Steaming Vs Frothing Milk - Their Differences And Similarities

Steaming Vs Frothing Milk – Their Differences And Similarities

Last updated on October 26th, 2023 at 15:52

I get asked a lot of questions about steaming Vs frothing milk. This article is focused on their similarities and differences.

The Short Answer is steamed milk is created using a steam wand that is attached to an espresso machine and is always frothy and hot. Steamed milk is created by forcing a mix of steam and water into your milk.

Frothed milk is created differently, by forcing air into the milk. Frothed milk is fluffier and softer.

Different milk foam for different drinks, one is not better than the other.

Keep reading as I dig down and detail the peculiarities of steaming milk vs frothing milk.

Steaming Vs Frothing Milk – The Difference Between Froth And Foam In Coffee

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty details of the difference between steaming milk and frothing milk.

Here is the short answer:

Frothing milk, or better put frothed milk, is lighter, more fluffy and more voluminous. Steaming milk, or steamed milk as it is known, is heated with steam and produces smaller amounts of microfoam.

Steamed milk is more commonly used as it is required in more coffee drinks. Both are made with cold milk.

Now let’s get to the details.

Steaming Vs Frothing Milk
Steaming Milk Is Easy

Read: Steamed milk temp

What Is Frothed Milk?

Frothed milk is produced by aerating cold milk, which is a fancy way of saying it adds air bubbles to your milk. It is the aeration process that makes your milk frothy and foamy. The reason for making frothed milk is to get a certain texture of an airy feeling in your mouth that is creamy.

It is a high quality dense and fluffy foam. You are perhaps familiar with it as the fluffy foam on your cappuccino and iced cappuccinos.

Making frothed milk is very easy, and no expensive equipment is needed. In all probability you may already have the equipment that you need in your kitchen. A dedicated milk frother is handy, but not essential.

You can make it using a blender and even a French press. For hot drinks, just heat your milk separately.

A dedicated automatic milk frother is handy for things like temperature settings and of course convenience.

What Is Steamed Milk?

Steamed milk is not the same as frothed milk as it is always hot and is a finer and more delicate type of foam known as microfoam.

It does not act the same way as the foam created in frothy milk and is made differently. By steaming your milk you are forcing both air and water into your milk, making it less aerated and creating smaller air bubbles, giving it a heavier and more velvet-like texture.

Steamed milk is used in more coffee drinks than frothy milk. It is also used in hot chocolate and, famously, for making latte art.

To make steamed milk you need to use the milk steam wand that is attached to espresso machines. Electric milk steamers do exist but are rare and are certainly not portable as they are the size of a Nespresso machine.

What Is Frothed Milk?
Frothed Milk Is Also Easy To Make

Read: How to steam soy milk at home

Steaming Milk Vs Frothing Milk: The Appearance

Frothed milk is very distinctive with its thick layer of foam that is fluffy, soft and very voluminous and stays raised as it is longer lasting.

Steamed milk is heated milk that only has a small thin layer of milk foam that is creamy, glossy and perfect for latte art.

The Texture

Frothed milk by its very nature has more air in it which gives it a very light and airy texture. Steamed milk on the other hand has a deeper aeration and a silk like consistency and a velvet like texture.

It is not a matter of one vs the other, it is not a binary choice. Different types of forth are used for different coffee drinks. Notably, both can be used with cold drinks and hot drinks.

The Taste

Something that is overlooked by many coffee lovers is the effect and role that milk plays in the resulting flavor and enjoyment of your coffee.

A different type of milk used will produce a different result. This is just as true for coconut milks as it is for oat milk, cows milk, specialized milk,  plant-based milks or standard dairy milk.

Whole milk makes a better quality of milk foam be it frothy milk or steamed milk. It also tastes a little better than non-fat and skimmed milk due to the flavor developing with the gentle heating of the natural sugars that are in the milk and the breaking down of the milk fats.

Both frothed and steamed milk will taste the same, very much the same with only a slight difference due to slightly more pronounced hints of creaminess and sweetness of steamed milk.

The Taste
The Taste Is Slightly Different

Read: Steamed milk

The Technique Of Creating Frothed And Steamed Milk

Creating the two different milks is very different, in fact, literally nothing is similar at all. Steaming your milk requires the use of a steaming wand that is attached to a coffee machine. You have seen it in use many times at your local coffee shop.

You need to keep the tip of the wand slightly submerged by around half an inch to create the milk foam. Later you can submerge it deeper to create a vortex of milk to blend in some foam to the milk and create that velvet-like texture.

Frothed milk can be created in a few ways, be it with warm milk and pressing the plunger of your French press to create the aerated milk froth, or you can use a food blender to create it. Automatic milk frothing machines are as simple as pressing a button.

Why Do You Froth Milk For Coffee?

The reason for frothing your milk is to obtain a certain texture that adds an airy and creamy sensation in your mouth while drinking your coffee. Top quality foam should be both fluffy and dense. It is an essential part of an enjoyable cappuccino and iced cappuccino.

Why Do You Steam Milk For Coffee?

The reason behind steaming milk for coffee is to achieve a sweeter and richer flavor and a creamier texture that is also lighter in body than unsteamed milk.

The combination of the creamy body and sweet flavor is in harmony with the natural fruity, nutty, caramel and chocolate notes of a cup of coffee.

Does The Type Of Milk Matter?

Yes,

simply because the various types of milk produce a very different tasting coffee. How your resulting cup of coffee will be will vary a lot in taste depending on what milk you use – regardless of steaming or frothing it (or not). The milk flavor will affect and influence the coffee drink you are making.

Using good proper steaming or frothing techniques you will still be able to make steamed or foamed milk with any type of milk that you wish. The texture and quality of the milk foam will vary depending on the milk fats and whey proteins in your milk.

Standard diary milk of 2% is the best choice as it produces the right level of foam and a good quality creamy texture.

Low fat and non-fat milk can create good quality foam as well but is lacking the creamy velvet-like texture. This is why whole milk is much better than low fat or skimmed milk.

Plant-based milks and nut-based milks are popular choices, but they don’t have the same properties as diary milk. For use in coffee, look for the barista version. The barista version has been changed slightly to have stabilizers and fats to get the same quality of foam and the creamy texture.

Does The Type Of Milk Matter
The Type Of Milk Matters

Frequently Asked Questions About Steaming Vs Frothing Milk

Frothed milk is very similar to steamed milk. Similar does not mean the same. Frothing milk is a very different process where the air bubbles in your frothed milk are much larger than steamed milk and more voluminous and have a lighter feeling and disintegrate on your tongue. Frothed milk lacks that velvet-like texture.

Baristas make both steamed milk and frothed milk. A barista will use the different milks for different coffee drinks. For a cappuccino they will use both. More commonly, a professional barista will make steamed milk and use the steamed wand to make milk foam.

Can You Froth Milk Without Steaming?

Yes, you can use a milk frothing wand to froth your milk or use an automatic milk frother. There are also various techniques for using a saucepan or a microwave to froth your milk. Even a French press can be used to make frothed milk.

A latte is made using steamed milk. It provides the velvet-like texture that is needed for an amazing latte. Frothed milk can not get that silky smooth texture, only a steam wand will.

Yes, the greater the fat content of your milk, the creamier and richer your milk will taste. The fat percentage impacts the stability and volume of the milk when you froth it. More fat, more stability.

Is Frothing Milk The Same As Steaming Milk?

Making foamed milk may seem to be the same or very similar to steaming milk, but it is not the same. The difference between the two is that frothing milk is more aerated and different tools are used to make both types of milk.

You need a steam wand for making steamed milk and an electric milk frother or a manual frother for making frothed milk.

Why Is Steamed Milk Better?

Steamed milk is better as it enhances the sweetness of the milk. The long chain carbohydrates when steamed breakdown into simple sugars with the application of heat. The simpler the sugar, the easier you will notice the sweetness.

Is It Steamed Or Frothed Milk In Lattes?

The milk in a latte is steamed milk. There is a 1 cm or 2 cm layer of frothed milk. The steaming of the milk helps to bring the texture.

Final Thoughts – Steaming Vs Frothing Milk

As you can see when comparing steaming milk vs frothing milk, they are both very different, and could not be more different if they wanted to be. They are used in different drinks, created differently and have entirely different characteristics.  

One of my preferred ways of making frothed milk is to use a French press, do it well and it is very fluffy!

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Derek Marshall, a certified barista by the Specialty Coffee Association possesses over two decades of experience in specialty coffee shops. He holds professional certifications for coffee brewing and barista skills. Derek is also an author with authoritative books covering various coffee topics including specialty coffee, sustainability and coffee, coffee brewing, coffee recipes, coffee cocktails and books focusing on Brazilian coffee, Vietnamese coffee, Indonesian coffee and Malaysian coffee. As a barista for over two decades, Derek Marshall has worked in specialty coffee shops across the United Kingdom, Spain, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. His expertise extends to the distinct coffee cultures, specialty beverages, and brewing techniques of each nation. Functioning as a coffee consultant, Derek charges US$50 per hour. To learn more about Derek Marshall and Latte Love Brew, visit his About Me Page. For coffee inquiries, contact him at +34-639-410-375 or Derek@LatteLoveBrew.com, mentioning your name and location

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