How to Froth Milk With or Without a Frother

Barista status achieved (kind of). 

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There are endless brewing systems that have made it possible to brew coffee-house quality drinks at home. But when it comes to achieving frothy milk for foamy espresso drinks like cappuccinos or cafe lattes, that's when things can get a little dicey.

Here's the good news: You don't need to go out and purchase anything to froth milk. A milk frother or an espresso machine with a steam wand will certainly make the job easier, but you can still achieve similar results with staple kitchen equipment.

Which Types of Milk Give the Best Froth?

You would assume you get the richest, foamiest froth from full-fat milk, right? When it comes to frothing, low-fat or even nonfat milk is actually going to yield the best result. When there's too much milkfat, it can weigh down the air bubbles. Reduced-fat milk (like 1 percent or 2 percent), or skim milk is going to be your best bet.

Unfortunately, lactose-free milks lack the protein needed to hold the bubbles together, and plant-based milks, like almond milk or oat milk, typically don't froth up very much either. If you're someone who usually drinks non-dairy milks, it might be worth investing in a milk frother, as these can do a better job of frothing non-dairy milks.

How to Froth Milk With a Milk Frother

A good espresso maker could be a worthwhile investment if you're someone who regularly goes to a coffee shop to purchase espresso drinks. But for most folks, it makes more sense to buy just the milk frother. You can find top-rated models for less than $15.

person using wand on espresso machine to froth milk or cream
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Milk frothers can differ from one model to the next, so be sure to refer to your manufacturer's instructions. This method is meant for handheld milk-frothers, as opposed to hand-pump or automatic machines.

  1. Heat the milk. Whether or not you're using a milk frother, you need to start with hot milk in order to get the best foam. The heat helps to stabilize the foam so it doesn't fall flat immediately. To do so, either microwave the milk for about 45 seconds, or heat in a saucepan until it reaches 150 degrees F (you can use an instant-read thermometer to check this), just before it reaches a simmer.
  2. Froth. Place the milk in a tall cup, holding it at a 45-degree angle. Insert the frother and turn it on. Froth for 20 to 45 seconds, or until you've reached your desired consistency (for a cappuccino you'll want more foam than, say, a latte). Be sure to move the frother up and down the cup as you froth.
  3. Serve. You can add a little milk to your coffee by using a spoon to hold the foam back as you pour. Then, spoon the foam on top and enjoy!

How to Froth Milk Without a Milk Frother

For those of us who are without milk frothers, there's no need to fret. In fact you have more than a few options to choose from, depending on what you already have in your kitchen. These methods will have varying degrees of success, depending on how you plan to use your frothy milk and the type of milk you want to use, so you may need to experiment to find what works best for you. Remember, for all of these methods you need to start with warm milk.

Method #1: Shake in a Jar

This is the most bare-bones approach to frothing milk, as it requires no gadgets. You can even use this method in a hotel room, so long as you have a microwave and a container with a lid. This method is not going to give you the finest foam, but will work in a pinch.

  1. Heat your milk. Either microwave the milk for about 45 seconds, or heat in a saucepan until it reaches 150 degrees F (just before it reaches a simmer).
  2. Add the milk to a jar. Add your warmed milk to a container with a lid (a Mason jar works best). If the jar is too hot to touch, wrap it in a dish towel so you can hold it.
  3. Shake. Make sure the lid is completely sealed, and shake vigorously for about 30 to 60 seconds, until you reach your desired consistency. Add the milk to your coffee and spoon the foam over the top to serve.

Method #2: Whisk

If you have a whisk on hand, using it can create a slightly finer foam than that of the shaking method.

  1. Heat your milk.
  2. Whisk. Transfer your milk to a bowl and whisk using a back and forth motion until enough bubbles form.

Method #3: Hand Mixer

For an even better foam, and less work on your part, use a hand mixer with whisk attachments to whisk until frothy.

  1. Heat your milk.
  2. Whisk. Transfer your milk to a mixing bowl and use an electric hand mixer to whisk until foamy.

Method #4: Immersion/Stick Blender

It's no surprise that you can use an immersion blender to froth milk — it looks a lot like a handheld milk frother. The problem with this method is it can get a little messy, so you'll want to use a narrow container with tall sides to guard yourself from spills.

  1. Heat your milk.
  2. Blend. Transfer your milk to a narrow container with tall sides (or leave it in the pot if you used a deep pot). Insert the immersion blender and blend for about a minute, or until foamy.

Method #5: Blender

A regular stand mixer acts as an immersion blender does, just without sending milk everywhere. It produces a really nice foam that's hard to achieve from the more manual methods.

  1. Heat your milk.
  2. Blend. Pour the heated milk into a blender and hold the cover (the last thing you want is hot milk to go everywhere). Blend on medium speed until a fine foam appears.

Method #6: French Press

If you have French press, this is the best way to froth milk without a milk frother. In fact, it's design is similar to that of a hand-pump milk frother.

  1. Heat your milk.
  2. Pour and pump. Pour the hot milk into the press. Be careful not to fill it too high (remember the milk's volume will increase by about 50 percent or more when frothed). Pump the plunger up and down for about 10 to 15 seconds, until foamy. Let the milk rest for a minute or so, and serve.

Ways to Use Frothy Milk

Once you've mastered the art of frothing milk, you can transform your kitchen into a coffee shop. Use frothy milk in and on top of lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, mochas, tea lattes, and even hot chocolate.


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