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What’s the Difference Between Frothing or Steaming Milk?

Three images of products displayed from the article below including a Bellman stovetop steamer, a Zulay milk frother and a Breville Frother/Steamer.
Bellman/Zulay/Breville

When you’re new to making espresso or other coffee-based drinks, words like “microfoam,” “frothing,” and “steaming” can get a bit confusing. If you love hot, foamy coffee drinks, but find the learning curve a bit steep, we can help. The first thing you need to know is the difference between frothed and steamed milk.

Frothed milk is, indeed, different from steamed milk, but we’ll show you what you need to make both! We’ll also cover which types of milk work best for making both of these luscious upgrades for your morning brew.

What Is Frothed Milk?

Two products displayed from the article below including a Breville frother and steamer as well as a Zulay frother wand.
Breville/Zulay

To froth milk, you aerate it with a frother or steam wand. The method you choose renders different results, but both will create a far superior beverage than a regular cup of coffee.

Foam is one of the few essential components of fancy espresso beverages, like cappuccinos and caffe lattes. Luckily, making frothed milk at home is pretty straightforward and doesn’t technically require heat unless you make a hot beverage.

You can use a relatively inexpensive tool, like this handheld milk frother. It quickly and conveniently makes tiny bubbles that create a lighter texture with greater volume. If you use this, though, you’ll have to heat your milk separately for hot beverages.

Zulay Milk Frother and Stand

Achieve barista-quality foam at home.

For an all-in-one gadget that’ll froth and heat your milk, go for something like the Breville milk Frother. The frother jug allows you to adjust the temperature using induction heating, plus it features a frothing disk for all your foamy desires.

Breville Milk Frother

This trustworthy brand will give you coffee shop-worthy results every time.

What Is Steamed Milk?

A breville barista express espresso machine with a steam wand and conical grinder placed over a counter top with several espresso beverages.
Breville

As you might have guessed, you make steamed milk by exposing it when it’s cold to steam. This heats it and creates a silky soft, fine foam called “microfoam.”

You’ll notice the difference between foam and microfoam immediately. Microfoam boasts tiny air bubbles that almost look like thickened, rich milk, rather than foamy or airy milk.

The texture of steamed milk is also velvety and heavier than the airy foam of frothed milk. If you don’t have a fancy espresso machine, you can make steamed milk with a stovetop steamer wand instead.

This portable machine steams milk quickly. Just add water, and then use the steam wand to heat up and froth the milk for all your delicious coffee beverage desires. It helps to have a designated steaming pitcher, too, to prevent the milk from being scalded.

Taylor & Ng Bellman Stovetop Steamer

Achieve perfectly steamed milk.

A reliable temperature to steam your milk at home is between 145-155 degrees Fahrenheit. Milk proteins begin to break down around 170 degrees Fahrenheit, which will cause your milk to scald or burn.

Gathering multiple tools over time is a good way to eventually collect everything you need to make a fantastic brew in the morning. However, if you’d rather (and you have the counter space), you can get yourself a one-stop, everything-coffee maker in the form of an all-in-one espresso machine.

The Breville Barista Express comes equipped with a steam wand you can use to froth milk (after a bit of practice). The integrated conical grinder and precise espresso extraction will create the silkiest of espresso shots, perfect for fancy coffee drinks.

Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine

A one-stop-shop for lattes, cappuccinos, and other fancy coffees.


Just like any new hobby or skill, making espresso-based beverages takes time and practice. Hopefully, though, we’ve cleared up some of the confusion. After you’ve got the frothing and steaming down, it’s time to make the perfect latte.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »

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