Last updated on May 28th, 2023 by Jules Winnfield
For many coffee lovers out there, the frothy, foamy milk in a latte or cappuccino is something that really makes the drink special. After all, there’s nothing worse than trying to make yourself a latte and ending up with a dense, watery coffee. Yuk!
Unfortunately, it can be a bit difficult to recreate proper barista style coffee without all of the super expensive equipment they use in professional coffee shops.
Some coffee drinkers will have their own way of making espresso or cold brew coffee and some may even use a pod-based machine to make drinks at the press of a button.
However, the realest coffee aficionados will make their own espresso and froth their own milk to pair the two together in a deliciously silky drink.
If this sounds like something you want to try at home, stick around. In this article, we’re going to be looking at how to froth milk without a frother including all the different ways you can get great milk foam at home without having to spend thousands on a professional coffee machine or milk frother.
Milk Frothing: The Basics
Before we get into the best ways to froth milk, let’s get an understanding of how it works and why we do it.
In a coffee shop, a barista will use a milk jug and a steam wand, often attached to the side of their machine. The steam from this wand will heat up the milk and, when used correctly, will froth it up nicely too.
Usually, coffee drinks are enjoyed hot, which is why baristas will never pour cold milk into the drink and then heat it up. Instead, the cold milk is heated up on its own and then added to the espresso in a cup.
When you order a latte, your barista will incorporate a little bit of air into the milk by lowering the milk jug away from the wand slightly, producing small bubbles on the top known as microfoam.
Alternatively, for a cappuccino, a lot more air will need to be incorporated to produce larger, more fluffy milk foam on top known as macrofoam.
Baristas need to do plenty of training to be able to steam the milk perfectly for different types of drinks and know when it’s done by appearance, feel and sound.
However, most people don’t have a steam wand laying around at home! Although most espresso machines come with one these days. Let’s look at some of the alternative methods to froth milk without one.
How to Froth Milk Without a Frother
Method 1: Shake it up!
One of the simplest methods for frothing milk without the need for any fancy machinery is with some good old fashioned elbow grease!
For this method, you’ll need to start with:
- Already warmed milk. You can use a microwave for this or heat the milk on a stove. Whatever way you choose to warm it up, try to make sure it’s not boiling hot. Using hot milk for this method could end up hurting your hand.
- Once you have your warm milk, pour it into a jar with a lid that will seal tightly. It’s very important that the lid has a tight seal because the next step is… you guessed it… shaking the hell out of it!
- You’ll only need to shake the milk for around 45 seconds before it will be foamy enough but you can always keep an eye on it whilst shaking to get it to the consistency you want.
This jar method will pretty much exclusively produce macrofoam and there’s very little control you can have over the size of the bubbles produced on top of the milk. This means it won’t make the best lattes in the world but is a great way to make cappuccinos or macchiatos at home!
Method 2: Blender
This next method couldn’t be more straightforward. It starts pretty much the same way as the previous one:
- Start by heating up the milk in a microwave, on a stovetop or however way you want to do it.
- Then, simply pour the warmed milk into a blender and turn it on to a low setting. It’s important that you use the lowest possible blend setting so you don’t lose control of the milk and end up over-frothing it.
It’s easy enough to keep an eye on how long you should blend the milk for but it shouldn’t take much longer than 30 seconds.
Of course, you can also use handheld immersion blenders for this method, as well. You’ll use exactly the same process with these devices, just make sure you pour the milk into a sufficiently deep bowl or large cup to keep it from spraying out over the edge!
If you do have a handheld immersion blender, this is a great method for producing different types of frothed milk. If you want to make a silky smooth microfoam milk drink, keep the end of the hand blender as low down in the milk as possible and try not to blend it for too long.
Alternatively, to produce macrofoam milk, you should try lifting the head of the hand blender up slightly, towards the surface of the milk.
These different methods will take a little practice to get absolutely perfect, but it will produce a very high quality frothed milk drink.
Method 3: Whisking
Based on the last couple of methods we’ve discussed, this one seems like a no-brainer. In the same way you’d use a whisk to incorporate air into egg whites or cream, you can do the exact same thing with warm milk to froth it.
- Again, you should start with the milk already warm. Heating it in the microwave is the best way to do this but you can get it up to temperature on a stovetop too.
- Then, transfer your milk to a sufficiently large bowl and whisk it until bubbles start to form on the top of the milk.
Again, this is a method with which it can be quite difficult to control the size of the foam on top of the milk but with enough practice you should be able to get it to your desired consistency every time.
Of course, if hand whisking your milk every time you want a frothy coffee drink doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, you can always use an electric whisk/mixer.
This will use the exact same process as a hand whisk but will require a lot less time and effort to achieve the same results.
Method 4: French Press
If you’re an avid coffee drinker, there’s a good chance you already own a French press. Normally, you might use this for percolating your coffee drink but it can also be used to froth milk.
- Of course, you’ll want to start with milk that has already been warmed, either in the microwave or however way you want to do it.
- Then, pour the milk into your French press, making sure it’s no more than ¾ full. If there’s too much milk in the press, the bubbles will build up too much inside and cause it to overflow.
- Then, pump the press up and down fairly quickly with one hand while holding down the lid with your other hand. Because of the way the press is designed, your milk will become super frothy very quickly and you should only have to press it for roughly 10 seconds before it’s ready.
It is a good idea to leave the milk for a minute or so before pouring it into your drink. However, when you do pour it, you’ll find that the spout on the press is perfectly designed for the job, making it easier than ever to produce some gorgeous latte art.
Of course, not everyone has a French press laying around their house. However, if you do want to get more into creating various coffee drinks, investing in a versatile tool like a French press isn’t a bad idea.
Method 5: Pump Frother
This last method might be considered cheating a little because it is technically a dedicated frother. However, it is one of the best methods of producing delicious coffee drinks without any fancy machinery.
It works in very much the same way as a French press.
- Simply heat milk over a stove or in a microwave and pour it into your pump frother. Again, you should only use as much milk as will comfortably fit into the frother (don’t fill it more than ¾).
- Then, all you’ll need to do is pump the plunger and hold the lid on tightly. After about 10 seconds you’ll have beautifully foamy milk.
In general, this frothing method isn’t much more effective than the French press method so it’s probably not worth investing in a pump frother if you already own a French press.
However, if you want to keep your coffee making apparatus and milk frothing equipment separate, a pump frother may be worth considering.
Are Milk Frothers Really Worth It?
We’ve already talked a little about pump frothers but the most popular device for frothing milk at home is an electric milk frother. These little wands are designed perfectly for the task of frothing milk.
To use a milk frother, you simply need to start with some already warmed milk, submerge the head of the wand in the milk and switch it on. The wand will then spin and vibrate, churning up bubbles and foam deep within the warmed milk, which will then float up to the surface.
It only takes a few seconds of frothing to produce excellent results and there aren’t many other ways of getting that much control over the size of the foam on your milk without using one of these.
In general, a milk frother doesn’t cost a great deal of money and can produce some good foam for your coffee drinks. Overall, we’d say these devices are worth it, especially if you’re an avid coffee drinker who wants to make barista quality coffee drinks at home.
However, as we’ve established, there are still plenty of other methods you can use to make lovely frothy milk at home, without the need for purchasing a milk frother. It really depends on how much effort you are willing to put into the process.
Which Types of Milk Are Best For Frothing?
As you probably already know, there are plenty of dairy free alternatives to cow’s milk that can be used in coffee drinks. Of course, these types of milk all differ somewhat in taste causing you to wonder how different they are for frothing and steaming too.
In general, whole milk is the standard across the world for making any kind of coffee drink with milk foam on top. The chemical makeup of this type of milk means it froths perfectly and allows for beautiful latte art to be produced.
2% milk (known as semi-skimmed in some parts of the world) is also a pretty good one as it has a lot of similarities with whole milk. The main difference is that 2% contains a lot less fat, meaning it won’t taste quite as nice but will certainly be a lot healthier!
Oat milk is the first dairy free alternative we’re looking at and it’s a pretty solid contender to whole milk. You can steam and froth oat milk pretty much just as easily as you can with dairy milk, meaning there’s no reason you shouldn’t use it if you prefer the flavor.
Almond milk is a slightly less froth-friendly dairy free alternative. It’s a lot thicker than most types of milk, meaning it would definitely take a lot of practice to get it right every time. Also, almond milk has a pretty strong flavor compared to other varieties, making it a fairly acquired taste.
Finally, coconut milk is just about the worst variety you can use for making frothed milk. It’s actually a lot thinner than most others, which doesn’t lend it well to frothing nicely and makes latte art almost impossible.
Overall, coconut milk definitely ranks last in the varieties we’ve looked at.
Now that we’ve gone over all the best alternative methods for making milk foam without a milk frother, you should have no problems whipping up some delicious coffee drinks at home.
Whatever method you find easiest to froth milk, it will take a little bit of practice to get it to a consistent level that you’re happy with every time.
If you have a Nespresso milk frother, it is actually easier to froth your milk, and this article would help you when you encounter any troubles with it.
If you already own an espresso machine or espresso maker with or without a frothing wand, you have plenty of opportunities to practice these methods and have fun learning to pour steamed frothed milk like a barista.
Even the staff at your favorite coffee shop would be surprised at the delicious lattes you’re able to produce at home with these milk foam methods!
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“Jules” is a pharmacist by day and investor, writer, and health nut by night. When he’s not sipping on some coffee laced with MCT oil during an 18 hour fast, he is writing about how to get your coffee grind on or playing Monopoly with his 2 boys and wife. Ahh…life is good!