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Are you ready to take the leap from plain old drip coffee to lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, and all those other cool coffee shop drinks you know and love? Well, you’re going to need to start frothing milk.
In this article, we’ll help you pick out the best milk for frothing, including some options that work great for coffee lovers that are dieting, lactose intolerant, or vegan. We’ll also give you some tips for frothing milk correctly and get you started on picking out your milk frother.
Quick Take: Best Milk for Frothing
Best milk for frothing
|Whole milk||Check price|
Easiest frothing milk
|Skim milk||Check price|
Best non-dairy milk for frothing
|Oat milk||Check price|
|Almond milk||Check price|
|Soy milk||Check price|
What Makes a Good Frothing Milk?
Time for a really simplified biochemistry lesson. Milk is really just a big mess of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates (sugars). The relative amount of fat and protein will decide how the milk foams.
Milk with lots of fat will form a thick, creamy foam. The heavy nature of the foam is absolutely delicious, but it will cause it to fall apart faster than other foams.
Milk with less fat and more protein will create a light, airy foam. That foam won’t be as flavorful as you get with fattier milk, but it will last much longer.
The type of protein also matters. Milk has two major types of proteins: caseins and whey protein (also called serum). Whey proteins, when heated, provide a distinct flavor to the milk.
Caseins are more important to the texture. In milk, caseins bundle together into ball-like structures called micelles. Steaming milk breaks up these micelles, and the casein molecules end up surrounding the air bubbles instead. This surrounded air becomes trapped, forming the bubbles that makeup milk foam.
Can You Froth Non-Dairy Milks?
Milk doesn’t need to have dairy or lactose to be frothable. The proteins, sugars, and fats in each milk are going to be different, though. Some types of milk are super watery, and they won’t froth much at all. Others are similar in texture and composition to cow’s milk, and they’ll create beautiful layers of foam.
We’ll have to look at each type of milk individually. In some cases, it may even depend on the particular brand as non-dairy milk tends to have a large number of additives which can include proteins and fats that will impact our result.
General Tips for Frothing Milk
Before we get to the list, here are a few things to keep in mind when frothing milk.
Picking a Milk Frother and Steamer
There are a few types of frothers or steamers to pick from.
- Handheld milk frothers — like the Zulay Original — are great starter options due to their low price point and easy operation. They don’t typically come with containers for the milk, though, and they don’t heat the milk. You’ll need to microwave or otherwise bring the milk up to temperature before using them.
- Manual milk frothers — like the Ninja Easy Frother — operate with a plunger very similar to that of a French press. Many of these frothers are made of microwaveable glass or plastic, so you can heat the milk without transferring it. The actual frothing takes a bit more effort, but these can be a cheap and very convenient option if you don’t mind a bit of plunging.
- Electric milk frothers — like the Nespresso Aeroccino3 — tend to be more expensive than the previous two options. For that extra price, though, you get a machine that heats the milk while frothing it, so the entire process is completed often with a single button press. The temperatures are typically more accurate than what you’ll get by microwaving milk, and models like the Brevillle BMF600XL even offer customizable temperatures for use with non-dairy milk.
- Steam wands — Most espresso machines have built-in steam wands, allowing you to heat and froth milk without the need for extra equipment. These have a higher learning curve than the other options, but they offer maximal flexibility for how you froth your milk. If you don’t have an espresso machine, though, you likely need to go with one of the above options instead.
Milk frothing temperature
The optimal milk-frothing temperature for cow’s milk is between 150–155 degrees Fahrenheit. You can go as high as 160 degrees for to-go drinks and anything you won’t drink immediately. Keep it below 170 degrees, though, as that’s where the proteins start to break down.
If you aren’t using cow’s milk, try to find temperatures specific to your milk. Many types of plant milk will break down at lower temperatures than cow’s milk. Soy milk, for instance, breaks down at just over 140 degrees. Above that, you’ll get unpleasant, curdled flavors in the mix.
Pre-heat your mug
We’re trying to keep the temperature in a pretty small range, so you should always pre-heat your mug. Even some budget espresso machines have built-in cup warmers, which makes this step much easier.
If you don’t have a cup warmer, just fill your mug with near-boiling water and let it sit for a few minutes before pouring out the water and filling the mug with coffee.
Keep the milk fresh and cold
Milk is best for frothing in the first few days after you buy it. You can still froth any milk that is safe to drink, but you’ll get the richest foam in the first five days or so.
To maintain your milk’s freshness, keep it in an opaque container away from sources of light. Those transparent milk jugs just aren’t good for storage, and they pretty much guarantee a shorter lifespan for your milk.
Don’t leave your milk out before frothing it. You want to start with very cold milk that is straight from the fridge.
Wash your steaming equipment between each and every use. Any amount of milk residue will contaminate the flavor and could make the entire drink unsafe to consume.
Don’t add fresh milk to steamed milk as that can encourage bacterial growth. You should be using either steamed milk or fresh milk, never both.
The Best Milk for Frothing
Best milk for frothing: Whole milk
Whole milk is hands-down the best milk for frothing. It creates a rich, creamy foam that few other kinds of milk can match. The high fat content (3.5%) and low protein content (3.2%) of whole milk set our gold standard for milk frothing that we’ll be comparing to throughout this article.
Even with whole milk, the brand matters. That’s because the type of cow, what the cow ate, and the freshness of the milk all vary between brands.
While the texture is great, whole milk foam falls apart faster than foams in reduced-fat or skim milk. You’ll want to serve it immediately after foaming to get the best result.
Whole milk foam isn’t for everyone. In case you’re lactose-intolerant, on a diet, or just don’t like the flavor, I’ll include plenty of alternative options below.
Easiest frothing milk: Skim milk
Frothing whole milk isn’t hard, but skim milk is still the easiest milk foam for beginners. It forms larger bubbles with virtually no effort, and skim milk foam holds together a lot longer than whole milk foam.
Skim milk doesn’t foam up as creamy as whole milk, though. If you’re looking for a smooth, rich latte, whole milk is still the best way to go. Skim milk is typically better for drinks with a lower milk-to-coffee ratio, like espresso macchiatos or even cappuccinos.
Best non-dairy milk for frothing: Oat milk
Dairy alternatives tend to be too watery to froth properly. Oat milk is richer and creamier than most vegan milk options. Its protein and fat content is lower than whole milk, but the texture of oat milk foam is very similar to whole milk foam.
The downside of oat milk — and most other types of plant-based milk — is that its foam falls apart quickly. Although oat milk isn’t particularly watery in texture, it still contains a lot of water. That water doesn’t hold its shape, so your bubbly foam will break down even faster than whole milk foam.
Almond milk maintains its sweetness even after foaming, which makes it quite pleasant for drinks that won’t have added sweeteners. You can also foam it at around 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which is considerably lower than the temperature needed for cow’s milk.
There’s a huge difference between brands of almond milk when it comes to both frothing and flavor. From what I’ve found, the best almond milk for frothing is Califia Farms Barista Blend. It’s available in both sweetened and unsweetened varieties, and both work well for creating a rich froth.
Soy milk creates rich, fluffy froth, similar to what you’d get from cow’s milk. That makes it a coffee shop favorite non-dairy frothing milk.
There are a few downsides of soy milk for frothing, though. First, it’s not great for latte art. That’s because it’s actually too fluffy to pour easily. Second, you need to keep it below 150 degrees Fahrenheit or it will quickly curdle. Third, you need to avoid overly acidic coffee as soy milk foam breaks down in the extra acid.
If you want good soy milk for frothing, I’d recommend starting with Soy Dream. Its protein content is high enough to froth well and it’s USDA Organic.
Worst Milk for Frothing
Somewhere out there, a coconut milk fan is about to get very angry with me. There are a handful of coconut milk brands that are usable for frothing, but the vast majority of them are absolutely terrible.
They are too thin and watery, which is a common issue with nut milk. Coconut milk also has a very distinct flavor that carries over into the coffee. If you like that flavor, that’s fine, but it can overwhelm the flavor of the coffee itself.
If you decide to use coconut milk, avoid low-fat or canned varieties. Whole fat coconut milk from cartons is the only type that even has a chance of producing a reasonably thick froth.
Cashew milk is even worse than coconut milk. It’s just too watery to bother with for frothing. You can make a very thin foam, but it will be gone before you have a chance to enjoy it.
Continuing the trend, macadamia milk simply can’t create foam. Milkadamia does slightly better than most brands, but it still doesn’t form any significant lasting froth.
Rice milk is loved by many for its low fat content, but that is the very trait that makes it terrible for frothing. Don’t even bother; you won’t get anything more than the stray bubble.
Like the rest of this category, hemp milk is just too thin to get any real froth going. Worse, it curdles if you don’t heat it properly before adding it to your coffee. Trust me, that’s not a flavor you want to experience.
Almost all of the most popular espresso drinks use milk, so becoming a home barista will mean honing your milk frothing skills. Step one, of course, is picking the frothing milk you are going to keep in your arsenal. Whole milk is always a good option, but I wanted to ensure that vegans and dieters alike have plenty of alternatives to choose from.
Milk and some delicious espresso beans are a great start to your new coffee corner. From there, you can decide what type of coffee maker to use and probably grab a good coffee grinder (unless you go with a Nespresso machine, Keurig model, or other pod coffee maker).
That can all be done one step at a time, though. For now, you’ve earned yourself a break and a nice homemade cappuccino.