The 6 Best Milk Frothers of 2020 (Reviews of Handheld, Automatic, etc.)
Getting the perfect froth for your latte, flat white, or cappuccino is possibly the best way to start the morning. The sense of victory you feel after hitting the nail right on the head goes great with the creamy, foamy coffee you just made.
While we would all like to say that lattes at home are just as good as at the coffee shop, the truth is achieving the perfect foam can be a real challenge.
So let’s start by busting a few myths about the world of milk frothing.
- You need an expensive espresso machine to froth milk correctly Wrong! While most espresso machines come with a steam wand to steam and froth milk, you can buy a separate, affordable milk frother that gets the job done. If you are really in a budget-bind, you can even find ways to froth your milk with things you may already have in your kitchen. There is no general best way to approach this, just a best way for you, so keep reading to find out what that is!
- Milk steaming and frothing are the same Wrong again! Though they are similar processes, they are distinct and produce milk for distinct coffee recipes. Hang tight and we will explain more about this.
- All milk frothers are the same Err! There are two main categories of milk frothers, each with plenty of options to choose from. There are frothers that differ in speed, user control, heating capacity, and certainly in style. We are going to break down these two types, handheld and automatic, and give you our favorite picks for each!
Now that we have the most common misconceptions out of the way, we can dive into the nuts and bolts of the best milk frother options. Our picks include frothers for just about every specification–budget-friendly, environmentally-conscious, customizable froth, super-convenient, and basic no-frills.
Before we talk about the pros and cons of each milk frother, we want to explain a bit more about the particularities of frothing and the industry-standard best practices.
- Steaming Versus Frothing
- Handheld Versus Automatic Milk Frothers
- The Technique
- The Top 3 Best Handheld Milk Frothers
- The Top 3 Automatic Milk Frothers
- The Verdict: The Best Milk Frother
Steaming Versus Frothing
Unless you are barista or have already devoted yourself to the exquisite world of milk coffee drinks, you probably don’t exactly understand the difference between steamed and frothed milk. While these two milk preparation methods are very similar, they are still distinct.
Steaming milk is the process of using hot steam to heat milk and inject air bubbles, giving it the full-bodied, creamy texture that turns your latte into liquid velvet. You can achieve milk froth or foam using a steam wand, but steam wands are traditionally geared towards coffee recipes that need more steamed milk and less frothed milk, like a latte or flat white. (1)
Steamed milk is less dense than frothed milk, although it may still have a bit of foam on top.
Milk froth, however, can be hot or cold, given that the process is solely focused on incorporating air into the milk. A milk frother, then, does not need to include a heating element. Whether or not you choose to steam the milk as well as froth it, your goal is to “stretch” or aerate the milk to get the best microfoam.(2)
If you’ve ever been in a coffee shop and heard that quintessential cafe sound, that is the stretch, that’s aeration, that’s air being pumped into the milk. This creates the bubbles.
You can froth milk with a number of tools, from the most basic to the most sophisticated. Naturally, you could use a handheld or automatic frother, but those are not the only options. The best DIY techniques include shaking your milk in a mason jar, using a french press, and even using an immersion blender or hand mixer–though this one can get a bit messy. Check out our article on making fluffy milk foam at home to learn more.
Then of course there is the option to froth milk with the steam wand found on most espresso machines. To get the best foam with a steam wand, be sure to keep the end of the wand as near to the milk’s surface as possible so that you can pull in the maximum amount of air into the milk.
Handheld Versus Automatic Milk Frothers
Handheld and automatic milk frothers are some of the best tools for creating smooth and delicious microfoam. Both of these frother types can froth hot or cold milk, so you can craft just about any drink you like.
Handheld milk frothers are typically battery-operated ergonomic machines that use a small whisk to froth your milk in a matter of seconds. Naturally, this type of milk frother requires more effort on your part, since it cannot be left alone in the milk–so get in there and froth your milk!
Automatic milk frothers, on the other hand, do the work for you. Simply pour your milk into the frother, close it, and turn it on.
While these milk frothers are generally more expensive than their handheld counterparts, many of them offer a steaming feature, so you can easily froth hot and cold milk alike.
Neither a handheld nor an automatic frother requires any extra accessories, though many of the manufacturers produce different whisks for different types of drinks.
Whether you have a handheld or automatic milk frother, you need to discern how much cold milk to start with so that you end up with just the right amount of milk for your coffee.
Lattes typically require 25% milk aeration while traditional cappuccinos require 50% aeration. (3) This means that for an 8 oz. latte, you will need to start with 5.25 oz. of milk so that the total amount of steamed milk equals 7 oz., leaving space for 1 oz. of espresso. Similarly, for an 8 oz. cappuccino, you will need to start with just 3.5 ounces of milk so that once its volume doubles, you will have 7 ounces of beautifully frothed milk.
Now that you have mastered determining the best milk quantities for your coffee, let’s talk about technique. Naturally, if you choose an automatic milk frother, the physical technique is of no concern to you, simply turn on your frother and let the magic happen!
Tip #1: Move the frother in circles through the milk. Just as with the steam wand on an espresso machine, you want to move the milk frother around to achieve the whirlpool or “vortex” milk movement.
Tip #2: Make sure to get your milk frother deep into the container, so that the texture is even throughout the milk. Keeping the frother still in just one area is likely to result in differences in milk thickness, leading to a disappointing cappuccino.
The Top 3 Best Handheld Milk Frothers
Now that we’ve busted a few myths and explained the importance of this coffee-making accessory, it’s time to compare these three best handheld milk frothers.
For the price of about 3 cappuccinos, you can get perfectly frothed milk for infinite lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites, and frothy drinks of your own creation.
This simple, battery-operated PowerLix Milk Frother spins at 19,000 rpm, turning your milk into beautiful foam in a matter of mere seconds. The two AA-batteries it requires are not included, so you may want to consider the more environmentally-and-economically-conscious option: rechargeable NiMH-Batteries.
This milk frother is super user-friendly, with one on/off button located on the top of the frother for a comfortable grip. Though it is not dishwasher safe, cleaning it is as easy as submerging the whisk in hot, soapy water and turning it on. We also love that the PowerLix Handheld Milk Frother comes with a lifetime warranty, certainly the best among its competitors–PowerLix believes in this frother and so do we.
Buying and replacing batteries is an annoyance you won’t have to deal with when it comes to the Kuwan milk frother. Rather than being battery-operated, this frother comes with a USB cable for easy charging, saving you money on batteries and reducing waste
The ergonomic handle is not only easy to use, but slender enough for easy storage–meaning you can take great lattes on the road with you when it comes time for vacation. Just like with the PowerLix frother, to clean the Kuwan, just run the frother under hot, soapy water.
We love the rechargeable nature of the Kuwan Milk Frother, but it certainly lacks some of the style points we would give to the PowerLix and Cafe Casa.
The Cafe Casa is a classic favorite milk frother guaranteed to provide the best fluffy, creamy foam for all the drinks your heart desires. Unlike the PowerLix and the Kuwan, this handheld milk frother has two different speed settings–one that clocks in at 13,000 rpm and the other at 15,000 rpm.
It is a bit heavier than competing milk frothers, giving it a sturdy feel to match its high performance. The stainless steel body of the milk frother is among the best in terms of precision and speed, and is also easy to clean. The Cafe Casa runs on two AA batteries for easy cordless use.
The Top 3 Automatic Milk Frothers
The Secura Automatic Milk Frother takes all the guesswork out of milk preparation while also being possibly the best bargain buy. Aside from coming in two sizes–250mL and 500mL–this frother also gives users the option of heating the milk as it froths.
The stainless steel body has state-of-the-art vacuum insulation to keep your milk hot and hold up well over time, a guarantee supported by the Secura two year warranty.
The sleek design looks good on just about any kitchen counter and is easy to keep clean. The Secura comes with a cleaning brush and can be washed simply using hot water so that you get the best milk taste and texture with every use.
This small but powerful milk frother Nespresso developed is the best option for someone who needs just enough milk for one latte or cappuccino at a time. It is easy to operate and can froth up to 120 mL of milk. The third iteration in Nespresso’s line of milk frothers, the Aeroccino 3 has an updated, narrow base to save counter space while still being a stylish addition to your kitchen.
This milk frother also has the ability to heat and froth milk both separately and simultaneously, so you choose how you want your beverage. Though it comes at a distinctly higher price than the Secura, this compact Aeroccino has an energy saving mode, making it the best option for environmentally-conscious shoppers looking for an automatic frother. Though it is not dishwasher safe, the chamber is easy to clean with a soft cloth and warm water.
This high-end milk frother by Breville is the best accessory for baristas looking for greater control and customization. Equipped with both a latte and cappuccino frothing disk, this machine allows you to tailor your milk preparation to your exact specifications.
Users can choose the temperature they want, the froth type, and simply turn on the machine. When the milk foam is ready, the frother automatically shuts off and you are ready to pour. We also love that the induction milk jug is dishwasher safe, making it simple to clean.
The Breville Milk Frother also comes with a measuring cap that allows you to add in extra ingredients to your milk once frothing has begun–say hello to the best Chai lattes and chocolate-y cappuccinos of your life! Though Breville does not provide any other accessories for this frother, all of its parts are available for individual purchase online, so you can repair it in the case of malfunction.
The Verdict: The Best Milk Frother
We hope you appreciate the importance of using milk frother when making espresso-based drinks. In the same way, using certain accessories such as coffee scales and gooseneck kettles can help you make better-tasting pour over coffee – that is if you’re also into that type of coffee.
While of course the espresso – as well as the freshness of the beans – is a key part of any latte, cappuccino, or flat white, it is often the milk that makes or breaks the drink. The velvety, fluffy texture of the milk permeating each sip is a big part of why the best days tend to begin with a delicious, creamy cappuccino or latte.
Unfortunately, buying any of these more “done-up” coffee drinks at a coffee shop ends up being tough on your wallet and really limits your ability to get your latte just the way you like it. The best milk frother for you, whether it is automatic or handheld, let’s you brew delicious coffee recipes in your own kitchen for a fraction of what you would pay at any of these coffee shops.
By frothing your milk at home using a handheld or automatic frother, you have access to a whole new world of both hot and cold foamy drinks. If you are someone who loves the personal touch of frothing by hand, any of our three favorite handheld options will be a good fit.
An automatic milk frother is the best machine for those of us who want push-button convenience that maintains the ideal artisanal taste. We love and recommend all of these milk frothers. Get one for yourself or get one as a gift for a coffee lover! Don’t forget to share your pick with us in the comments.
The commonly accepted best temperature for frothing milk is around 140 degrees Fahrenheit or 60 degrees Celsius. As milk is heated, the protein structures and fats break down and change shape, creating the tiny bubbles, or microfoam, that give it the beautiful foamy texture.
Coffee experts and baristas say that 140 degrees is the best temperature because both the texture and flavor of the milk reach a balanced peak. (4)
While heating your milk slightly higher or lower than 140 degrees is not going to be catastrophic for your coffee, the best flavor and foam link up right around this point. Once the milk gets too hot, you start to lose the sweet taste and it will end up tasting bad, while being too cold means it is unlikely to achieve the smooth, foamy texture you want.
If you have ever heated milk on the stove you have seen that two different films can form. The first is the milk skin that forms on the surface of the milk as a result of coagulating proteins during the application of heat. (5) While this is a natural phenomenon, there is no argument that it looks bad and certainly disrupts the milk texture. The milk skin is easy to avoid, simply stir the milk as it heats so that those proteins cannot come together on the surface.
The second odd by-product of heated milk is the light film that typically forms on the surface of the pot. This phenomenon is essentially the same as the formation of the milk skin. (6)
In order to avoid this issue, you can spread a tiny amount of coconut oil on the pan to keep the milk from sticking, or simply introduce a tablespoon or two of water before adding the milk. This greases the pan just as you would for cooking food, without altering too greatly the taste of the milk. For best results, keep stirring the milk as you heat it.
The three most popular hot dairy coffee drinks are the latte, cappuccino, and flat white. While these all have their distinctions, the exact composition of each one often depends on where you order it.
For any readers currently visiting or living in Italy, you may have noticed that ‘latte’ simply means ‘milk’ in Italian. Ordering a latte in a cafe will get you a warm glass of milk, while a cafe latte will get you the traditional espresso with steamed milk and a delicate layer of milk foam.
Cappuccinos are the frothiest of the three beverages, containing equal parts coffee, steamed milk, and milk froth. Coffee Expert James Hoffmann points out that, while a cappuccino has typically been comprised of 1 part espresso, 1 part steamed milk, and 1 part foam, this recipe has transformed over time. With the popularization of latte art, cappuccinos now often have less foam and may include two shots of espresso rather than one. (7)
“The drink as a whole is much more an idea than a strict recipe.” – James Hoffmann
Flat Whites, in contrast to the cappuccino, include a double shot of espresso and very thinly textured steam milk–hence the name ‘flat.’ Readers should note that this recipe is also flexible, particularly given that flat whites are most popular in Oceania, and may therefore be quite different if ordered in an American or European coffeeshop.
- Gaggia Milano. (n.d.). Steaming and Frothing. Retrieved from https://www.gaggia-usa.com/pages/steaming-and-frothing#steaming-frothing.
- Baca, C. (2018, December 24). Milk Steaming For Latte Art – Barista Tutorial | Real Chris Baca. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YMgB61WyvE.
- Sunergos Coffee. (2018, April 12). Sunergos Milk Training Video: Learn Milk Science, Steaming, and Latte Art. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5nOFirDRTo
- Klimanova, Y. (2019, February 6). What Temperature Should Your Cappuccino Milk Be? Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2019/02/what-temperature-should-your-cappuccino-milk-be/
- Ballam, R. (1999, January 31). Food for thought: Why does a skin form over hot milk? Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/food-for-thought-why-does-a-skin-form-over-hot-milk-1074030.html
- How to Prevent Hot Milk from Sticking to the Pan. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/11461-how-to-prevent-hot-milk-from-sticking-to-the-pan
- Hoffmann, J. (2019, January 23). The Cappuccino Explained. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-US-wCePuRA
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Coffee lover and Dad, on a budget. Since the wishes of my beautiful wife and two charming kids are of course of much higher priority than my own ones, I always keep an eye out for coffee products which give me the biggest bang for the buck!