Last Updated: 16th September 2021
If you have been trying to experience that barista-quality coffee at home using a dedicated milk frother, then you’ve probably realised that the nice frothy milk you usually get really does make a difference to the end product.
So, you decided one day that you were going to attempt it, only to be faced with milk at the end which has barely a bubble in it. Is it the milk you are using? Your technique? Equipment?
Well, it could be a mix of all three, actually. There is an art to getting a decent froth, but if you aren’t using the right equipment, then even the finest baristas would struggle.
You know your barista gets it just right, but what *is* right? Actually, frothed milk is a tad more scientific than you’d imagine (but don’t be put off making your own!)
The best frothy milk creates microfoam, which is tiny bubbles that are barely visible
Frothed milk should be a lot creamier, and smoother to drink
A good telltale sign whether your milk has actually frothed is that it will often as much as double in size. If you end up with the same volume at the end as at the start, something has gone wrong
The first thing to mention is that the equipment you use can vary widely. For some people with an espresso or bean-to-cup machine, there will be a milk frother wand attached to your machine. You can then froth your milk in a separate milk jug.
Or, if your machine doesn’t have this, you can use a handheld frothing wand (which is similar to a whisk except does all of the hard work for you). There are also automatic milk frothers which can do the frothing at the press of a button (they do lack personal control, but the froth is usually top quality and it can usually heat the milk as well).
You can even use a french press to do it, pumping until the milk doubles in volume, although this isn’t ideal if you will also need it for your coffee straight after! Dedicated milk frothers which use this same method are available from brands such as Bodum, however.
Which would we pick? We would opt for the automatic frother if you are unsure what you are doing and also want to heat the milk, but the handheld wands are a good budget pick if you’re willing to practice.
A wand like the one in the picture above can come on most espresso or bean to cup machines and is a great tool to have if you know you will want options such as cappuccinos and lattes. They don’t take up extra space, but do need to be cleaned and maintained after every use to avoid the whole machine breaking
This is our pick for the best way to get a froth. Easy for you, and professional results. It can even heat your milk if you wish, and they are simple to clean
The cheapest way, especially if you already have a cafetiere to hand. However, it involves a lot of arm work and the cleanup can be a pain, especially if you will have to use the same cafetiere to then make your coffee. You will need to preheat the milk
This is another budget option, although requires the most effort from you and can often make larger than ideal bubbles, which means a less smooth result
Automatic milk frothing jugs will often be able to heat your milk to a certain temperature as well as frothing it, but if you are using a wand or french press method, you will want to heat it before frothing.
You can do this on the stovetop, by heating over a low temperature in a saucepan. Keep stirring to prevent a layer forming on the top, then remove from the heat when steam starts to appear.
Or, use your microwave by pouring the milk into a suitable bowl and heating on full power in 15-second intervals until steam starts to appear.
It can depend on the exact end product you’re after. Whole milk creates a thicker, creamier foam while low-fat and skimmed milk will create more foam, but with larger air bubbles which doesn’t give you the authentic texture.
If you are looking for a non-dairy alternative, oat milk is often the best pick. This is thicker, especially if you buy a dedicated Barista version suitable for frothing as opposed to just pouring.
Soy milk or almond milk can also be used in a frother but the results are often quite thin, similar to using skimmed milk. This will create a less intense milky coffee.
You don’t just want to end it at the froth and be done. You also want the love heart/leaf/swirly design.
It can take quite a bit of practice, but the key is in the rate and angle of pouring. Watch the below video for some tips: