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Are you trying to master a perfect cappuccino at home but struggling to foam your milk? It seems no matter what you do, the milk just won’t froth.
Those bearded tattooed baristas make it look so easy. Don’t they?
I’ll let you in on a secret. The stiff foam that graces the top of a flawless cappuccino doesn’t just magically appear. Nor does the microfoam on a latte turn into that intricate pattern you see on the surface all by itself.
Creating milk froth and foam requires a bit of skill and a steady hand. Baristas do this day in and day out; they have mastered the art.
But don’t let that deter you.
If you have a good coffee machine with a steam wand or a separate milk frother and a bit of patience, you’ll be able to master frothing milk at home in no time.
But before you run off, there’s one thing I forget to mention. Not all milk will work well, so you need to make sure you choose the best milk for frothing before you make a start.
If you’re not sure which to use, I’ve got your back.
Keep on reading, and I will let you in on some of the trade secrets to help you choose the best dairy and non-dairy milk that are going to be the easiest to froth.
Why Are Some Milks Different To Others?
Not all milk is created equally. You have probably discovered that some kinds of milk whip up a foam with little to no effort while others won’t, no matter how hard you try.
How milk reacts when heated is determined by proteins, carbohydrates, and fat.
About 3.3% of regular whole milk is made up of proteins.
Skimmed and semi-skimmed milk has a larger ratio of proteins to fat and carbohydrates. And these proteins can be broken down into two main types – serum and casein.
Milk serum is milk minus the fat globules and casein micelles. The serum contains the majority of the nine essential amino acids. They can be coagulated and modified when heat is introduced, giving the milk a distinct flavor.
Casein forms together as micelles, which means the lipid molecules that arrange themselves in a spherical form.
When you steam milk, the hot air bubbles disrupt these molecules. The molecules then enshroud the air bubbles and protect them from bursting and creating foam.
So why am I telling you all this?
Once you understand some of the science behind how milk froths and reacts under heat, you’ll have an easier time determining the different protein content of various milks.
Armed with your newly found knowledge, you will then be able to pick out milk that has the ability to maintain that frothy foam for your cappuccino or latte.
Okay, I hear you. You came looking for the best milk for frothing and ended up with a science lesson.
As a rule of thumb, whole milk will result in a thicker, creamier foam. In contrast, skimmed milk typically produces more foam with larger bubbles.
But how about non-dairy milk?
Can You Froth Non-Dairy Milks?
Yes, you can. When you’re on the hunt for the best milk to use for frothing, don’t box yourself-in with just cow’s milk.
There’s an extensive range of different non-dairy milks that work just as well.
However, each type of milk will contain different amounts of proteins, fats, and sugars, so being able to successfully froth each type of milk might be a challenge.
Some non-dairy milks contain a lot of water or have many additives, so frothing those will be impossible.
Other kinds of milk are very similar in composition to cow’s milk, and with a bit of practice, you can create thick layers of foam.
Best Milk For Frothing: Dairy And Non-Dairy Options
Below I have listed a selection of different kinds of milk that are easy to froth. Most of these should be readily available at your local grocery store. If you can’t find these locally, click the links to purchase directly from Amazon.
You can’t beat good ole whole dairy milk when it comes to milk foam for cappuccinos and lattes.
Dairy milk has just the right ratio of fats, proteins, sugar, and water and produces a smooth microfoam that isn’t overly creamy – it’s just right.
But bear in mind the breed of cow and the cows’ diet play a role in the taste and molecular competition of the milk.
Organic milk often outshines regular milk, and from my testing, it’s far easier to create consistent microfoam. Also, I’ve found that organic milk provides considerably more buttery sweetness.
Each brand will be different, so finding the best milk for frothing will come down to trial and error until you find a brand you’re happy with.
Dairy alternatives are notoriously tricky to froth and thicken up. But with some almond-based milk, you literally can’t tell the difference.
Since it has more fat content than other plant-based milk options, almond milk foams up well and creates dense, creamy microbubbles. It’s perfect for latte art.
If you’re using almond milk, I suggest using it at room temperature for the best results.
Also, it is worth noting that almond milk will start to foam at around 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which is considerably lower than regular cow’s milk.
Although it is possible to steam and froth regular almond milk, it is best to shop around for barista-specific options formulated with extra proteins and fats for easy frothing.
Some of my favorite almond milk options are Califa’s Barista Blend and Pacific Natural Foods Barista Series Almond Blenders – they both taste great with coffee.
Macadamia milk is kind of hit and miss.
Nonetheless, I have included it in the list because if you find a good brand, such as the Milkadamia Milk Latte Da Barista Series, you can have a good amount of froth if you work the milk correctly.
One thing to note, the microfoam doesn’t last long in Macadamia milk and quickly dissipates.
For me, I found the taste to be rather strange and slightly bitter when paired with coffee. Also, it left a dry taste in my mouth, and I found myself reaching for a glass of water after sipping on my coffee.
Soy milk is one of the easiest to froth and takes hardly any effort to produce a reasonably dense foam with a creamy texture, and is the closest milk substitute in terms of protein content.
Soy works in a similar fashion to regular dairy milk and creates almost a carbon copy in about the same amount of time.
However, while the foam looks excellent and it’s pleasant to drink, it’s not the best option for latte art.
The bubbles are incredibly pillowy and dense, which makes pouring a challenge – but it’s very delicious, so at least it has that going for it. I enjoy the Barista Series Soy Blenders by Pacific Natural Foods – it tastes great!
Can you froth oat milk? Yes, it’s a good dairy milk alternative that behaves in a very similar way when heated.
Oat milk streams almost exactly like regular milk and produces a rich, thick creamy foam.
The only downside is the foam doesn’t hang around as long as whole milk due to having fewer proteins relative to fat.
When working with oat milk, you may find it slightly watery, which holds true for most nut milk alternatives – but that is just me nitpicking.
Califia Farms – Oat Milk, Unsweetened Barista Blend is the most milk-like alternative I found and produces excellent foam. This stuff is smooth, creamy, and sweet – it won’t hinder your latte art.
I wasn’t sure where coconut milk should be placed – in the best or worst section. But, I decided that the pros outweighed the cons.
It takes a lot of skill to work with coconut milk, and it can be tricky at first – you have to keep a close eye on it as it’s really easy to accidentally make the milk too thick to pour.
Keeping a close eye on the temperature is also essential. Anything above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and you’ll find giant bubbles which are impossible to knock or swirl out.
I’ve tried a few brands, and I struggle to get a decent foam unless the milk is really cold. Pacific barista series coconut milk is relatively easy to work with, but working with this type of milk will be a challenge.
What Milk Do Baristas Use?
When you’re on the hunt for milk alternatives to go with coffee, look out for anything labeled as “barista .”
You will find that these have been specially created for the coffee industry and are designed to quickly froth and foam under steam.
The heat has to be able to modify the molecular structure of the proteins so they can hold air well. Without extra additives, most milk alternatives will have a hard time.
For example, even with the best milk frother, you will struggle to create a dense foam with regular almond milk, but barista-quality almond milk containing extra proteins and fats makes frothing and creating a thick foam far easier.
What’s The Worst Kind Of Milk For Frothing?
Finding the frothing milk at home should be easy with the above options.
But I thought it might be a good idea to point out some kinds of milk that aren’t so good for frothing. I suggest you stay clear of these.
You might have noticed a bit of a trend in coffee shops using cashew milk and thought you’d try it yourself at home. That could be a mistake.
I’ve tried a few different brands of store-bought cashew milk, and the results were disappointing, to say the least.
I found the milk to be very bitter and produced a very thin foam that was all but gone within a minute after pouring.
Your result may differ, but I’ll be keeping away from cashew milk – it’s just not for me.
Hipsters might be praising hemp milk as the next best thing to cow’s milk, but from my experience, that statement could be farther from the truth.
The reality is hemp milk is like steaming water. Good luck getting any sort of milk foam or anything resembling microfoam. Oh, and it also curdles when you add it into your coffee.
Hopefully, if you’ve gotten this far, you’ll have a good idea of some of the best kinds of milk to foam and a few to avoid.
Like most things in the world of coffee, taste and texture are very subjective. So bearing that in mind, I suggest you go out and try a few different milks, froth them up and see how you enjoy the pairing with your coffee.
Through trial and error, you will quickly determine your favorite tastes, which you enjoy working with and which you don’t.