Before there was ever electric milk frothers that help you make your favorite coffee house drinks with a press of a button, your only option to enjoy a nice cup of cappuccino or latte was using an espresso machine with a steam wand to froth the milk.
But now that you have options, like Nespresso’s Aeroccino, or any other milk frother you choose, you must be wondering which makes a better coffee drink? Milk frother or steam wand?
Let’s start by defining each device and explaining how they work…
The Difference Between Steaming Milk and Frothing Milk
A steam wand is a metal tube attached to an espresso machine that releases hot, pressurized steam. The pressure from the steam breaks down the proteins in milk and creates foam. You use it by submerging the wand into cold milk and controlling the amount of steam that comes through with its lever control. Using this method to heat and froth or texture milk is called Steaming.
On the other hand, an electric milk frother works by using a metal coil to spin and heat the milk. It quickly heats up the milk, which creates foam. This method is known as Frothing.
Using an Electric Milk Frother Work
An electric milk frother (like Nespresso Aeroccino) heats and froths the milk in under a minute. This device works by heating up the milk while aerating the liquid with a spinning disc. The result is hot, thick foam used for cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, macchiatos, and other popular coffee-house drinks.
A Milk frother works independent of any machine. While some are built into espresso machines like the Lattissima, there are several models like the Aeroccino that are operated individually.
Using a Steam Wand
A steam wand is usually found on traditional semi-automatic or automatic espresso machines. This device works by using pressurized hot water (steam) to froth the milk, resulting in a slightly cooler micro-foam than an electric milk frother. The result is thinner foam used for cappuccinos, lattes, and other coffee-house drinks.
The steam wand gives you some control over the final texture of the foam, but it takes practice to get your desired results.
Choosing Between Milk Frother or Steam Wand
The biggest difference between the two methods is in the texture of foam they produce. An electric milk frother produces thicker foam than a steam wand does. This makes it perfect for making cappuccinos, macchiatos, and other coffee-house drinks that require thick foam, and without any work on your part. You’re merely pushing a button on the frother to get it started then pour the frothy milk to your coffee.
On the other hand, if you prefer more subtle textures in your foam, like for lattes and caffè macchiatos, then a steam wand is the better choice for you. This device allows you to control how thick or thin the foam will be by simply regulating the pressure of the steam produced.
Picking between these two comes down to a lot of things, one of them is being convenience, then budget and learning curve.
If you don’t want to bother with learning how to use a steam wand or need quick frothed milk for your coffee drinks, an electric milk frother is the way to go.
Steaming milk might look easy, but to be able to create different milk textures and foam levels, it takes a LOT of practice.
However, there’s one option I can think of that can combine a steam wand and convenience. A machine like Breville’s Creatista Plus, which is powered by Nespresso’s capsule technology and has a professional automatic steam wand that allows you choose your milk texture and temperature and it will make it for you! If you don’t want to use capsules, Breville’s Bambino Plus offers the same steam wand technology but you can brew espresso the classic way.
When speaking of practice, latte art comes to mind. If you aim to make beautiful latte art with your coffee recipes, you need steamed milk using a steam wand. Dense froth from a milk frother does not work for creating latte art. Doing latte art requires a certain milk texture (micro-foam), that can only be achieved using a steam wand. However, you can try this hack to make latte art using an aeroccino or lattissima.
Availability and Budget
Electric milk frothers are easily and readily available in the market for as little as $50 for a generic brand. An Aeroccino frother can set you around $100 or more if purchased on its own, a lot less if you are getting it as a bundle with a Nespresso machine.
On the other hand, a steam wand isn’t something you can buy on its own. Espresso machines vary greatly in prices from around $200 – $2,000. Cheaper espresso machines don’t make the best steam wands due to lower pressure power, so it’s a matter of how much you want to spend on an espresso machine to get decent results.
Using a steam wand comes with a big learning curve. The pressure, duration and foaming technique needs to be precise in order to get the desired micro-foam. It takes practice and testing with different variables until you can get consistent results.
An electric milk frother is more straightforward as it is fully automated, giving you minimal control over foam and temperature.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Cleaning a steam wand does require a bit of work, as you need to descale it regularly and make sure the nozzles are free from milk residue. But descaling isn’t done daily. The only cleaning you have to do after each use is purge it and wipe any milk residue off the wand.
On the other hand, electric milk frothers are quite straightforward in terms of maintenance, simply rinse with water and wipe clean. Some, like the Aeroccino 4, are even dishwasher safe.
Is Steamed Milk Better than Frothed?
No style is better than the other, it is pretty much a personal preference.
Overall, if you don’t have time or patience to learn how to use a steam wand but still want barista-style coffee drinks at home, then an electric milk frother is your best bet. But if you’re more adventurous and crave more control over foam consistency and temperature then go with a steam wand option.
At the end of the day, it boils down to what you need and prefer:
- For convenience, go for an electric milk frother like the Nespresso Aeroccino. Especially if you are not particular about the type of froth you can get and don’t need to control texture or temperature of your milk.
- If money isn’t much of an issue but you want more control over your coffee creations with a bit of practice in exchange, then consider getting an espresso machine with a steam wand.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does An Aeroccino Steam Milk?
To consider milk ‘steamed’, it needs to be heated and frothed using a steam wand. Aeroccino heats and froths milk, which makes a similar result to steamed milk.
Can a Steam Wand Make Froth?
Yes, a steam wand can make airy froth and not just micro foam. But that’s where the ‘learning curve’ comes into play. You’ll have to know how to make each type of froth while using the steam wand.
Can I Make Latte Art with an Electric Milk Frother?
No, latte art requires a micro-foam that cannot be achieved using an electric milk frother. There could be some ‘hacks’ that can help you achieve latte art using a milk frother, but it’s not a straight forward task.
What Type of Milk Can I Froth or Steam?
You can steam or froth any kind of milk; cow, goat, almond, coconut and more. But some types of milk might have different results than others. For example, plant-based milks are not as easy to foam compared with dairy milk.
Does Steamed Milk Taste Different than Frothed Milk?
Yes, the texture of each milk is different. Steamed milk is smoother and creamier, while frothed milk is denser and airy. The foam on frothed milk is quite thick, steamed or textured milk does not create thick foam.
On the other hand, most electric milk frothers have the option of heating milk without creating thick foam, if that is something you prefer.