A lot of espresso-based beverages you can get at any coffeeshop (or recreate at home!) include warmed milk. But the milk doesn’t always have the same taste or texture. That’s because not all milk is prepared the same way. So, why do some cups of coffee have a rich layer of foam, and others simply a thin layer of lonely bubbles?
The answer to this question lies in the difference between frothed milk and steamed milk. Let’s take a look at the difference between these two forms of milk in terms of how they’re prepared, how they taste, and what espresso-based beverages use one, the other, or both.
What Is Frothed Milk?
Frothed milk is that beautiful, velvety foam that regularly adorns cappuccinos. The way it’s created is by aerating the milk, or injecting air into it, to create tiny bubbles which constitute milky foam, or froth. The perfect foam, or froth, shouldn’t have large bubbles and shouldn’t be dry – it should taste and feel dense, yet creamy.
A cappuccino isn’t a cappuccino without a beautiful, silky finish – froth. Coffee art, for instance, where baristas draw flowers, hearts, and so on, on the top of your coffee requires perfectly made froth.
How Do You Froth Milk?
There are several ways to froth milk, and you can froth both hot and cold milk, depending on the method. Generally, baristas and folks who have espresso machines in their homes use a steam wand to froth the milk. The milk is placed in a frothing pitcher and the steam want is inserted near the surface of the milk, and near the edge of the pitcher. As the top layers begin to froth, you slowly move the wand lower inside the milk to froth the rest. Once you’ve reached the desired fluffiness, and the milk has grown about twice its original size, it’s ready to top off your coffee!
You don’t have to own an espresso machine to get perfect, silky froth. There are a lot of great milk frothers that are intended for home use and easy to operate. Most of them are handheld and work either through manual pumping of the milk or through an electric whisk.
Which Beverages Use Frothed Milk?
Some espresso-based beverages that always come with froth, or foam, are cappuccino, flat white, café breve, and macchiato – although a macchiato uses very little of it.
For a lot of other espresso-based drinks, foam is optional. This includes café au lait and café latte.
What Is Steamed Milk?
Steamed milk is what you get by exposing milk to high-pressure steam. Usually, the steam is introduced to the milk through a steam wand. Steamed milk is less dense than frothed milk, but it’s still quite creamy thanks to the expansion of milk fats that occurs during the steaming process. Steamed milk has a really silky, velvety taste which complements the initial espresso shot perfectly.
Unlike frothed milk, steamed milk isn’t completely turned into foam. Rather, the structure remains liquid yet creamy, containing only a very thin layer of small bubbles at the top.
As you can see from this image of a cortado, which is made with flat steamed milk, the foam that accompanies steamed milk is much, much thinner than the rich foam that comes with frothed milk.
How Do You Steam Milk?
The high-pressure steam is slowly introduced to the milk (usually through a steam wand), which causes the fats in the milk to grow and produce a thin layer of tiny bubbles on the top. You can steam milk by again placing the tip of the steam want just below the milk’s surface, and adjusting it until you find the right angle at which a vortex is created inside the pitcher. To make sure the milk reaches the perfect temperature, which is about 55–65°C (139–149°F), you can use a frothing thermometer.
While usually you’d need a steam wand to steam milk, there are also some home appliances which can HadinEEon Milk Frother, Electric Milk Steamer Foam Maker for Capuccino, Latte, Hot Chocolate, Automatic Hot Cold Milk Frother Warmer w/Two Whisks, Silent Milk Heater Coffee Frother(4.4/10.1 Oz),120V.
Which Beverages Use Steamed Milk?
Almost all espresso-based drinks that include milk use steamed milk. This includes latte, cortado, macchiato, café au lait, flat white, and mocha. Some drinks, like cappuccinos and macchiatos, are made with both steamed milk and frothed milk.