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Frothing, Foaming & Steaming Milk

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Frothed, foamed and steamed milk are used in many espresso drinks and hot milk drinks (such as milk steamers). With a little practice, you can froth milk, foam milk and steam milk to add texture and flavor to your drinks at home. These recipes outline how to prepare various types of heated an texturized milk (or cow milk alternatives, such as soy milk) using a stovetop or an espresso machine.

How to Foam Milk on a Stove

Typically, in a coffee shop, milk is foamed with an espresso machine's steam wand (an attachment that shoots hot, pressurized steam through a tube to quickly heat liquid while adding small air bubbles into the liquid). It's a handy tool to have. However, you don't need an espresso machine with a steam wand attachment to make foamed milk. All you need is a saucepan, a stove top, a whisk and, of course, milk.

This recipe outlines how to foam milk on an electric or gas burner in 15 minutes.

Foamed milk is often used in espresso drinks like caffe breves, flat whites and cappuccinos.

How to Froth Milk With a Steam Wand

A steam wand is engaged near the edge of the metal pitcher to froth milk.
Lindsey Goodwin
If you have an espresso machine with a steam wand, frothing milk is much faster than using a stove top.

Frothed milk is an essential component for latte art on caffe lattes. It is also used in equal measure with steamed milk in your typical cappuccino, and it can be used to add texture and richness to hot chocolate.

Compared to steamed milk and other types of texturized milk, frothed milk is considered to be "dry". This means it is less liquidy and more able to hold its shape and texture in latte art, and it has a different mouthfeel than other types of heated milk.

How to Steam Milk (Video)

This video includes tips and techniques for steaming milk with an espresso steam wand.

Steamed milk is used in cappuccinos (along with frothed milk) and it is used to give flat whites their characteristically smooth, "flat" texture and appearance.

Tips for Foaming, Frothing and Steaming Milk

  • Start with fresh, cold milk.
  • Use a little more milk than you want to include in the actual drink -- there will be some waste in the process of preparing the milk.
  • Add heat quickly. (For example, if using an electric stove, preheat the burner.)
  • Strive for an even texture, but be patient -- getting a consistently even texture takes a lot of practice!
  • If you're using a steam wand, play around with varying the depth of the wand and its proximity to the edge of the pitcher. Similarly, if you're using a whisk and a stove top, whisk closer to the surface for more air or deeper in the saucepan for less air. This will create different types of currents in the milk and heat / texturize it in different ways. As you learn to steam / foam / froth milk, knowing about these interactions between the steam and the milk will help you.
  • If you have a few large bubbles in your foamed, frothed or steamed milk, you can get rid of them by firmly tapping the heating vessel down on a counter top. This brings the bubbles to the surface of the liquid and encourages them to pop.
  • Many drink recipes call for steamed and frothed milk, or some other mixture of types of heated, texturized milk. As you practice these skills, you'll learn to identify different styles of milk and make them in the appropriate proportion.

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