How To Steam Milk At Home: With or Without a Wand

Steamed milk in a white mug with latte art

How do you enjoy sipping a cup o’ Joe? Do you prefer espresso, cappuccino, latte, or long black?

Whichever your personal taste, coffee consumption isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Matter of fact, a 2020 survey by the National Coffee Association shows that coffee consumption in the U.S. has increased by 5% since 2015. The average person consumes just over 3 cups a day.

While traditional coffee consumption has declined by 10%, the consumption of lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites has increased by a whopping 50%.

And why the increased interest in these espresso-based drinks? 

You guessed it – the added milk.  

Coffee and milk form a perfect combo and for a simple reason: steamed milk brings out the coffee flavor, making it more that much more delicious.

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What’s Steamed Milk?

Generally speaking, steamed milk is the milk that the wand from an espresso machine has heated. It’s typically thicker than the standard, warm milk. The thickness results from the addition of small air bubbles that the steam wand forces into the milk.

The introduction of tiny air bubbles into the milk results in the so-called microfoam, which is the velvety smooth, creamy, and warm milk used in various espresso-based beverages.

Why Steam Milk?

Heating milk causes the proteins in it to expand, creating a beautiful, velvety foam.

Additionally, steaming milk enhances the coffee flavor. 

How? You ask.

The long-chained carbohydrates present in the milk start breaking down into simpler sugars that taste sweeter.

Frothing vs Steaming Milk: What’s the Difference?

It’s easy to confuse frothing and steaming or even use the two terms interchangeably, yet they are completely different from each other.

Frothing Milk

Frothing milk refers to the process of adding a significant amount of air to it, which makes it foamy or frothy. You can froth milk using an espresso machine steam wand, milk frother, or even a French press

The distinctive element in frothed milk is that it’s fairly thick and fluffy. Frothing adds an airy, creamy mouthfeel to your drink.

Frothed milk in a white cup on a saucer

Foam means a lot to specialty coffees like a cappuccino. A third of it is foam, and wouldn’t be called a cappuccino without it.

But that’s not all.

Froth can also apply to cold drinks, such as iced cappuccinos, adding texture and complexity to them.

Frothing milk at home is pretty easy. You may use a whisk or jar, or buy a milk frother (some are handheld). Since basic frothing doesn’t necessarily require heating, the milk may need to undergo separate heating for hot drinks, such as lattes.

Alternatively, you can use electric milk frothers for heating and frothing your milk. Most of these frothers have temperature settings for cold, warm, or hot froth.

Steaming Milk

Steaming refers to heating and delicately aerating milk to produce a finer and highly delicate foam known as microfoam

While this word has “foam” in it, there’s a difference between this foam and the one common in cappuccinos, for example.

Simply put, steaming slightly aerates the milk, producing tiny air bubbles. The resulting milk is heavier and with a velvety texture. 

Steamed milk is an essential component of various drinks, such as mochas, lattes, and hot chocolate. Not only does it make drinks smooth and creamy, but its microfoam helps in the creation of latte art.

Often, a milk steam wand makes steamed milk. Most espresso machines and high-end coffee makers come with the wand. You may also purchase milk steamers separately. 

So, what are the differences between steamed and frothed milk?

The table below summarizes the differences:

Steamed MilkFrothed Milk
Always hotCan be cold or hot
Delicately aeratedHeavily aerated with a huge foam
Has a silky microfoamHas a bigger, stiffer bubbles
A major component for mochas, lattes, and hot chocolate A major component for cappuccinos

How to Steam Milk

While the method for steaming milk might slightly differ based on whether you want to make a flat white or a latte, the procedure is basically the same.

Here are the steps to follow:

1. Pour Milk into a Jug

Add milk into a milk pitcher meant for steaming. Do not fill the pitcher with milk up to the brim, as it’ll eventually rise in volume. We recommend that you pour cold milk to reach below the jug’s V section.

2. Insert the Steam Wand Tip below the Milk Surface

Next, submerge the steam wand tip slightly below the milk surface. It’s at this point that you start drawing air into the milk. You should hear a hissing sound at this point as the milk fat expands to create a foam.

Don’t keep the steam wand in this spot for too long – 5 seconds should do.

3. Spin It into a Whirlpool of Bubbles

After pulling adequate air into the milk and increasing the volume, take the steam wand further under the surface.

But, take care not to move it too deep – we’re aiming for approximately a fifth of an inch.

Here’s the catch:

The idea is to tilt the pitcher a little bit to try and locate the sweet spot where the milk will form a whirlpool, adding the foam to the other parts of the milk. 

Once that happens, you can wind up the heating and form a creamy texture.

4. Stop Steaming at 140oF

When the milk temperature hits 140oF, or is too hot to touch, it’s time to stop steaming it.

At this point, tap the pitcher gently to remove any small bubbles and try to swirl it around.

How do you know the milk is fully steamed? Well, it’s all in the appearance.

It should look creamy and shiny – something close to melted ice cream.

5. Pour the Milk

This happens in two phases:

  • Aim the pour into the espresso to mix the foamy and creamy milk with the coffee.
  • Glide the microfoam on top to create latte art.

Note that it takes practice to finally perfect the pouring technique.

Person Pouring Steamed Milk Creating Latte Art

How to Steam Milk without an Espresso Machine

Don’t have an espresso machine, but still want to steam your milk? No worries, you can DIY it.

We’ll explain some of the methods that require basic equipment as well as those that you can improvise with common household items.

Automatic Milk Frother

Frothing milk to create a morning cappuccino doesn’t have to be a chore, especially when you have an automatic frother at hand.

It costs less than an espresso maker but has the ability to heat your milk and froth it.

Automatic frothers are simple and easy to use.

The best part?

You can decide whether to go with cold or hot milk and the frother will do the job just the way you want it.

Handheld Frother

Are you looking for the most inexpensive and easiest way to froth milk?

A handheld frother is the way to go. It’s not just user-friendly, but also quick and easy to clean.

There’s just one problem:

The milk texture and latte art won’t be of the best quality. Sure, this device can create plenty of froth, but not a silky foam.

How exactly do you froth your milk with a handheld frother?

It’s simple: submerge the frother in your milk and turn it on. The result is a significant increase in milk volume as it forms large bubbles.

French Press

The French press is probably one of your favorite coffee brewers, it sure is one of ours.

But beyond brewing tasty coffee, French presses froth milk too, which is what makes them versatile.

So, how do you froth milk with a French press?

  • Start by preheating the milk.
  • Next, pour it into a French press
  • Keep pushing and pulling the plunger up and down until the milk volume increases, creating a microfoam.

While doing all that, don’t use excessive milk as the frothing might get messy and cost you a lot in cleaning up.


Still, want to sip a bubbly cup of creamy coffee but don’t have an espresso machine, an automatic frother, handheld frother, or a French press?

Don’t worry, as you can still use a stovetop to create foamed milk.

Here’s how it works:

Heat the milk gently and using a balloon whisk (yes, the one for whisking eggs), beat it speedily until you get a consistent froth.

There’s also an option to use a hand blender, but we don’t recommend it because it’s messy to clean up. 


For this approach to work, you need a jar with a lid (we highly suggest a mason jar) where you can pour the milk and heat it before placing it in the microwave.

  • Start by measuring the milk and pouring it into a jar. Hold the jar’s lid tight and shake it vigorously.
  • After shaking for some time, a foam will appear. Once you’re pleased with the volume of foam created, remove the lid and put your milk in a microwave.
  • Heat it to a desired temperature. Ideally, the heating shouldn’t take more than 30-40 seconds.
  • Now, carefully get the milk out of the microwave (it will be piping hot!) and pour over your prepared drink. 
  • Spoon on the foam.

Pro Tips

  • Be sure to rinse the jar as soon as you pour the milk to make cleaning easy.
  • When pouring the milk into your coffee, use a spoon to hold the foam back. Spoon it into a pretty cap.
  • Are you making a macchiato? Place a spoonful of foam right into the middle of the coffee.
  • Dust it with some cinnamon.

Mason Jar

There’s also an option to steam your milk using a mason jar (without a microwave this time).

This is how it works:

  • Measure your milk.
  • Preheat the milk.
  • Get two mason jars and pour the hot milk in one jar.
  • Keep pouring the milk from one jar to the other until you achieve a froth consistency. This method is known as the pulling technique. 
  • Pour the frothed milk over your favorite coffee.
Steam Milk Pouring To Form Latte Art

What’s The Best Type Of Milk To Use?

Now that you know how to steam and froth milk for your coffee, what milk type should you be using?

Here are the best types of milk you should use:

Whole Milk

When you steam whole milk, it gets sweet and soothing, creating a creamy consistency that lets it froth well and form gorgeous latte art.

Not to mention, whole milk is affordable and widely available. It’s also easy to foam even if you don’t have a top-tier milk frother.

Additionally, the milk is easy to pour into latte art and it tastes great, too!

But if you’re on diet, we advise that you go slowly on whole milk as it has a lot of calories and fats. So keep that in mind before you froth it.

Now this is important:

The whole milk’s molecular composition and taste mainly depend on the type of cow that produced it, and what the cow feeds on.

Almond Milk

The milk produces a rich foam and remains sweet even when the temperatures increase.

We’ve found some almond milk brands yield a better froth than others so be sure to choose the best almond milk. The fresher, the better.

Sarah over at Baking Kneads has got you covered with the easiest ways to froth almond milk, no frother needed!

Oat Milk

This milk is also an excellent choice in terms of frothing. While it steams like any other real milk, creating a powerful foam, the foam doesn’t last long.

The reason for the weak foam might be the low protein composition compared to fat in this milk.

Generally, oat milk is sweet, creamy, smooth, and will create fairly impressive latte art.

Skimmed Milk

This milk type is a great alternative for whole milk and here’s why: skimmed milk has approximately 3.4% protein, which is considerably higher than what is in whole milk, but less fat and carbohydrates.

Skim milk gives you a foamier froth with bigger bubbles. It aerates easily because skimmed milk packs less fat amounts.

Less fat in skimmed milk means one thing: the resulting foam is not as flavorful and rich as that of whole milk.

All in all, frothing skim milk is super easy, which is why we recommend it for beginners. 

Soy Milk

Soy milk can yield good results if you use the right brand. Baristas have proven that Silk soy milk is not only sweet, but it has superior flavor and frothing capabilities. 

The milk yields a fairly thick foam with a creamy texture. Although the foam is tasty, it might be a little tricky to pour latte art with.

Why Are Certain Milk Types Better Than Others?

  • To achieve a good froth, fresh, cold milk plays a significant role.
  • Milk shouldn’t face the light directly, which is why it’s good to purchase your milk in opaque packaging instead of clear ones.
  • After purchasing fresh milk, it’s best to consume it within 10 days from the purchase date. But, if you’d like to froth the milk, it’s recommended to use it within 5 days from the purchase date to increase the chances of getting a quality foam.
  • Cold milk works best. Take milk directly from the fridge and froth it instantly.
  • Lactose-free and organic milk are ultra-pasteurized; their proteins are denatured, so they can’t contribute to bubble formation. It’s best to avoid such milk types if you’re looking to attain a dense foam. However, these milk types work well for lattes.
  • Don’t leave milk on the counter after using it because it might tamper with the milk’s freshness. Instead, always place the milk back in the fridge once done with it.
  • Remember to always clean the milk container following use. 

3 Common Mistakes When Steaming Milk

While steaming sounds easy, it can be challenging to get it right the first time. To make the learning curve easier for you, avoid these three common mistakes:

1. Overheating the Milk

Skilled baristas know the importance of being able to tell the appropriate temperature for steamed milk.

When the milk overheats, the proteins in it break down, destroying both the flavor and perfect bubbles. In other words, you’ll end up with a weak foam.

2. Not Aerating the Milk Enough

Often, milk doesn’t foam properly due to our inability to aerate it adequately. 

Always start by placing the steam wand’s tip right below your milk surface and quickly lower the jug so you can start hearing that tss tss noise.

The sound tells you that the steam wand is aerating the milk, producing bubbles (referred to as microfoam) that collect into silky goodness.

3. Aerating the Milk Too Much

If you see a really foamy latte (with chunky milk) or milk with extremely big bubbles, it’s time to scale back on aeration.

Lots of large bubbles might mean you’re aerating the milk too aggressively. That said, don’t lower the pitcher so much once you turn the steam on. Remember, you’re looking for the beautiful tss tss sound.

Thus, don’t aerate your milk for too long. In fact, three to five seconds are what you need to achieve the right amount of foam.

Final Word

Whether you’re an experienced barista or a beginner at home brewing, there are several ways to steam or froth milk for your latte.

You can choose a technique that suits you, and as you do so, be sure to follow the basic tips, choose the right type of milk and avoid common errors. If you do that, you’ll create foamy milk that makes your coffee taste really great.

Start with any of the methods above and see where it takes you.

Happy steaming!