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You want your latte at home, but the equipment has to be inexpensive. I get that, I don’t like to spend money if I don’t need to. Handheld milk frothers are the best compromise for a decent latte or cappuccino. You can get really nice textured milk with one of these manual frothers. However, if you ask a barista, they’ll tell you that is not steamed milk, because no steaming is involved. From a purely technical perspective, they are right. From a practical point of view, the taste and texture are damn good, so I personally don’t care if it’s not steamed.
Convenience vs Price
You can’t beat the price of these handheld frothers, they are dirt cheap. But when you buy cheap things, they come at a price. In this instance, the price is the convenience. I wrote an article about milk frothers here, and I absolutely love those devices. Convenience and precision combined for a great caffeinated beverage. But you have to pay a lot more on those.
Here are a few things that I don’t like about steaming milk with a manual frother:
- You have to operate the device
Not a big deal, but you have to take those 40 – 60 seconds to hold the frother in the pitcher
- You need to learn how to use it for the proper texture
Again, not a big deal, but you need to experiment a little
- You need to heat the milk before frothing
The Breville frother does that on its own
Manual Milk Frother Types
There are two types of manual milk frothers: the handheld electric frothing wand, and the plunger frother. The concept is the same, the device slowly incorporates small air bubbles into the milk. The difference is that the wand is adding the bubbles just around the whisk. The plunger milk frother has a wider area of action. The milk gets frothed on the entire surface of the screen. This makes the mesh and plunger milk frother more efficient.
How to Use a Manual Frother
Heat up the milk at 150 °F, (that’s about 65 °C). Don’t heat the milk too much because you will burn it. The recommended temperature is between 150 °F and 155 °F. The highest you can go is about 160 °F, (that’s about 71 °C) if you like your latte hot and you like to risk the taste of your beverage.
When using a wand milk frother, start with the wand at the bottom of the pitcher. Keep the pitcher in a slight angle. When you hold the pitcher in an angle, the whisk action will create a whirlpool. This, in turn, moves the milk around so that we don’t froth the already frothed milk over and over. When the milk gets a nice foamy consistency, start moving the whisk vertically; this will make it more uniform and introduce more air into the milk.
The technique for a plunger/mesh type of frother is simpler. All you have to do is pump up and down and that’s all. On the negative side, you have to do that for about 20-30 seconds, so it takes a bit muscles to do that. Less time spent at the gym.
We have to cover a little the difference between frothing milk for latte and frothing for cappuccino. A cappuccino needs 1 oz thick milk foam, and 1 oz steamed milk, with less bubbles. A latte needs about 5 oz steamed milk, (less bubbles). More info about the difference between cappuccino and latte here.
Frothing for a Latte:
- With a whisk frother:
Fill your pitcher with milk – about two thirds. Start frothing as described earlier, and stop when milk has expanded about 1/3 in volume.
- With a plunger frother:
Fill the pitcher about two thirds, and keep the pumping inside the milk, so less air is incorporated. When the milk has expanded to fill the recipient stop frothing.
Frothing for a Cappuccino:
- With a whisk frother:
Fill your pitcher about 1/4 up to 1/3. Start frothing at the bottom, as described earlier. When the milk expanded almost fully in the pitcher, start moving the whisk vertically, trying to cover as much space as possible.
- With a plunger frother:
Add milk to the line, if there is no line, fill it about 1/4 up to 1/3 of the beaker. Start pumping up and down, slapping the milk surface, to incorporate as much air as possible. The milk should increase in volume almost to the recipient’s rim.
Best Handheld Milk Frothers on the Market
The Cheapest – MatchaDNA Handheld Electric Milk Frother
MatchaDNA milk frother is the best seller on Amazon, and it does a great job. This unit costs a third of the price of other competitors. The whisk is surprisingly good, given the price. It’s made of stainless steel and designed to froth as fast as possible. The whisk is better than other expensive products on the market.
The unit is battery operated, and it needs 2 AA batteries. At this price we can afford to buy the batteries.
The only problem I found with the MatchaDNA frother is that the battery compartment is accessed by sliding out the on/off switch. If this is your first time buying a frother, and you don’t want to spend too much on it, this is a great choice. We have to point out, “Best Seller” on Amazon, doesn’t necessarily mean the best product. Most of the time means the best bang for your buck.
Cafe Casa Milk Frother – One of the Best
This is a great milk frother. It’s a couple of times more expensive than the MatchaDNA one, but it’s more powerful, it has 2 speeds, stainless steel body, and a 5 years warranty from the manufacturer. The motor is powerful enough to whip cream as well. It froths faster than other frothing wands, this is a great advantage.
The frother from Cafe Casa looks great, the all stainless look can definitely fit into any kitchen no matter how elegant. The spiral whisker is sturdy and large enough to speed up the frothing time. The battery compartment is well designed with a sturdy cover that doesn’t break. For around 20$ you will have a nifty tool to enrich your coffee routine.
From the same class, the aerolatte is a great alternative, and we like it. It’s a few bucks less than Cafe Casa, but it only has 2 years warranty and only one speed.
Bodum Latteo Milk Frother – Fully Manual
Bodum are widely known for their French presses, which are some of the most purchased coffee items in the world. The mesh milk frother is very similar to a French press: a glass pitcher, a plunger, and a screen. The Latteo frother from Bodum is just an adaptation of their press pots. This means that all that experience with the French press is transferred into the manual milk frother.
Bodum Latteo is an inexpensive device, that is easy to use, and it doesn’t need electricity or batteries. The carafe is made of borosilicate glass, which is great to withstand thermal shock. The screen is designed just right to maximize the efficiency during frothing. The plunger’s knob is easy to hold and operate, and the carafe handle makes it even easier.
Power Tip: You can pop the carafe in the microwave and heat it up before frothing. No transfer needed. Measure the amount of milk and time the microwaving a few times until you get the right temperature. You need a few tests until you get it right, but after that just pour to the line, and set the microwave timer.
Safety: for those concerned with the plastic safety, yes there is plastic that comes in contact with the milk during operation. If you don’t want plastic in your beverage, this frother is not for you. However, the plastic in the Bodum Latteo is BPA free. In fact, Bodum states they are using type 5 plastic, (polypropylene), which is a safe plastic.
Plunger and lid are not microwave-safe, so take them off when you warm up your milk. All components are dishwasher safe, so it’s easy to clean them properly.