When you explore the world of home coffee brewing, you realize it’s not as simple as it looks to prepare the perfect cup of coffee.
That cute coffee art prepared by a barista on your cappuccino doesn’t just magically happen, it takes skill and lots of practice.
You might also start to explore more technical questions to perfect the coffee brewing process, such as, what is the best milk for frothing?
You’d think milk is just milk, but the type of milk can make a big difference to the taste of your finished coffee and also to the size of your waist line.
What is Milk?
You probably pour it in your coffee every day without thinking too much about it, but what exactly is milk?
Milk is the liquid produced by mammals to feed their infants. Milk contains colostrum which can help to reduce the risk of diseases and is also full of many nutrients such as protein and lactose.
Basically, it’s made up of proteins, fats, sugar and good bacteria. It is also a great source of calcium, potassium and Vitamin D.
However, if you are lactose intolerant, here are the top 5 alternatives to milk.
How Does Milk Frothing Work?
One of the important ingredients of milk that helps with the frothing process, is the fat content.
Searching for the best milk for frothing will depend on the kind of foam you want to produce.
If you like your foam very creamy, you want to pick milk closer to the whole milk side. Low fat and skim milk will create a more airy foam.
The fat content combined with the temperature of the milk is what creates the froth.
In order to create the perfect foam, heat the milk to 95°F so the air in the milk will be able to hold the bubbles. An easy way to test the temperature is to hold your milk jug while heating the milk.
Too cold and the milk will be below your body temperature – aim at reaching close to your body temperature of 98.6°F.
If you can’t hold the milk jug anymore, it means you’ve overheated the milk and the foam created won’t last.
If you aren’t using a fancy espresso machine to heat your milk, you can also pop it into the microwave.
Depending on the strength of your microwave, a minute should do the trick. Or you can heat it on the stove in a pan or pot.
Remember to keep stirring the milk to prevent a fat layer from forming.
Read our post about the best handheld milk frothers if you want to whip up a homemade cappuccino without using a machine.
Handy tip: add a tablespoon of water to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pan or pot.
When you hear your coffee connoisseur friends use the fancy term “milk frothing”, what they are describing is air being trapped in the milk.
When a gas is evenly spread into a liquid, it’s called a foam or froth and this can be measured. A velvety smooth foam consists of bubbles less than 30 microns in size. Bigger bubbles will feel grainier.
In the hunt for the best milk for frothing, you want to keep the viscosity or thickness of the milk in mind. This is the force behind moving a solid through a liquid.
The trick is not to stir up too much of a storm while you are frothing, you want the consistency to be just right and the bubbles must remain small.
A handy electric milk heater for coffees, cappuccinos and lattes.
Press a button and let the foam maker do the hard work for you.
You can create either cold milk or hot milk froth. Within 80 seconds it will create perfect froth for you.
Milk and Steaming
Steam is formed when water vapor and air are forced into the milk. This is usually done with the steam wand on an espresso machine.
The combination of heating the milk and forcing air into it is what creates the foam or froth.
If you only focused on the steam and not the heating, the foam will only last for a few seconds and then the bubbles will start to disappear.
Heating and steaming milk in effect causes the milk proteins to unfold. They start out as little balls and as the heat increases, they start expanding more.
The protein chains in milk are polar. This means that one end attracts the water and the other end repels it.
Milk is mostly made up of water and when the unfolding process starts, exposing the ends, one end attaches itself to the water and the other end hides within the bubbles, repelled from the water.
This is how the bubbles stay intact.
Timing is everything to create the perfect foam consistency.
Another big word your coffee connoisseur friends may use, is microfoam.
This is the high quality foam you want for that pretty picture the barista draws on your cappuccino.
The frothed milk is full of tiny bubbles, so small and numerous that you can’t see them. But when you take a sip, you feel a velvety smooth texture on your pallet.
When you’ve found the best milk for frothing to create liquid velvet, you will achieve that perfect balance between espresso and foam.
The milk won’t separate into layers of thin liquid milk and stiff froth on top.
For the frothing the capacity is 125ml, ideal for a cup of coffee. Or for just heating milk the capacity is 250ml.
Easy to follow level indicators. Simply press a button and wait a few seconds for the delicious froth to appear.
Includes a free cleaning brush!
Prepping for Your Frothing
In the end you can almost use any type of milk for frothing, the results will just vary as well as the time it takes for the ideal foam to appear. For the best frothing results, skim or whole milk is recommended.
Purge Your Machine before You Start
If you are using an automatic espresso machine, make sure you use its automatic purging or cleaning function before you start. If you don’t, the coffee will most probably taste a bit funny. By pushing steam through the machine’s parts, you ensure that any build up steam or debris that’s been trapped from the previous brewing session is cleaned out.
Use Cold Milk
This is one of the big frothing secrets – the colder the milk, the better. The coldness ensures that the milk atoms are close together before you start pushing in the air and heating up the milk. The steam will create turbulence and enough friction between the atoms will create that magic microfoam.
Steam the Milk ½ a Cup at a Time
You can select the best milk for frothing but if you add too much milk to the pitcher, you will compromise the milk’s ability to create froth. Half a cup is the ideal amount of milk to easily create consistent froth.
Don’t Overheat the Milk
You do not want to go over 140°F. Your personal preference does play a role, but the hotter the milk, the less froth can be produced. If you’re not using a thermometer, stop frothing when it becomes uncomfortable to hold the milk pitcher.
The stainless steel body with a vacuum insulation helps to maintain the ideal temperature.
Easy to follow instructions with level indicators for frothing or heating.
You can also detach the carafe from the base for easy pouring.
The Best Milk for Frothing: Comparing Milk Types
When choosing the best milk for frothing, you need to look at the actual bubbles inside the froth produced to draw a conclusion. You also need to compare how long the froth lasts per milk type, plus the creaminess and tenderness of the froth (microfoam consistency)
The type of milk is determined by the fat content. Each time a bit of that portion is removed, it becomes skimmed. The name relates how much fat has been removed, usually by percentage values such as 1% or 2%. But it can also be called Semi Skimmed.
A milk alternative that can also produce bubbles, but the froth will disappear relatively quickly. The froth bubbles produced will also be larger. It can serve the purpose, but it’s not ideal. The smaller the bubbles, the longer the froth will last. When poured onto an espresso, the foam will also fall flat very fast. It can work for cold drinks, but it’s not recommended for hot drinks.
If you like creamy foam, this is your best milk for frothing option. Plus the froth will last quite long. This milk is really easy to froth, a good option if you are just starting out with your home coffee brewing hobby. The whole milk will offer you more control over the frothing process and produce great texturized foam.
If you like good bubbles, but want less fat content, this is your best milk for frothing option. The froth will also last quite well. The froth produced by Skimmed Milk will be rougher in texture and dull in color. But it’s still a good option for coffee drinks.
This type of milk is somewhere in the middle range between Whole Milk and Skimmed Milk. It’s also a good option if you want to cut back on the fat content of the milk, but still want to produce a semi creamy froth.
One step closer to Skimmed Milk. The froth will be close to the bigger bubbles of the Skimmed Milk. It will create an interesting bubbly sensation on your tongue when you take a sip. This one is definitely linked to personal preference, some people really like it but others say that it tastes weird.
The Best Milk for Frothing
What is the best milk for frothing? The answer is that it depends on your personal taste.
The recommended types are Whole Milk or Skimmed Milk, but in the end all the types will produce froth, but just not of the same quality.
Buy a few different types of milk and experiment at home. Tell us which one you prefer the most.