Steamed milk vs frothed milk (battle of the milk)

Photo of milk being steamed onthe left and milk being frothed on the right. Steamed milk vs frothed milk

If you’re making or ordering a fancy drink and want to know the difference between steamed milk vs frothed milk, look no further. 

Steamed milk differs from frothed milk, though many drinks can use it together. Steamed milk is created by using a steaming wand placed directly beneath the surface of the milk. It heats the milk and gently infuses it with a bit of air. It creates rich and slightly frothy milk. Frothed milk uses either the same wand or an actual frothing wand to agitate and aerate the milk. The result is dense, fluffy, and visually bubbly milk foam.

Want to know more about how they differ and how to use each effectively? Read on!

What is steamed milk?

Steamed milk is hot, slightly aerated milk that offers a rich, velvety, and smooth texture to your coffee drink. The best milk for steaming is 1% or 2%. It’s made with a steaming wand for the right texture control.

What is frothed milk? 

Frothed milk is either hot or cold milk that is agitated and frothed into a thick, dense, bubbly foam layered on top of a coffee drink. You can use any type of milk for this, though many find that 1% or 2% work best!

Is steamed milk the same as frothed milk?

While both can be created using the same machine, steamed and frothed milk are different enough from each other that they can’t be replaced by each other in cafes or coffee shops.

To summarize what I mentioned above: steamed milk is hot, rich, and velvety. It can be layered on top of an espresso shot or mixed. Frothed milk is often room temperature (or cold), dense, fluffy, and bubbly. Steamed milk is similar to a cream base, whereas frothed milk is whipped cream as far as texture is concerned.

Interestingly, both steamed and frothed milk were invested at the same time. Manufacturers added the steam wand to the existing espresso machines in the 1920s, making it possible to steam milk and froth it by agitating the steamed milk further. 

Later, milk frothers were sold as individual devices so that shops and homeowners didn’t necessarily need to have an entire espresso machine simply to froth milk!

Steamed milk vs frothed milk key differences

By now, you’re getting a sense of just how different steamed and frothed milk are when you think about them in detail. To help clarify it further, though, let’s compare them directly.

Steamed milk

  • Always hot
  • Used for latte art
  • Adds taste and texture

Frothed milk

  • Can be hot or cold
  • Used more for decor aesthetics
  • Adds texture and bubbles

The best way to understand these differences is to look at and taste both side-by-side. Once you’ve done that, you’ll literally sense just how unique they are!

Why should you froth milk for coffee?

If you’ve had steamed milk in your drink before, you might wonder why you should even have frothed milk. What makes frothed milk worth having an actual milk frothing wand at home?

Really, it comes down to the texture of your drink. Frothed milk adds a thick and delicious layer of foam to your drink. It also increases your milk volume so you can make less milk go further. This is an excellent benefit for those budget-friendly coffee lovers.

FUN FACT: Did you know the milk frother was invented in Italy? And it was internationally shipped to other countries after.

Why should you steam milk for coffee?

So now let’s take the other approach. Why should you invest in the tools required for steaming your milk at home? What makes it so popular and alluring? This one is going to be about the texture of your whole drink.

The hot steamed milk is delicious, creamy, and smooth. If you layer it onto your coffee, it’ll provide you with a rich, silky taste that will be dressed up and fancy. Many find the simple use of heated milk alone is a huge treat, so aerating it into a gentle fluffy texture is a huge step up.

The other huge benefit for those coffee connoisseurs is that they can teach themselves how to do latte art! Steamed milk is latte art’s medium, and it’s a great way to enjoy something special in your daily coffee! Plus, it’ll impress your neighbors and friends when you invite them for a special little treat one afternoon.

Fun Fact:

Ordering or making coffee that uses latte art incentivizes us to pay more for it, both financially and in paying more attention to it, according to PHYS

Is steamed milk or frothed milk better for coffee?

For whatever reason, I’ve found a lot of debate over whether steamed or frothed milk will be better for coffee. I struggled to answer this because, well, they’re not in direct competition! Tonnes of drinks use steamed milk and taste great. Others use steamed milk and frothed milk together, and they are delicious. More straightforward drinks use only frothed milk and are delicious just like that.

So, I guess I wonder why there is even a competition between them to start with. Both are wonderful, and neither can replace the other. Why not just try both and use whatever kind of milk choice that’s best for your taste buds? The thing is, too, one type will be more appropriate than the other, depending on what you’re ordering or making.

Which tastes better: Steamed milk or frothed milk?

Both will taste a bit…lacking on their own. They’re meant as additives to drinks like cappuccinos, flat whites, etc. Generally, most enjoy the taste of steamed milk better than frothed milk. It’s warm, mixes well with the espresso in your drink, and helps bring out more of each taste.

Frothed milk tastes good cold or hot, but this is more about a decadent kind of aesthetic to the drink that you’re making. It’s about texture and finesse. 

What if I don’t use regular milk?

You can froth creamer, and you can steam and froth plant-based kinds of milk. But you’ll likely notice their texture falling flat compared to traditional milk. The difference is the protein content since separating the protein from the sugar, and the fat helps give the sweet taste and creamy/frothy texture you’re going for.

Does steaming or frothing milk make it sweeter?

Any trained barista will tell you that steaming milk makes it sweeter. However, frothing does, too! Both methods will draw out the natural sweetness in your milk and help you skip any extra sugar or other additives to your coffee, like chocolate or syrups.

Most people notice the sweetness in steamed milk more because the milk is hot, and the sugary taste is more noticeable. However, warmed, frothed milk will give a similar taste in its unique texture.

I initially thought that steamed and frothed milk were totally different, so I was surprised to learn that there were a few similarities. That being said, steamed and frothed milk are unique from each other as far as how they’re used in drinks.

Steamed milk is hot, created through a steaming wand, and gently forms a creamy, silky, and rich microfoam. Frothed milk is created by either a steaming wand or a designated milk frother, which can be hot or cold. It aerates, agitates, and creates a thick, dense, frothy foam that sits on top of your drink as a decorative aspect – much like whipped cream.

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Robert Knowlton is an expert barista with more than 15 years of experience. Robert's main goal is to make sure everyone can enjoy the perfect cup of coffee regardless of their skill level.