As lockdown cracks on, we’re sure we’re not alone in sorely missing our favourite coffee shops. While some cafes are still open for takeaway, lockdown guidance advises that everyone stay local, which means those of us without a cafe round the corner will need to DIY a “proper coffee”.
Traditional coffee purists may focus on the quality of the bean or espresso machine, but for some of us, the enjoyment is all in the perfect, luxurious foam. And this is the part that’s impossible to replicate without a good bit of kit.
Creamy, dense and with the smallest bubbles, any barista will tell you that the skill to making the perfect cup is all in the way the milk is frothed. Perfectly frothed milk should have an inviting sheen, almost like wet meringue, with the bubbles so small they can’t be individually seen. This is what gives the foam a thick texture that will hold its shape and give it that melt-in-the-mouth feel.
Baristas traditionally use a steam nozzle to blast steam into a jug of milk, simultaneously froths and heats the milk to form a thicker, fuller texture. This is the familiar chirping sound you may recognise from the buzz of your local coffee shop. It is possible to froth milk without the use of heat – such as in a milkshake, but you won’t achieve the same milk texture or foam.
We tested all the milk frothers here using full-fat cow's milk – the higher protein content than skimmed helps the milk to hold its froth – and our choice of vegan milk; Oatly barista edition oat milk.
As well as the perfect foam, we also looked for options such as automated hot chocolate or cappuccino settings, ease of cleaning, noise levels, style, and heating or frothing capacity. As a household of three coffee addicts and hot chocolate lovers, we were looking for something suited to all our tastes, was quick and quiet, and gave the same efficient experience as a coffee shop.
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Lavazza a modo mio milkEasy milk frother
Capacity: 120ml frothing, 180ml heating
Lavazza’s a modo mio is the most compact of all the electric milk frothers we tried, with a modern look and feel. We used this every day for a week and the results were consistently top-notch, with rich, dense foam. There are three settings: frothed hot milk, frothed cold milk, and hot milk. All are selected via the single button on the front, with some handy instructions on the lid to remind you – perfect if you’re a scatter-brain like us.
The inner coating is super easy to clean, too, and with only a small kettle-style base, there’s very little surface to keep clean. The a modo mio’s capacity is on the smaller side, however, so would suit either a couple who like flat cappuccinos or an individual person who prefers a good-sized latte. It was also one of the quietest milk frothers we tested, with the whisk being hardly noticeable.
Smeg milk frother
Capacity: 250ml frothing, 500ml heating
The Fifties retro design of this classic model adds some old-school cool to your counter. We tested the cream model – though it also comes in red, black, and white – which actually matched the rest of our kitchen appliances and looked oh-so-chic. It is one of the largest appliances we tested, although the built-in cord storage on the base will keep your kitchen looking neat.
With a large stainless steel removable jug, this is the best option for those with large families or who love to host, as it’s easy to imagine swanning around the breakfast table, topping up mugs with deliciously thick and foamy hot chocolate. The handle is easy to hold, too, and very simple to clean with warm water. The detachable whisk can be taken out and popped in hot water, and even contains magnets that keep the two parts together, and then reattached to the bottom of the jug.
We were particularly impressed with the hot milk with dense froth setting when used with whole milk, though the oat-milk came out equally light and foamy. True to its name this produced a dense and cloud-like froth, indistinguishable from that found on the best coffee-shop cappuccinos. There’s even a manual function allowing you to increase the whisk speed and temperature to your own specifications, but with six pre-set programs that tick all the boxes, we can’t see why you’d want to.
VonShef glass milk frother
The glass jug is unique out of all the frothers we tried, and it’s delightfully satisfying to watch the milk swirling and growing inside. There are three settings: hot milk, frothy hot milk or cold frothy milk – all you need to do use press the single button on the front of the base. Once you’ve popped off the well-suctioned lid (we couldn’t quite grasp the middle handle so had to lift from the sides instead) you’ll be treated to milk heated to 60C or cold frothy milk perfect for iced lattes.
So that you don’t lose them, both the mixing paddle and frothing whisk have their own little compartments underneath the base. However the induction heat surface on which the glass jug sits does get hot, so if you experience tremors, are a bit clumsy or have curious children that are prone to touching things they shouldn’t, this might not be the most suitable option.
Judge handheld milk frother TC344
We were pleasantly surprised with this more basic-looking piece of kit, with an unorthodoxly flat foaming whisk. You have to heat the milk up yourself first, either in a microwave or on the hob, then press and hold the large button on the top of the device – we found holding it down with our thumb to be most comfortable – for as long as desired. Naturally, the longer you froth, the frothier your drink will get, and we found it did the job very well. The bubbles were a little larger than other milk frothers we tried, but still made hot milk deliciously foamy, and cold milkshakes covered in bubbly froth.
As this is battery operated, there’s no need to plug, giving you more options when it comes to finding it a home on the kitchen counter. The stand means you won’t drip milk droplets across the counter and can be popped in the microwave. This is perfect for making individual drinks, especially if you have limited space in your kitchen, or don’t want to splash out. The 2 year guarantee is very impressive, too.
Bialetti electric milk frother and hot chocolate maker
This is the one for froth fiends, those who wish to dig through clouds upon clouds of light foam to their tasty chocolate treat. The hot chocolate setting created copious amounts of foam, which is truly a delight if that’s your preference, though we found the latte option to be our optimal hot milk to foam ratio, though the iced latte and cappuccino settings also did what they said on the tin.
Like the other induction models we tested, it’s necessary to be cautious of the heat pad, however, unlike other models, Bialetti has extended the sturdy plastic base around the hot part to better shield clumsy fingers. We loved the measuring lines on the inside of the jug which show you the maximum amount to put in for each drink.
While doing its magic, the Bialetti milk frother and hot chocolate maker makes a sound similar to the chirping of milk you hear in a coffee shop; enjoyable for some, slightly annoying to others. This model has a European two-pronged plug so you’ll need an adapter to use it in the UK.
Judge milk frother/sauce pot
Capacity: 450ml frothing, 800ml warming sauces
This manual frother is placed on the hob to heat up the milk, then rested on a heatproof surface while using the handle to pump air into the milk. Taking off the lid, we were shocked how much frother had accumulated after just a minute or so. It was also a smoother motion than we had imagined, with the heated metal sliding smoothly in the mechanism. It’s also nifty that you can use the jug to heat gravy, custard or sauces on the hob.
We did slightly burn the milk on the bottom of the pan on the first few tries (though this washed off easily enough), so would recommend buying a kitchen thermometer to better measure how long to heat keep it on the hob. Like Judge’s battery-operated handheld milk frother, this is a top pick if you have limited counter surface space so want something to quickly and easily put away after use, or want to channel cottage-core vibes while making your frothy coffee. Again, you’ll get Judge’s 25 year product guarantee, and it’s even dishwasher safe.
Nespresso Aeroccino 4
Capacity: 120ml frothing, 240ml heating
The Nespresso Aerocinno has a similar style to the Lavazza a modo mio with a small base and large jug, however with the addition of a particularly comfortable handle for pouring. On the base you’ll find the four settings symbolised on separate buttons, making this one of the clearest frothers to use.
The silver metal jug would go well with any kitchen theme, and was easy to clean. Nespresso say that all parts except the base are dishwasher safe, which is very impressive, however shouldn’t be immersed in water. We liked how there are two different options for the amount of foam, with both of them producing equally delicious froth.
De’Longhi dedica EC 685.R espresso machine
Now we know this is more than simply a milk frother, but it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a barista made coffee because it uses the same two key ingredients: milk and steam. At only 15 cm wide, this slim machine only takes up a little more space than the bigger milk frothers we tested – such as Smeg’s model but being heavier and bulkier, it would likely stay a permanent feature on your countertop. And looking as good as it does, we see no reason why that wouldn’t be A-OK.
The nozzle is fixed at the correct angle to help you froth the perfect cup, though practice does make perfect here. A more complex appliance than the other milk frothers in our list, the manual descaling allows you to thoroughly clean the internal system without too much faff. Of course it’s a fab bonus that you also get an espresso machine, giving you the most authentic coffeehouse cuppa possible, without stepping outside your home.
The verdict: Milk frothers
The Lavazza A Modo Mio’s consistency and simplicity stood out for us, just about snatching the crown from some other great products. While it didn’t have as many automatic settings as other frothers, we found the three options matched our needs perfectly.
If you’ve got a larger family – or a larger kitchen – Smeg’s milk frother will please a crowd while adding a touch of class. Or if you swear by the traditional barista method of steam power, and can stretch your budget that bit further, De’Longhi’s Dedica coffee maker provides the real deal.
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