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Frothed vs Steamed Milk: The Differences Explained

CoffeeAffection_Frothed VS Steamed_v1_Sep 1 2023

Lattes, mochas, cappuccinos all have something in common, besides being delicious espresso beverages. They’re all made with hot milk. But is it frothed or steamed, and what’s the difference?

Don’t worry: we are here to clarify. Keep reading to learn what separates steamed from frothed milk (think: heat) and how your favorite espresso drinks are made!

The Short Answer
Steamed milk is heated by using a steam wand just below the surface of the milk. It is always hot and may be slightly frothy. Frothed milk is aerated by placing the steam wand just above the surface of the milk, producing the foam you see on top of a cappuccino.

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Frothed Milk

Frothed milk is made by aerating milk, meaning adding air bubbles. The aeration process is what makes foam or froth. The purpose of frothing milk is to achieve a certain texture. It adds a creamy, airy mouthfeel to drinks. High-quality foam should be dense and fluffy.

frothed milk
Frothed milk has large, stiff bubbles and lots of volume. | Image credit: Unsplash

Foam is essential to drinks like cappuccinos. They are 1/3 foam and wouldn’t be considered cappuccinos without it! Froth can also go into cold drinks, like iced cappuccinos, giving them complexity and texture.

Making frothed milk at home is actually fairly easy. You can use a jar or whisk, or purchase a dedicated milk frother, some of which are handheld. Because basic frothing doesn’t involve heat, you’ll have to heat the milk separately for hot drinks like lattes.

There are also electric milk frothers that heat and froth the milk for you and have temperature settings for hot, warm, or cold froth.

RELATED READ: How to Make Breve Coffee at Home

Steamed Milk

Steamed milk is different than frothed because it’s always hot and produces finer, more delicate foam, called microfoam. Though the word has “foam” in it, it doesn’t act like the frothy foam in cappuccinos. Steaming makes the milk slightly aerated, creating very small air bubbles. This makes the milk heavier and gives it a velvety texture.

What is a latte?
Steamed milk is topped with velvety microform. | Image credit: Unsplash

Steamed milk is a key component of a multitude of drinks like lattes, mochas, and hot chocolate. It makes drinks creamy and smooth, and the microfoam is used to create latte art.

Typically, steamed milk is made with a milk steam wand. You can find these on many espresso machines and higher-end coffee makers. You can also buy electric milk steamers.

RELATED READ: See our comparison of the most popular standalone milk steamers here.

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Frothed vs Steamed Milk: What’s the Difference?

So what separates frothed milk vs steamed milk? Frothed milk has more volume, with significant amounts of foam. Steamed milk is heated and more delicately aerated, producing small amounts of microfoam. Steamed milk is also more widely used in a variety of coffee drinks, while frothed milk lends itself specifically to foam-filled beverages.

Frothed Milk
  • Can be hot or cold
  • Significant amount of foam
  • Larger, stiffer bubbles
Steamed Milk
  • Always hot
  • Delicately aerated
  • Silky microfoam

Now you have more coffee knowledge to use next time you order a frothed or steamed milk drink!

SEE ALSO: What are the 21 different types of espresso drinks?

Featured image credit: Ketut Subiyanto, Pexels


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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