Frothed milk versus steamed milk what’s the difference, and what type of milk do I use for which kind of coffee. Confused? Milk is milk, does it matter what type you add to your coffee?
Well, if you want a great-tasting Cappuccino or a milky Latte using the correct milk is the key to nailing each of these signature coffee drinks; get the milk wrong, and you can forget the rest.
In this article, I’m going to clear some of the confusion between the two different milk preparation techniques, so you’ll better understand the type of milk to use when preparing your next home coffee concoction.
To keep things simple, there are basically two ways to prepare milk to be used in various coffee-based drinks; you can either steam (heated, not foamed) or froth the milk (milk with air bubbles incorporated). Let’s take a closer look.
Which Type of Milk is the Best for Coffee?
I prefer black coffee (blacker the better), but many coffee drinkers love the total opposite. Maybe a delicious milky coffee such as a Latte, Cappuccino, or simply a Café au Lait. Milk is a great companion to coffee, and milk offers an extra layer of complexity that helps to complement and bring out the earthy, natural, caramel and roasted notes of your coffee.
Milk at the fundamental level is comprised of various proteins, sugars, and fats. When the milk is heated, the sugar breaks down, which helps to sweeten the milk, the proteins contribute to giving the milk a frothed appearance by holding air in the milk, and finally, the milk fats melt down to create a creamy texture and taste.
When introduced to coffee, all of these components help create that much-loved texture and mouthfeel that milky coffee drinkers expect.
Frothed milk is the key component used along with steamed milk in a classic Cappuccino. Plus, if you are a hot chocolate lover, frothed milk can be added to hot chocolate to give it more texture and a richer flavor.
Any barista will tell you that correctly prepared milk, albeit frothed or steamed, is always foamed. Confused? Well, even if you don’t want to have any foam/froth in your milk and you just want it steamed, you do still want to froth the milk slightly, here’s why.
By doing so, you will help to elevate the sweetness and overall taste of the milk. Milk that has not been foamed at all will taste bland, dull, and flat by comparison.
When it comes to frothed milk vs. steamed milk, frothed milk is classed as “dry” in the world of baristas. This means that frothed milk is less watery when compared to steamed milk, and because of its frothy texture, it can hold its shape, making it ideal for use in Latte Art. Making frothed milk at home is easy; want to get started? Take a look at some of my handpicked best milk frothers.
On the other hand, steamed milk is created by exposing the milk to steam from either a steam wand or the steam wand attachment found on many of the best espresso machines. Steam is slowly introduced into the milk until the fats break down and expand to create tiny microbubbles in the milk (often termed micro-foam). The result is a silky, smooth textured milk that makes the perfect complement to any espresso-based drink.
Best Milk Choices for the Ultimate Frothy Milk
Choosing the correct milk from the get-go can either make you or break you. Get this wrong, and you’ll struggle to bring any life into your milk, and your dream of that perfect frothy Cappuccino will be a distant memory.
To keep things simple and as a rule of thumb, take note of the below:
- Whole milk: if you’re trying to create foamed or frothed milk, I recommend keeping away from whole milk (unless you are a professional Italian barista with skills). You’ll struggle as a novice; however, the extra fat in the milk does give your Latte or Cappuccino an extra edge in the taste department.
- Non-Fat milk: this is by far the easiest type of milk to froth and foam up, and minimal effort is needed to make enough foam for a small army of coffee drinkers. However, with the ease of creating froth comes a lack of taste; non-fat milk isn’t going to win any taste competitions when added to your coffee.
- 2% Milk: the best of the two (in my opinion), 2% milk will froth and foam pretty quickly. It’s the perfect balance between the ease of creating foam and having some fat in the milk that helps make a creamy and tasty coffee.
Frothed Milk vs. Steamed Milk: Final Words
If you are a novice attempting to froth or foam milk at home, always opt for the 2% milk. If you can’t find any 2%, the next best thing is the nonfat milk, but you’ll be sacrificing some of those much-loved flavors if you decide to take the nonfat milk route. In Italy, you will almost always get your coffee made with whole milk, and if you ask for 2% or non-fat, be prepared to be frowned upon and labeled as a crazy tourist.
Whatever way you decide to froth or steam your milk, always remember slowly wins the race. By heating your milk slowly, you’ll allow the natural sugars and fats to melt down and, in turn, create delicious sweet-tasting milk. However, if you’ve got no patience and try and go too fast with the heat, don’t cry when you’re left with a flat, burnt tasting pour excuse for steamed or frothed milk. You’ve been warned!
Unfortunately, the only way to make the best-frothed milk that’s worthy of using in a Cappuccino is by buying an expensive espresso machine that comes with a built-in steam wand. However, that being said, you can buy a decent espresso maker for under $200.
If you want to froth or steam some milk at home, which can pass the taste test, a cheap home milk frothing device like the Nespresso Milk Frother does a reasonable job giving that foamed, bubbly, and textured milk for your coffee at home.