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What is the difference between steamed milk and frothed milk?

What is the difference between steamed milk and frothed milk?

Understanding Steamed Milk and Frothed Milk

At the heart of many beloved coffee drinks in the UK, from the cappuccino to the latte, lies a combination of espresso and milk. However, the texture and preparation of milk can significantly vary, leading to a diverse range of beverages. One of the primary distinctions in milk preparation is between steamed milk and frothed milk. While they might seem similar to the untrained eye or palate, they serve distinct roles in the world of coffee.


Steamed Milk vs. Frothed Milk: The Essentials

Steamed milk is characterised by its velvety, creamy texture and lack of substantial foam. It’s the core component of lattes and often combines with a small amount of foam in cappuccinos. Frothed milk, on the other hand, is airy and has a significant volume of foam, making it the crowning glory of cappuccinos and macchiatos.

“While both steamed and frothed milk start from the same source, their journey with heat and air takes them on different textural adventures, resulting in unique finishes to our favourite coffees.”

The Science Behind the Textures

The distinction between these two milk forms lies in the amount of air introduced during their preparation and the temperature achieved:

  • Steamed milk: This milk is heated with minimal air introduction. The steam heats the milk uniformly, creating tiny microbubbles, resulting in a silky texture.
  • Frothed milk: Air is actively introduced into this milk, creating larger bubbles and increasing its volume. The outcome is a light, airy foam.

How do you steam milk for cappuccino without a machine?

For many coffee lovers, the lack of a professional espresso machine might seem like a barrier to crafting the perfect cappuccino at home. But fret not, there are several ways to achieve beautifully steamed milk without the use of specialised equipment.

Method 1: The Microwave and Jar Technique

  1. Fill a microwave-safe jar no more than halfway with milk to allow room for expansion.
  2. Seal the jar tightly and shake vigorously for 30-60 seconds or until the milk has frothed up.
  3. Remove the lid and microwave the jar for 30 seconds. This step will stabilise the foam while warming the milk.
  4. Gently pour the milk into your coffee, using a spoon to hold back the foam if you only want steamed milk.

Method 2: The Stove-top Whisk Method

  1. Heat milk in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Be careful not to let it boil.
  2. Once the milk is warm, use a whisk to whip the milk vigorously until you achieve the desired frothiness.
  3. Pour the milk into your coffee, again using a spoon to retain any foam if you’re aiming for steamed milk without the froth.

Method 3: The French Press Method

Heat your milk using a microwave or stove-top until it’s warm but not boiling. Pour the warm milk into a French press, ensuring it’s no more than one-third full. Pump the plunger vigorously for 20-30 seconds or until you get the desired foam consistency. Pour the milk into your coffee.

Factors to Consider

Milk Type

The type of milk you choose can have a significant impact on the quality of your steamed or frothed milk. Whole milk tends to produce a creamier, more stable foam due to its fat content. However, semi-skimmed and skimmed milk can also be frothed, albeit with a lighter texture.


Always monitor the milk’s temperature, aiming for between 60°C and 65°C. Overheating can impact the milk’s taste, leading to a burnt flavour.


Whether you desire steamed or frothed milk, consistent preparation is the key. Familiarising yourself with the techniques and practicing can make a difference in achieving the perfect texture every time.

In conclusion, whether it’s the creamy texture of steamed milk or the airy lightness of frothed milk that you desire, understanding their differences can enhance your coffee experience. And even without a high-end machine, you can still savour the joy of a well-made cappuccino right in the comfort of your home. Cheers to perfect coffees and the art of milk preparation!