Frothed vs Steamed Milk

Hot milk is an ingredient we are used to seeing in many popular coffee drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, and many others. In order to be used in these drinks, milk is often frothed or steamed, or in the case of some drinks, it’s both frothed and steamed.

While frothed and steamed milk may sound like the exact same thing, there are a few subtle differences that separate one from the other. Understanding these differences will take you one step closer to brewing the perfect milk-based coffee drink of your choice, which is why we are here to tell you all about it.

What Is the Difference Between Frothed Milk and Steamed Milk?

The main difference between frothed and steamed milk is the amount of air. While frothed milk mostly consists of air which makes it very foamy and bubbly, steamed milk contains less air, producing a small amount of microfoam instead. Steamed milk is found in almost every milk-based coffee drink, whereas frothed milk isn’t used as much.

Since the milk foam is basically created by aerating the milk, frothed milk doesn’t necessarily have to be hot. While steam wands are often used to froth milk as most drinks require the milk to be warm, cold foam can be obtained with the help of a blender if necessary. On the other hand, steamed milk requires a source of steam (such as a steam wand), meaning that you can’t steam milk without heat.

Steamed Milk

Steamed milk is the type of milk we are used to seeing in most coffee drinks, with drinks such as latte and macchiato being the most known ones that come to mind. These drinks consist of only espresso and steamed milk, with no frothed milk added. 

Obtained by slightly aerating the milk with a steam wand, the main characteristic of steamed milk is its texture. Compared to regular milk, you’ll notice that steamed milk has a heavier, creamier feel to it because of the air inside. 

Properly steamed milk shouldn’t contain any large air bubbles or a thick foam layer. Instead, it should be a homogenous mixture of milk and air where the presence of air isn’t too much. By only slightly aerating the milk, air bubbles aren’t visible even though they exist, giving the milk its creamy texture.

Along with being a staple in many coffee drinks, steamed milk is also used for making latte art. Since steamed milk has a small amount of air inside, a very thin layer of foam that we call microfoam is produced during the steaming process. The layer of microfoam is what baristas use to create the different kinds of latte art we all love to see.

How to Steam Milk?

  1. Start by pouring milk into your pitcher. Don’t fill it all the way as milk will increase in volume during the steaming process.
  2. Submerge the tip of your steam wand under the milk for 5-10 seconds. While you shouldn’t submerge the wand all the way down at this step, make sure that the tip of the wand is fully immersed in milk. Leaving a gap between will cause the milk to splatter all over the place, and create a lot of foam that we don’t really want. 
  3. Move the steam wand further down, but not by too (roughly less than a quarter of an inch) much. Tilt your pitcher slightly in order to spin the milk. This technique causes a vortex that integrates the air bubbles into the milk.
  4. Wait until your milk is warm enough, and turn your steam wand off. You can usually understand that your milk is warm enough by feeling the outside of your pitcher. If it’s becoming too hot to touch, it’s a good time to finish the process.
  5. Tap the pitcher, or slowly hit it against the counter to get rid of any bubbles, and your steamed milk is ready to go.

Frothed Milk

Unlike steamed milk, frothed milk doesn’t make an appearance in a lot of drinks. The best example of the usage of frothed milk is a cappuccino, a drink we are all familiar with. A cappuccino both contains a layer of steamed milk and a layer of frothed milk, where it becomes very easy to see the difference between the two.

Frothed milk consists mostly of foam and large air bubbles, meaning that you don’t really need a lot of milk as the volume of the milk rapidly increases with the frothing process. This is achieved by heavily aerating the milk which basically turns the milk into milk foam, giving it an airy mouthfeel and a fluffy texture.

Since frothing doesn’t require milk to be warm, it’s possible to have milk froth that is both hot and cold depending on the drink you’re planning to prepare. It’s extremely easy to obtain both warm and cold foam without any fancy tools, which we will be talking about in the next section.

How to Froth Milk?

Cold

All you need to do is to pour the amount of milk you need into a blender and let it run for roughly 30 seconds. If the milk didn’t end up foamy enough after 30 seconds, you can keep running your blender in 30-second intervals until the milk is frothed enough.

Hot

  1. Pour the desired amount of milk into a microwave-safe jar, close the lid, and shake until the milk becomes frothy.
  2. Remove the lid, and microwave the milk for roughly 30 seconds.

Just like that, your warm frothed milk is ready to go. 

Note that we only listed two different ways of frothing milk, but there are plenty of other techniques that involve different tools such as a steam wand or a milk frother. If you’re looking to regularly froth milk, investing in one of these tools may yield better results and make your life easier.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Should I use cold or warm milk for steaming and frothing?

It’s usually better to use cold milk in order to prevent the milk from boiling or getting too hot during the process.

Milk that has been in the refrigerator usually has the ideal temperature to make steamed or frothed milk with.

What kind of milk should I use for steaming and frothing?

While skim milk is considered to be easier to steam or froth, whole milk will give you the best flavor and consistency.

Foam made with skim milk is very light and isn’t as pleasant as the creamy foam of whole milk.

Conclusion

Both steamed milk and frothed milk are great tools to have to make tasty beverages, with each providing a different dimension to your drink.

We hope that we managed to clear any confusion between the two types of milk, as they are indeed very similar at first glance.

Have a great day, and don’t forget to enjoy your coffee!