What is a Milk Frother?

A Kaminsky

With the rise in popularity of various coffee drinks, such as cappuccino, many people want to make these beverages at home. One tool often used in making such a drink is a milk frother. Many coffee beverages have a nice foamy topping of frothed milk, which is created by aerating warmed milk and combining it with the coffee. Common models include hand-pump varieties, motorized whisks, and small devices that can warm and froth the milk simultaneously.

Electric milk frother.
Electric milk frother.

Basic Function

Each milk frother typically does the same basic thing: it aerates the milk by rapidly agitating it to introduce as much air as possible. This creates bubbles within the milk that makes a light texture and significantly increases its volume. The result is a foamy mixture that helps cut through some of the dense, sharp flavor of strong coffee often used in cappuccinos and similar drinks.

Frothing milk with a cappuccino machine.
Frothing milk with a cappuccino machine.

Frothers on Cappuccino Makers

Shoppers can typically choose a milk frother based on their budget and how often they are likely to need it. It is a small device that can be stored almost anywhere in the kitchen, so space is usually not a concern. An avid cappuccino drinker may already have a cappuccino maker, and many of these machines include a steam-operated milk frother. These frothers produce a stream of hot air that froths the milk and makes the characteristic hissing noise associated with cappuccino and coffee bars.

A cappuccino with frothed milk.
A cappuccino with frothed milk.

Hand Pumps

A hand-pump milk frother has a plunger attached to a fine mesh screen and usually comes inside a stainless steel cup. These frothers are easy to use and quite affordable, though a fair amount of effort may be required to create the desired amount of foam. Such models are typically sufficient for someone making only one or two cups of coffee at a time, since a small amount of foam is easy to make.

Milk frothers can be used to make cappuccinos and other drinks.
Milk frothers can be used to make cappuccinos and other drinks.

Motorized Whisks

Whisk and propeller models get at the job in essentially the same way as hand-pump versions, but they are hand-held electric devices. A small whisk or propeller is attached to the end of the milk frother and when it is turned on, the attachment turns rapidly to froth the milk. Propeller-type devices should be used with care, however, since they can scratch or chip the inside of porcelain cups. These devices often cost a bit more than hand-pump models, but are easier to use for making larger batches and can make the desired foam faster.

Electric Frothers

There are also small, electric frothers that are self-contained and often look like a small food processor or cup. These may be the best choice for someone who routinely makes multiple cappuccinos at once, since they usually froth a larger amount of milk than the alternatives. This type of milk frother is fast and some models even warm the milk while frothing, but is also typically more expensive. As with most any appliance or kitchen gadget, some comparison shopping can help a cappuccino drinker find the best option.

Frothed milk may be added to traditional brewed coffee in order to lighten the beverage's flavor and texture.
Frothed milk may be added to traditional brewed coffee in order to lighten the beverage's flavor and texture.

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Discussion Comments


I just used a hand-pumped stainless frother tonight for the first time. For years I used the wand on my espresso machine and honestly thought it was the best one could do at home. Not so. That simple stainless frother and ice-cold 2 percent milk produced foam so thick I could literally stand a spoon in it.

I frothed first and then microwaved, very carefully, because it really wanted to overflow the container I had transferred it to. Then, I stirred in white chocolate drink powder.

I had meant to put the foam on an espresso, but the chocolate craving was just too much. It was astonishing. No other word for it. And so thick that it was satisfying in a way that a more liquid drink could not have been. Might even have built a little bit of muscle during those 90 pumps. By the way: a battery-operated device would have just seemed silly, unless I were serving more than six guests.


I received a hand pump milk frother from a friend from Poland after admiring hers one evening as she made coffee. I love it and use it all the time. It's simple and takes only seconds. Found that fat free or 1 percent makes the best froth! I rinse it out as soon as it's empty so there is no build up.


Icecream17-I was looking for a stovetop milk frother, but I was unable to find any.

I just use an automatic milk frother from my Delonghi milk frother machine. Delonghi is a well know Italian milk frother brand that makes excellent coffee machines, but they are pricey.

Most machines cost about $100.


I love cappuccinos too. I usually use a Krups milk frother. What I do is I turn the steel handle towards my cup. Then the machine steams up and start to bubble the milk.

Once the milk has a layer of foam on the top, then it's done. This automatic milk frother makes excellent cappuccino. You can then sprinkle a little bit of powdered chocolate or cinnamon on top and you're set.

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