I’ve been an espresso and cappuccino enthusiast for over a decade and testing and recommending coffee equipment for several years. Finding a way to achieve the perfect espresso and cappuccino at home has been something of a personal quest, but I also queried several experts before beginning the journey to find you the best milk frother. I I spoke with former latte art world champion Lance Hedrick of Onyx Coffee Lab, Sum Ngai, co-founder of Coffee Project NY, a barista training school accredited by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), as well as Home-Barista.com founder and editor Dan Kehn, to find out what they recommend in lieu of a steam wand attached to a pricey espresso machine.
I then whittled our list down based on what our experts recommended and what we found to be popularly reviewed around the web. In order to compare them to something akin to what you’d find in a cafe, I tested the eight milk frothers against the steam wand of our top-choice entry-level espresso machine, the Gaggia Classic Pro, using four ounces of whole milk, oat milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and almond milk. (In case you’re curious: we found that oat and almond mimicked whole milk incredibly well, while soy and coconut turned out to be the trickiest to froth.) Here’s what we looked for in the best milk frothers:
Ease of use, cleaning: A big factor we took into account was ease of use (number of parts, difficulty of using presets) and cleaning. Milk skins over quickly, and we have to assume that you, like us, will often let your frother sit with milk in it for a few minutes or more. When it comes time to get in there and thoroughly clean out that crusted milk is when you realize how easy (or difficult) these things are to clean. Handheld frothers were the easiest to clean, aside from the few that were dishwasher-safe. Other countertop frothers were more of a pain to clean and require some elbow grease.
Size, storability: A frother is largely a unitasker most of us will use but once in a blue moon. While we were impressed with larger models, they’re certainly not for everyone (or every kitchen), and we took this into account seriously. Considering the quality we were able to achieve with simple handheld devices, they make the most sense for most people. But, if you have lots of space, and particularly enjoy frothing (and/or frothed drinks), our upgrade and stovetop picks are worth the investment.
Timing: We timed each device start to finish each time we frothed, but we didn’t find much variation in speed, save for manual ones, which took about twice as long since we had to preheat the milk in the microwave.
Taste: Taste remained consistent across products except for when we made the mistake of burning milk with the more powerful devices (the Bellman Stovetop Steamer and the Breville Milk Cafe, namely). Some more difficult milk alternatives (particularly soy and coconut milk) were tougher to froth and often got too hot before actually frothing, and tasted burnt. Otherwise, we had no remarkable notes about taste other than the fact that most attempts turned out remarkably well and with ease.
Warranty: Two of the handheld picks we tested come with lifetime warranties, and after scouring the web and reading a few Amazon reviews, it seems as though they check out. The fact that many other options offer only a year quickly ruled them out.
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