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Instead of paying top price for a cappuccino, why not channel your inner barista and make a steaming cup of caffeine goodness at home? If you have a coffee maker with an espresso function or a designated espresso maker, it’s easy to turn out your own delicious cup of brew. The crowning touch on any cappuccino, as well as several other hot beverages, is the topping of frothy, just a little bit sweet milk, which serves to counterpoint the strong taste of the coffee. For this you will need a milk frother, but how do you choose the right one for you?
At BestReviews, we want to be your go-to source whenever you’re trying to decide on a purchase. We never accept free products or manufacturer kickbacks in exchange for a good review or promotion. Instead, we do our own research, talk to experts in the field, and listen to feedback from actual owners. The results: unbiased, honest reviews. If you’re ready to buy a milk frother, check out our five picks in the matrix above. But if you’d like to learn more about the different types of milk frothers, how to use them, and why you need one, read on. Up ahead is your best cappuccino ever.
Frothed milk, sometimes called foamed milk, is dairy or soy milk that’s been whipped or stirred very rapidly. This creates a layer of microbubbles that increases the volume of the milk, while decreasing its density.
The frothed milk is then warmed, which breaks down the milk sugars for that sweet taste that so perfectly complements coffee’s bitterness.
Note that steamed milk, while heated in a similar fashion, isn’t heavily whipped. Steamed milk has a bit of a foamy topping, but it’s heavier and creamier than frothed milk. It’s steamed milk, not frothed, that baristas use to make pretty designs on lattes and other coffee drinks.
Currently Executive Chef at Bon Appétit Management Company, Steve began his tenure with Bon Apetit as Chef de Partie. He has over ten years of experience, including tenures at two- and three-Michelin star restaurants. Steve is passionate about all things cooking – products, supply chain, management, menu design, and budgeting.
Do you need a milk frother for your favorite coffee drinks? It’s helpful to first understand the differences between common coffee beverages.
A latte is also an espresso drink, but the milk is steamed, not frothed, and the drink has twice as much milk as a cappuccino.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Epica Automatic Electric Heater Carafe
Features and Maintenance
One very helpful feature of the Epica Milk Frother is its insulating vacuum layer. This layer acts much like a thermos and helps the carafe maintain a specific holding temperature between pours. Additionally, the Epica's carafe is detachable from its power base. The model arrives with both a spring-shaped frothing blade and a plastic paddle attachment for heating milk. We give high marks to the Epica for its quiet operation and ease of maintenance.
A cappuccino is espresso blended with an equal amount of frothed milk.
Also known as American coffee, this is your basic brew. Regular coffee is made from roasted and ground coffee beans briefly steeped in hot water. It is typically served with sugar and milk.
Frothed milk loses its sweet flavor if it gets hotter than 165°F since the fats will begin to cook. Your frother’s temperature controls can help you monitor this.
Espresso starts with the same roasted coffee beans but ground to a much finer texture.
The biggest difference, however, is in the brewing technique. An espresso machine forces hot water through the coffee grounds at high pressure, creating a beverage that is far stronger than regular coffee.
While espresso is sometimes sweetened with sugar, it’s always served black.
Properly frothed milk doesn’t look like meringue, nor does it have excessive bubbles like a glass of beer. Instead, the froth is very fine — it’s called microfoam — and at first glance resembles milk with a slight sheen.
While many espresso/cappuccino makers have a built-in milk frother, if you’re going to froth the milk separately, you need a milk frother. There are three basic types to choose from.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Ikea Milk Frother 100.763.20
The remarkably low retail price of $9 makes the Ikea 100.763.20 frother a great choice for consumers who want a quality kitchen tool for casual use. We have heard reports of customers purchasing a set of three Ikea milk frothers instead of investing in one new Aerolatte or SlickFroth 2.0. Some owners have concerns about the overall longevity of the Ikea milk frother, but if the creation of milk froth for gourmet coffee beverages is only an occasional indulgence, it does make good economic sense to only pay for what you need. The Ikea milk frother may be inexpensive -- almost to the point of disposable -- but it will deliver a decent hot or cold milk froth in 15 to 20 seconds.
These inexpensive frothers look like an immersion blender, but instead of a blending blade, they have a whisk. You simply lower the frother into your container of milk, and whisk until the milk foams, usually a minute or two. Most are battery-powered. If you choose a handheld whisk, look for one that remains on until you switch it off, rather than one that requires you to hold the button down continuously during the frothing process.
Pros: Handheld whisks are fairly inexpensive and easy to use. In one session, you can whip up enough frothed milk for several drinks.
Cons: Handheld frothers can chip or damage porcelain containers, and some are not powerful enough to produce a good head of foam. You have to heat your milk separately.
Struggling to get your milk to froth? Check the sell-by date on the carton. Old milk doesn’t froth nearly as well as fresh milk.
These frothers look like small stainless steel or glass pitchers with a lid and plunger. You pour the milk into the pitcher, attach the lid with the plunger, and then pump the plunger up and down until the milk froths. Although it doesn’t take much muscle power to work a pump frother, this isn’t the best choice if you have arthritis or weakness in your hands, wrists, or lower arms.
Pros: Pump frothers are inexpensive, self-contained, and easy to use and clean. They are ideal if you just want enough frothed milk for one or two cappuccinos.
Cons: Your hand might get tired, you have to heat the milk separately, and it’s quite a bit of work to froth enough milk for a crowd.
Don’t overfill your frothing container. A container that’s around one-third full of milk leaves plenty of room for the expanding foam.
These handy appliances look like a small carafe. Pour in your milk, flick the switch, and the electric frother does the work for you, whisking the milk until it foams. Many electric frothers also heat the milk. Some let you choose between frothed and steamed milk, which is a great option if you enjoy both lattes and cappuccinos.
Pros: You can froth a lot of milk without much bother. It’s very convenient to have the milk heated for you.
Cons: Much more expensive than handheld whisks or pump frothers, electric frothers are also generally more difficult to clean.
Don’t limit your froth to cappuccinos. It’s a great addition to hot chocolate, eggnog, and coffee cocktails such as Irish coffee.
Your local barista makes it look easy, but it’s actually a bit of an art to froth milk by hand.
While you might think you can save time by frothing milk that’s already heated, you will get the best results by starting with cold milk from the fridge.
Your frothing container should also be cold. Pop it in the freezer for five to ten minutes before frothing the milk.
Although low-fat or skim milk is easier to froth, whole milk creates a sweeter, creamier froth.
Sprinkle a little powdered chocolate or cinnamon on top of your cappuccino for a flavor boost.
While you can froth cow or goat milk with ease, it’s more difficult to froth plant-based alternatives. The key is protein: without protein, you won’t get a good froth. Soy milk, which has nearly as much protein as dairy milk, froths quite well. But you’ll have a hard time working up a nice froth with almond or rice milk.
If you are using a handheld whisk, keep the tip slightly toward one edge of the milk container and submerged to roughly the halfway point of the milk.
If your bubbles are too large, gently swirl the frothing container, or lightly tap it against the counter.
Warm your milk as soon as you finish frothing. The perfect temperature is around 140° to 150°F. If you get much hotter, your froth will taste scorched, not sweet.
Let your frothed, warmed milk sit for a minute or two to thicken before pouring it into your espresso.
For a handheld whisk, you’ll pay $20 or less.
Expect to pay between $15 and $20 for a good pump frother.
For an electric frother, the range is $30 to $50, although those with more bells and whistles can cost over $100.
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