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How to Use a Milk Frother (Handheld, Manual, Wand, Etc)

So you love a good latte, cappuccino, or macchiato? Of course, you do! They’re delicious. But if you’re buying one at your local coffee shop every day, they’re also expensive.

Luckily, there’s a solution. You can froth milk and make all your favourite drinks at home. You don’t even need an espresso machine to do it!

So what’s the secret? That’s what we’re here to share. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to use a milk frother. We’ll give you a couple of tips and tricks you won’t find anywhere else.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • Milk frother
  • 180 to 475 ml of milk
  • Saucepan or microwave to heat milk
  • A thermometer (optional)
  • Frothing pitcher (optional)

BREW TIME

5 minutes

YIELD

1 drink

Now In Detail:

  • Milk frother

There are many different milk frother types. This article will discuss how to use an electric frother, a handheld frothing wand, or a plunger-style manual milk frother. So to follow along, you’ll need one of those devices.

If you’re using a steam wand on an espresso machine, check out our separate guide on how to steam milk.

  • 180 to 475 ml of milk

The exact quantity of milk you need depends on your drink of choice. A large latte needs considerably more milk than a small macchiato. However, it’s challenging to froth with less than 180ml of milk. So if you need less than that for your drink, consider making a second to share with a friend,

The easiest milk to froth is 1%, 2%, or whole dairy milk in terms of the type of milk. If you want to froth non-dairy milk, it’s best to look for one that is labeled “barista style.” These are specially formulated with the proper ratio of fats and proteins to mimic dairy milks for frothing.

  • Saucepan or microwave to heat milk

Most electric milk frothers include a heating element, in which case this equipment isn’t needed. But if you’re using a French press or handheld milk frother wand, you’ll need to warm your milk separately. Using a microwave is the easiest method, but a saucepan over low heat will also do the job.

  • A thermometer (optional)

You don’t necessarily need a thermometer, but it is helpful to know the precise temperature of your milk. This can be especially valuable if you’re a milk frothing beginner, as you won’t yet have the intuition to know when your milk is perfect.

  • Frothing pitcher (optional)

While you don’t need a frothing pitcher to make frothed milk, they are designed to make the task as easy as possible, according to expert Chase Lemos of Nuova Ricambi USA (1).

Steaming pitchers have advanced a lot in the last 15 years, and now there are different shapes and sizes of pitcher to fit different steaming styles and frothing goals.

Some pitchers are shaped to make frothing as easy as possible, while others have spouts designed to optimise the pouring of foam art. They also come in different colors, which is helpful if you want to distinguish between milks or add a little pizzazz to your coffee bar.

Different Types of Milk Frothers
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How to Use A Milk Frother

Frothing milk is very straightforward and doesn’t necessarily even require special equipment. In this section, I’ll walk you through how to froth milk using three different tools:

  • An electric milk frother.
  • A handheld frothing wand.
  • A manual milk frother which is essentially a French press.

If you make many milky drinks, you may find it more convenient to invest in a machine that can craft beverages for you. Check out our guides for the best latte coffee machine and the best cappuccino maker.

Step 1: Choose a milk temperature

The nice thing about milk frothing using a separate device, rather than a steam wand on an espresso machine, is that you have the option of frothing cold or hot milk. Next time you’re craving a refreshing iced latte on a hot summer’s day, you’ll be glad you invested in that milk frother.

If you’re making a cold coffee drink, grab your milk from the fridge, and you’re good to go.

Pro tip: If you’re frothing cold milk, it’s a good idea to chill your frothing pitcher as well. Not only does this ensure your milk stays nice and cool, but it also makes it easier for the milk to foam.

If you’re making a coffee drink with hot milk, you’ll need to work just a little harder. The ideal temperature for frothed milk is between 140 and 155 ℉. If you’re taking your drink to go, you can push it a little hotter, as high as 160 to 165 ℉. The most important thing is not to scald your milk, as that will totally change its flavour (2).

By keeping an eye on the temperature, you can be sure not to detract from the flavour profile of your coffee in an espresso-based drink.

To get your milk to the right temperature, you have two options. The easiest method is to microwave it, but you can also put the milk in a small saucepan and warm it on your stove over low heat.

By far, the most reliable way to achieve the correct temperature is to use a thermometer. If you haven’t frothed milk before, this is definitely recommended. As you get more experienced, you’ll come to know the time it takes in your microwave and how the milk feels when it is ready.

As a general guideline, it usually takes about 30 seconds in most microwaves. If you dip your finger in the milk, the correct temperature should feel hot to the touch but not painful.

Pro tip: Milk scalds at 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Suppose you prefer your latte extra hot, which is common in North America though not traditionally Italian. In that case, you can get away with heating your milk above 165 ℉ so long as you don’t cross the 180 ℉ barriers.

Step 2: Froth the milk

We’re going to break this step down into three parts depending on what device you are using to froth your milk. Each has a different method, so let’s walk through them one by one.

Use an Electric MIlk Frother

We’ll start with the simplest method, an electric frother. If you get a good frother, like our top pick, the Breville Milk Cafe, these essentially do all the work for you. Most even include built-in heaters that allow you to set your desired milk temperature.

In this case, using one is as simple as adding the milk to the chamber, putting the lid on, setting your desired milk temperature, and hitting start. Some will also give you the option of choosing your milk texture.

Pro tip: For a latte, you want a surprisingly dense and creamy foam, something that resembles house paint. For a cappuccino, you want a more airy froth that you can dollop on top.

Use a Handheld Frother

Handheld milk frothers are small battery-powered whisks, usually with only a one-speed setting. To use one, all you need to do is stick the whisk in your milk and turn it on.

However, it’s not entirely foolproof, as the key to using it is to get it at the correct depth in your milk. This is especially crucial if you plan on pouring latte art, as this requires the perfect silky micro-foam texture. If you’re making a cappuccino, you have a little more room for error.

If your milk frother is at the perfect depth, you should see a steady swirling whirlpool of milk. 

If it’s too close to the surface, you’ll end up with large bubbles and splashing. If it’s too deep, you’ll see minimal movement. Once you get the whirlpool motion, it only takes about 30 seconds to complete.

As a fun side note, milk frothers like this are also fantastic for making chocolate drinks. Add some cocoa powder and sugar to your milk before frothing for easy hot chocolate. Keep going and add some brewed coffee to that frothy hot chocolate for a simple and inexpensive mocha.

Pro tip: If you want to practice art, froth your milk in a frothing pitcher so that it is easy to pour. However, if aesthetics aren’t a priority, a handheld wand-like this has the advantage that you can froth milk directly in your mug then add coffee on top. Fewer dishes is always a win in my book!

Use a Manual Milk Frother

The “hardest” way to foam milk is by using a French press or other plunger-based systems, but “hardest” is a relative term, and rest assured that it is still effortless. This is also sometimes called a manual milk frother because you do have to do the work by hand. No batteries or outlets are needed.

To froth in a manual milk frother, just add hot or cold milk, then move the plunger rapidly up and down.

This introduces air into the milk, gradually turning it from a liquid to a foam. The longer you do it, the more air is added and the frothier it becomes. It should only take about 20 to 30 seconds of vigorous plunging to reach the proper consistency.

The only thing that makes the manual frother harder than the others is that you’ll need the bicep endurance for 30 seconds of rapid piston action.

Pro tip: If you’re buying a French press for this purpose, consider its material. A glass one is nice because you can see the milk froth in action. However, glass isn’t a great insulator, so you may need to pop your milk back in the microwave for a few seconds after frothing. Alternatively, you can opt for an insulated model, which will keep your milk at a higher temperature, but you’ll be frothing blind. 

Step 3: Clean up

This might seem self-evident. Of course, after doing anything in your kitchen, you should clean up. But it is a crucial step when frothing milk because frothed milk can make a nasty mess. It hardens and becomes both unhygienic and very difficult to scrub off your milk frothers as it dries.

So as soon as you’re done frothing, be sure to soak anything with milk on it in water until you have time to clean it properly with soapy water.

Final Thoughts

If you want to enjoy a tasty latte daily without breaking the bank, learning how to use a milk frother is well worth the small amount of effort. With the right tools, and this handy set of instructions, creating perfect milk foam is quick, easy, and inexpensive. So why not give it a try? You have nothing to lose and a lot of delicious drinks to gain!

FAQs

Frothing milk doesn’t actually make it sweeter, nor does heating milk. But heating milk does make it taste sweeter. This is because the human tongue is more sensitive to sweetness at higher temperatures (3).

To froth milk without a milk frother, you can use a simple mason jar with a lid. Just add milk to the jar, microwave it to the correct temperature, then screw the lid on and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. The milk will become an airy foam. The downside to this method versus an actual milk frother is that it is much harder to control the milk texture.

Yes, you can froth half and half, and the process is the same as frothing regular milk. The difference is that you will get a much richer and denser foam. Italians even had a traditional drink made with frothed half and half called the cappuccino breve. It’s pretty indulgent, so you might not want one every day, but it’s undeniably delicious.

  1. Lemos, C. (2019, March 5). Barista Accessories for the Non-Barista, Part 1. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2019/03/05/barista-accessories-for-the-non-barista-part-1/
  2. Klimanova, Y. (2019, February 6). What Should Your Cappuccino Milk Temperature Be? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2019/02/what-temperature-should-your-cappuccino-milk-be/
  3. Seah, C. (2016, March 24). Coffee Science: Everything You Need to Know About Milk. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2016/03/coffee-science-everything-you-need-to-know-about-milk/
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I come from a country where people drink domestic coffee (what the rest of the world knows as Turkish coffee) and where Nescafe designates all instant coffees ever made. So, imagine my first encounter with, say, Hario V60...Yes, it was love at first sight.  Today I’m a moderate coffee connoisseur and a huge coffee lover. My favorite brewing methods are the V60 and traditional espresso-making. Yet, despite my country’s long tradition of Turkish-coffee-adoring, I somehow cannot stand it. That’s just too dark, even for me.

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