Milk Frother vs. Steam Wand: Which Will Give You Better Milk Foam?

If you’re wondering which produces the best milk foam when it comes to a milk frother vs. steam wand, the short answer is both provide good quality milk froth. There are some key differences between these two devices, though.

milk frother vs. steam wand
Milk Frother vs. Steam Wand

If you’re a coffee purist — some may say “snob,” but I withhold such harsh judgment — who takes your coffee black at all times, this article is not for you. However, if you’re a mere mortal like me who sometimes, or at all times, stoops so low as to enjoy a milk-based coffee drink, read on.

This week, I decided to experiment with foamy milk, which led me to take a closer look at the milk frother vs. steam wand question. So, which will provide you with the best cappuccinos? The short answer is both.

Here are my findings.

A Short Overview of the Milk Frother and Steam Wand

A milk frother is a utensil or machine in which milk froth is created. The process involves the aeration of milk through some type of movement, such as spinning or pushing.

The bubbles that are produced in this process increase the milk’s volume and make it light and fluffy. There are three basic groups of milk frothers: the manual milk frother, handheld milk frother, and automatic milk frother.

A steam wand is a small protruding pipe that’s present on most espresso machines, even small machines that are meant for home use. The wand is connected internally to the boiler of the espresso machine through a pipe.

Steam from the boiler travels through the pipe and is then released through the holes of the steam wand’s nozzle. You can either just steam milk with the steam wand, or you can create milk froth by holding the milk pitcher at an angle so that a vortex is created, causing the milk to spin.

What’s the Difference Between Frothed and Steamed Milk?

fresh milk inside the glasses
Milk froth is created through the air into the milk

Although you can get milk froth from both a milk frother and a steam wand, the latter can also produce steamed milk. It’s important to remember that frothed and steamed milk are not the same things. Milk froth is produced by introducing air into the milk, resulting in bubbles and foam.

To produce frothed milk with a steam wand, you place the nozzle of the wand quite close to the surface of the milk and hold the pitcher at an angle. However, submerging the tip more deeply into the milk will produce fewer bubbles and will result in steamed milk.

You will still get a small head of foam, but the milk will be heavier and not as dense and foamy as when you froth it. This is the microfoam you need if you want to create latte art. If you enjoyed this post, check out our milk frother vs hand blender guide.

Comparison Between A Milk Frother and A Steam Wand

Here is a short comparison between a milk frother vs. steam wand:

                      Handheld Milk Frother                            Steam Wand
A milk frother injects air into the milk, which produces light, airy foam. Electric milk frothers also heat up the milk for you.A steam wand produces steamed milk, which has a foamy texture but is not quite as textured as frothed milk. However, by holding the pitcher the right way, you can also froth milk with a steam wand.
A milk frother is a stand-alone device.A steam wand forms part of an espresso machine.
A milk frother is cheap, especially if you opt for a manual or handheld one.You need to invest in an espresso machine to get a steam wand that produces decent milk foam. Espresso machines are typically costly.
You get handheld milk frothers that require no electricity.Espresso machines require electricity.
You can create cold foam with a milk frother.Since a steam wand works with hot steam, it can only produce warm foam.
The battery hand-held milk frothers are super portable.Since a steam wand is attached to an espresso machine, it is not portable.

What’s Better About a Milk Frother?

For an affordable price, a milk frother can provide you with dense and airy foam that’s perfect for cappuccinos. In addition, you can also prepare cold milk foam with a milk frother for those times that you want a cold coffee drink.

Milk frothers are also super easy to use and don’t require as much technique as you need to produce milk foam with a steam wand. Lastly, they are very portable, especially if you invest in a handheld milk frother.

What’s Better About A Steam Wand?

Steam wands can produce both frothed and steamed milk. This means that you can create a wider range of hot coffee-based drinks, including lattes.

Since steam wands are attached to espresso machines, you receive the whole package: quality espresso drinks and the right type of milk to create your drink of choice.

Who Should Opt for a Milk Frother?

Milk frother device, glass cup and spoon on table in kitchen
The milk frother is your best option if you’re cash-strapped

If you’re currently a bit cash-strapped but still want to make quality milk foam, a milk frother is a great choice. You don’t even have to invest in an automatic machine to receive thick, fluffy foam.

A handheld milk frother works perfectly well. Also, if you are not the type who likes to worry about technique, a milk frother is the way to go.

Who Should Opt for a Steam Wand?

If you have the bucks and enjoy espresso-based drinks, buying an espresso machine with a steam wand attached is a good option. Especially if you’re a bit of a coffee aficionado who enjoys experimenting with different coffee drinks and doesn’t mind learning a bit of technique, a steam wand is the best choice.


  • Aisling O'Connor

    Aisling is an Irish food and drinks writer and journalist fueled by coffee and herbal tea. She followed up her journalism degree with nutrition studies. Find Aisling on LinkedIn.