worthy result.
The two simplest frothing appliances
The magic (frothing) wand
Unlike other battery-operated wands (cough), you can find these at most supermarkets and online stores.
It’s incredibly easy to use: you’ll just need to dip your wand halfway into the milk pitcher and switch it on. After about 15-20 seconds of slowly rotating the whisk around the circumference of the pitcher, your milk will have become a frothy, creamy delight.
The pump frother
These little handheld appliances are also commonly found at supermarkets, and they’re fairly affordable too.
Like the frothing wand, it’s pretty straightforward. All you need to do is pour the milk into the container and then pump the handle up and down vigorously for about 30 seconds. Once you’re done, let the milk ‘sit’ for about one minute before pouring it into your coffee.
If you own a French press, you could use it in exactly the same way as the pump frother.
Pro tip: Consider using a frothing wand instead of a pump frother – it can be difficult to get the sour milk smell out of the pump. Wands are much easier to clean. You find a list of recommended milk frothers here.
How to froth milk with regular cooking appliances
Alright, a mason jar is not a ‘cooking appliance,’ but you know what we mean.
For this method, all you’ll need is a microwave and a large mason jar.
Pour the milk into the jar, screw the lid on tight, and shake the jar for about 30-60 seconds until the milk is frothy.
Once you’re done, remove the lid and place the jar in the microwave for 30 seconds.
Whisks and electric mixers
There are simple alternatives to the frothing wand. The method is pretty much the same: you’ll need to dip the whisk or mixer in halfway and froth away for about 15-20 seconds.
Ah, the blender. Just when you think you’ve used it for everything under the sun, something new turns up. We don’t particularly recommend using a blender, but if you blend warm milk on medium speed for about 15 seconds, it will do a fairly decent job at frothing it up.
If what we said earlier about making latte art caught your attention, here’s a video showing you how to make nine different types of latte art... all thanks to properly-frothed milk: