How To Froth Milk For Coffee [4 easy ways]

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If you want to enjoy café quality coffee at home, learning how to froth milk for coffee is an essential skill to know.

Velvety milk froth (otherwise known as microfoam) is the secret to many espresso-based coffee drink recipes and the good news is that it isn’t as difficult to master as you may think.

So if you want to know how to froth milk at home this is the guide for you! In this guide to frothed milk we show you 4 easy ways you can froth the milk at home plus share some barista frothing milk tips for perfect microfoam.

Regardless of whether you want to know how to froth milk with a steam wand on an espresso machine or how to make steamed milk without a steamer or frother, by the end of this guide you will know the ins and outs of how to make frothy milk at home.

pouring frothed milk into coffee cup with milk pitcher.

What is frothed milk?

Frothed milk is milk that’s been warmed and had air bubbles incorporated in it.

The hot steam breaks down the sugars and the bubbles create foam (or froth) changing the texture of the milk. The result is the velvety mouthfeel you experience in a café made coffee with frothed milk like a flat white, magic, cappuccino or latte.

In order to further define what frothed milk is, a review of the different ways that milk can be warmed is helpful.

Warmed milk

Warmed milk is heated but has froth as no additional air is incorporated into it. It is also often called steamed milk. Thus the mouthfeel of the milk remains unchanged.

Milk is most often warmed on the stove. You can also warm milk in the microwave, but it tends to heat unevenly, scald in spots and produce a scum on top.

Microfoam

Microfoam is the finest type of frothed milk, both in the size of bubbles and the quality.

The milk is heated and stretched and minuscule bubbles are incorporated into the milk. This usually must be done with a steam wand (best option) or a stand alone milk frother.

Microfoam has a velvety mouthfeel and a creamy texture and is essential for good latte art. We explain how to microfoam milk in the sections below.

Macrofoam

Macrofoam is frothed milk that’s heated and has larger bubbles incorporated into it. It creates a large volume of milk froth that is very airy. This changes the texture of the milk some, but it’s not as velvety smooth as microfoam.

Macrofoam can be created with a range of equipment, including inexpensive equipment that’s commonly found in the kitchen. Macrofoam might also be referred to as “milk froth.”

Many cafes still add macrofoam to cappuccinos, to create a frothy milk layer.

Of all these variations on frothed milk, microfoam is generally the most desirable type of coffee froth. In situations where someone wants a drink as light as possible (e.g. an extra-dry cappuccino), macrofoam may be preferable.

high angle view of fresh steamed milk foam in jug in woman's hand.

What is the best milk for frothing?

This is a tricky question to answer as it depends on the result you are after – microfoam or macrofoam.

The best milk for frothing to make microfoam is rich in fats (lipids), lactose and proteins, because these milk components are what provide the surface tension to create creamy microfoam.

Therefore technically the best milk for frothing is water buffalo milk, as it has a high level of fats and proteins. The milk is so flavorful that it can overpower espresso in larger drinks (e.g. lattes), but makes for delectable macchiatos and cortados.

However for those of us who don’t raise water buffalo, dairy milk is a much more practical and perfectly suitable option for microfoam!

On the other hand the best milk for frothing macrofoam is low fat milk – as the lower fat content creates a frothier and lighter coffee milk foam.

Even a skilled barista will have difficulty creating good microfoam with milk that has essentially no fat in it. A combination of fats and proteins is needed for delicious microfoam.

With this in mind, these are the best types of milk for frothing microfoam, ranked in order:

  • Whole milk
  • Almond or oat milk
  • Lite or low fat milk
  • Soy or rice milk
  • Skim milk
Woman holding milk container in supermarket with other types of milk.

What is the best frothed milk temperature?

Dairy milk should be frothed to between 55 and 65°C (~130 – 149°F). However when considering the best temperature for frothing milk, both the starting and the finishing temperatures are important.

What is the best temperature to start frothing milk at?

Milk should be as cold as possible when you begin frothing. Pull it out of the refrigerator just before frothing. This allows for as much time as possible to incorporate bubbles as you heat the milk up.

While it should be cold, make sure the milk isn’t – and never has been – frozen. Milk undergoes structural changes when it freezes, and these changes make creating good froth virtually impossible even after the milk is thawed.

What temperature should milk be frothed to?

Dairy milk should be frothed to between 55 and 65°C. Although some people find 55 C a little cool, the milk has a natural sweetness that peaks at this temperature range. It also doesn’t cause burns at this temperature range.

I tend to steam milk at home to 60°C using my milk thermometer, then switch off the steam wand, by which time the milk temperature is around 65°C.

If a hotter temperature is desired, milk can be safely heated up to 74°C (~165°F). Beyond this temperature, dairy milk will scald and change in flavor. It also becomes more difficult to increase froth at this point.

If you prefer plant based milk coffees, you will need to experiment a little as some plant based milks scald at much lower temperatures (soy milk scalds at 55°C (~135°F) but this is a little cool for most coffee drinkers, who tend to want it hotter than that.

So depending on the milk you use and whether it is regular or low fat, you may need to adjust the timing to achieve the right temperature and taste when using plant based milks.

Note: The above information on milk type, starting temperature and ending temperature applies to all milk frothing techniques listed below.

How to froth milk for coffee [4 ways]

Now that we know what milk froth is, the different types of milk and the best milk frothing temperature, let’s take a look at the different ways you can froth milk for coffee.

There are essentially 4 ways you can make good frothed milk at home:

And if you don’t have any of these options, don’t worry! We will also cover some manual ways to make milk foam at home if you don’t have any of the equipment above.

How to froth milk with a steam wand

An espresso machine steam wand is the very best way to froth milk, and it’s what cafes and home baristas with an espresso machine use to froth milk for a latte, cappuccino and other milk based coffees.

In fact, this is the only way to create the amount of dense, rich microfoam that’s needed for great latte art. You’ll have to invest in a good espresso machine if you want to use a steam wand, though.

Equipment needed

  • Espresso machine with steam wand
  • Milk frothing jug
  • Thermometer

Steam wand

Most espresso machines have a steam wand on them, and this is the most common way to acquire a steam wand. Bellman does offer a steam wand that runs on the stovetop – we review it here.

Milk frothing jug

A milk frothing pitcher should be made of stainless steel, both because it’s a healthy option and it allows you to feel how hot the milk is.

The jug’s volume should equal the volume of froth that you want steamed, and that’ll come to about two times the amount of milk you start with. So 125 ml of milk should be frothed in a 250 ml pitcher to create a 250 ml (8 oz) cappuccino.

A jug that’s too small won’t have enough room to froth properly, and one that’s too large will make it difficult to place the steam wand’s nozzle at the proper level (see below).

Milk jugs come in several different shapes. Any that’s slightly tapered will help the milk swirl and work well. The spout should also be narrow if you want to create latte art.

If you don’t own a milk jug yet, you can read our reviews of all the best milk jugs here.

Thermometer

A milk thermometer is optional. Experienced baristas can feel when milk reaches the proper temperature, but if you are at the level of milk frothing for beginners a milk thermometer is an affordable and invaluable tool to ensure you don’t overheat the milk.

I find a milk thermometer really helpful and easy to use. This one is perfect for 300 – 500 ml milk jugs.

Two cups of espresso standing on the bar counter near the metal milk jug.

How to perfectly steam milk with a steam wand

Ok, so let’s break down the steps for how to use a frother wand on an espresso machine to froth milk perfectly.

  1. Fill the frothing pitcher halfway with milk. This is usually just below where the pitcher’s spout begins.
  2. Place the steam wand’s nozzle into the middle of the pitcher, and turn your jug so it is slightly off centre. Ensure the steam wand is a little below the surface to start. This prevents milk from flying everywhere when you turn on the steam wand.
  3. Turn on the steam wand so that it’s fully open. Partially opening the valve will create a stream of hot water rather than steam.
Barista steaming the milk with the help of espresso machine
  1. Bring the nozzle to the upper surface of the milk. You should hear a pleasant “tssk tssk” sound, which is the sound of the steam wand adding air to the surface of your milk. Milk spitting or large bubbles forming a sign that the nozzle is too high, and screaming is a sign that it’s too low (or the milk is burning). 
  2. Keep the steam wand nozzle on the surface until it reaches around 35 degrees to incorporate bubbles into the milk, then move the nozzle just below the surface.
  3. Keep the nozzle just below the surface as you steam, moving it upward slightly as the volume of microfoam increases.
  4. Maintain a pitcher angle that makes a whirlpool in the pitcher, which helps the milk circulate for even heating and frothing and ensures the air is being combined with the milk.
Barista pouring milk into the cup of coffee making latte art.
  1. Turn the steam wand off when it reaches 60C and remove the wand from the pitcher.
  2. Flush the steam wand after to clear out any milk. Also immediately wipe it off with a damp towel to remove any dried milk.
  3. Pour the milk from the milk jug onto your espresso in your cup.

Barista tips for frothing milk with a steam wand

To produce the best homemade frothed milk possible, keep these tips in mind:

  • Listen carefully for the pleasant “tssk tssk” of the air being integrated into the milk
  • Maintain a steady whirlpool while steaming
  • Don’t wait long before pouring the milk into your cup as the steamed milk will separate from the foam
  • Swirl or stir the milk jug before pouring if the foam and milk begins to separate after heating
  • Use a shallow, bowl-like cup for easier pouring to produce detailed latte art.

Looking for a home espresso machine?

We reviewed all the best espresso machines to help you choose the perfect one for your home.

How to froth milk with an automatic frother

An automatic frother is the next-best way to froth milk, and it’s one of the few other options that are capable of producing microfoam.

A standalone steamed milk frother is the perfect option if you own a coffee capsule machine, stove top coffee maker or filter coffee machine and an affordable way to achieve milk froth without investing in an espresso machine.

The quality of frothers varies enormously, as does the time to make frothed milk. Some models have different disks to use depending on how small or large you want the froth’s bubbles. Some even have a milk temperature setting and the option to make hot or cold frothed milk.

Additionally, an automatic frother is one of the most convenient ways to froth milk. Simply put the milk in the appropriate chamber, and the appliance will both warm and froth the milk for you. 

If you are looking for an automatic frother, read our reviews of the best automatic milk frothers here.

Equipment needed

How to froth milk with a frother

It is important to read the frother instructions, but generally the steps will be:

  1. Place the appropriate disk in the upper chamber (if necessary)
  2. Pour the milk into the upper chamber.
  3. Set the milk temperature setting (if available).
  4. Turn on until desired foam is created.
Automatic milk foam maker with lid.

Expert tips on frothing milk with an automatic frother

Note these tips on how to make coffee milk foam with an automatic frother:

  • Don’t overfill the milk chamber as it will make it more difficult to achieve fine milk foam.
  • Although automatic, watch the milk froth and manually turn the appliance off when desired foam is created.
  • Clean thoroughly after each use to keep it in good condition.

Looking for a milk frother?

We reviewed all the best milk frothers to help you choose the right one for your home.

How to froth milk with a hand frother

The next option for making frothy milk is with a handheld milk frother.

A frother wand won’t create as much fine froth as a steam wand or automatic frother, but it’s capable of still producing a decent milk froth.

This is probably the most affordable option that still can create good foamed milk for coffee.

Equipment needed

  • Small Pot: A small pot will reduce the risk of scalding as the milk is heated.
  • Hand Frother: Most handheld frothers are battery-powered. Only a basic one is necessary.
  • Milk jug or large mug: A milk jug is best but if using a mug it should be oversized so that milk doesn’t splatter out of it.
  • Thermometer: a milk thermometer is optional but helps get your milk to the right temperature.
Woman using handheld milk frother in pitcher near cup of coffee on table.

How to use a hand frother for frothing milk

  1. Start by pouring the milk into the pot, and heat on the stove until hot, but not boiling.
  2. Pour the heated milk into the milk jug or mug.
  3. Submerge the powered frother slightly below the surface of the milk and at an angle to create a whirlpool.
  4. Froth the milk until the desired foam is created.

Expert milk frothing tips with a handheld frother

Take note of these tips on how to use a milk frother to make foamed milk:

  • Milk needs to be heated before frothing to produce good foam.
  • Heat the milk closer to 74°C (~165°F), because it’ll cool while transferring and frothing.
  • Froth the milk in a milk pitcher to reduce mess and help create a good whirlpool for foaming.
  • Don’t over whip the milk, as you will end up with a lot of macrofoam instead of microfoam.

Looking for a milk jug?

We reviewed all the best milk jugs to help you choose the best one for your home.

How to froth milk with a French Press

You might be surprised to know milk can also be foamed with a French press, and the process is a lot like using a frother.

A press will only create macrofoam, though. It’s a good option if you don’t have a frother as it doubles as a coffee maker and milk frother.

Equipment needed:

  • Small Pot: A small pot will reduce the risk of scalding as the milk is heated.
  • French Press: A small one will froth the right amount for one or two drinks.

If you are looking for a good french press, read our best coffee plunger reviews here.

How to make milk foam with French Press

  1. Start by pouring the milk into the pot, and heat on the stove until it reaches 74°C.
  2. Carefully pour the milk into the French Press.
  3. Plunge the press repeatedly for around a minute until the desired foam is created.
Using a french press to froth milk.

Expert tips on using a French Press to froth milk

To produce the best froth possible with a French press:

  • Heat the milk closer to 74°C (~165°F), because it’ll cool while transferring and frothing
  • Use a small press even for multiple drinks, as frothing more milk requires more time and the heat and bubbles will breakdown more quickly. This 500 ml capacity french press is perfect.

How to froth milk without a steam wand or frother

Okay, so if you don’t have any of the above equipment, the good news is there are several ways to make milk foam without a frother.

All of the equipment listed below follows the same basic steps of a frother or press, but they incorporate the milk foam differently.

If you want to use any of these methods, using full fat milk will help produce a creamier froth. If you want lots of airy froth, go for a low fat milk.

Options to froth milk at home without a frother include:

  • A mason jar with lid
  • Hand blender

Mason jar

To use a mason jar, simply add your heated milk to the jar, replace the lid tightly and shake vigorously for about a minute.

This will produce foamy milk with more volume than steamed milk.

Hand blender

With a hand blender, place your heated milk into a deep sided bowl or jug, and blend until frothy. It will produce a frothy milk with large bubbles.

For a thicker and creamier result, add a little cream to your milk before blending.

How to create latte art with steamed milk

One of the pleasures of actually frothing milk (and doing so well) is to create latte art.

There are many techniques to make latte art, but here’s how to start with a simple flower:

  1. Add your frothed milk to the espresso in the centre of the cup until the cup is approximately half-full.
  2. Then rest the spout of the pitcher on the side of the cup and slowly pour a little milk at a time into the cup. White circles should form on the surface, forcing previously poured circles to move up. These become the petals.
  3. When just a little milk is left, pour it along the centre of all circles to create a stem.
white coffee cup with latte art on wooden bench top.

Perfect microfoam tips

Creating microfoam requires practice. As you work at it, remember these tips:

  • Use a steam wand for the best microfoam
  • Listen for the roar, and maintain a steady whirlpool
  • Use cold milk that’s never frozen
  • Steam until the milk reaches 57°C (preferred) to 74°C
  • Use a barista milk pitcher to create great latte art.

Frequently asked questions

Below we answer some of the common questions related to foaming milk at home.

How do you froth milk without a frother?

To froth milk without a frother or espresso machine, you can use a mason jar, blender, electric mixer or immersion blender.

These methods will increase the milk volume and make hot frothy milk for cappuccinos and lattes.

The quality of the foam will not be as good as milk frothed with a steamer, but they are a cheap and easy alternative.

Do you froth milk hot or cold?

The best way to froth milk with a steamer or frother is with cold milk. The steam wand or frother then heats and froths the milk, resulting in hot frothed milk.

If you have a hand held frother wand or french press, you need to heat the milk first then froth it to achieve the best foam.

Some automatic frothers have a cold froth option, which is perfect for topping your cold coffee drinks like cold brew and an iced latte.

How long does it take to froth milk

How long it takes to froth milk depends on the frothing method you use. With an espresso machine it will take 1-3 minutes depending on the power of the steam wand.

In a milk frother like the Nespresso Aeroccino it takes 60 – 90 seconds to froth cold or hot milk. Whereas the Breville Cafe Frother can take from 2 – 7 minutes to finish frothing depending on the quantity of milk uses.

When frothing with a hand held whisk or pump frother it takes around 1 minute to froth your milk.

Have fun frothing milk

Foaming milk allows you to make many more café quality coffee beverages, and it can save you money by not heading out for great coffee.

Now that you know how to make foamed milk, experiment with these various frothing techniques and enjoy the new beverages you create at home.

More brewing guides

If you loved our guide on how to make frothy milk at home, you may like to read these brew guides and recipes.

See all our coffee brewing guides here. If you love to make great coffee at home, browse our coffee gear reviews.

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milk pitcher pouring milk into cup with text Learn how to froth milk for coffee at home.
About Rachel Rodda

Founder of Coffeewise, Rachel is a passionate coffee drinker, Specialty Coffee Association member and former barista who loves to research and share practical tips on brewing great coffee at home.

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