What does steamed milk mean and how to make it at home?

11 Jun 2021


The simple, yet very vital ingredient behind a perfect cup of velvety-smooth coffee: steamed milk.

When you make a coffee at home, it’s easy to just splash a bit of cold milk into your cup. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this. Sometimes a simple Americano is all you need to satisfy that caffeine craving. However, if you want to take your coffee to the next level, then you may want to consider switching a glug of cold milk, straight from the carton, to a measure of steamed milk.

Heating your milk to the right temperature can make all the difference. That’s why we took our time perfecting The Velvetiser, designed to make sure your milk is heated to achieve the just-right light and foamy consistency.

For those who want to learn how to steam milk yourself, don’t worry: the process is relatively simple, meaning you can whip up your ideal coffee without any hassle. Why not put your milk-steaming skills to the test and become a home barista?

Coffee with layer of steamed milk

What is steamed milk?

Steamed milk is a lot heavier than frothed milk, which is why baristas typically use it as a milky layer on top of your coffee. Frothed milk, on the other hand, is lighter and foamier, meaning it typically sits on top of a cappuccino or flat white.

Although you might be unfamiliar with the concept of steamed milk, you’ve probably come across the making of it as you queue in a café to get your coffee. When a barista makes a coffee that requires steamed milk, they’ll expose milk to a steam wand attached to their espresso machine. So listen out for that loud hiss next time you’re out — it’s the sound of milk being swiftly steamed.

During the steaming process, the fats in the milk break down and expand into tiny microbubbles (otherwise known as microfoam). The result is a smooth and silky hot milk that works well alongside any espresso-based drink.

How to make steamed milk

The best way to steam your own milk is, by using a steam wand on your espresso machine. Alternatively, if you don’t have an espresso machine, you could use an electric automatic frother. Although a steam wand achieves the best results, an automatic frother is a cheap and easy option for those who don’t own an espresso machine.

For those who do own an espresso machine, you won’t want to spend longer than 60 seconds when it comes to steaming your milk. Too much heat can cause the milk to burn. Not only does burnt milk taste less appealing, but it will be more challenging to pour neatly.

To steam milk, you’ll first need to pour cold milk of your choice into a stainless steel pitcher (a metal pitch withstands heat from the steam best). It’s also essential to make sure you clean your steam wand to remove any leftover milk residue before steaming again. Old milk can form lumpy bits on your new milk batch, ruining the smoothness and enjoyability of your steamed milk.

Next, carefully position the steam wand just below the surface of the milk. Make sure you don’t submerge it too deeply. As you turn on the steam wand, carefully tilt the milk pitcher to a 40-degree angle to enable the spinning of the milk. The steam against the milk should be quite quiet during this step. If you can hear a loud ripping sound, your wand might be placed too high up within your milk.

After the milk has reached a temperature between 65 and 70 degrees (we suggest using an espresso thermometer for the most accurate results), turn the steam wand off. This process should take 30 seconds max.

Finally, clean the wand after you’ve finished. Just make sure you don’t touch the wand directly, as it will be very hot.

Steaming milk with steam wand

Steamed milk vs frothed milk

As mentioned before, there are subtle differences between steamed and frothed milk, even if the two terms seem interchangeable.

During the steaming process, air is pulled into the heating milk, creating a spinning effect. It produces small bubbles, resulting in a smooth and creamy texture (otherwise known as microfoam).

In contrast, frothed milk has larger air bubbles. This gives it a lighter, frothier texture, perfect for placing on top of your coffee. Milk with larger air bubbles is great if you want to top your coffee or hot chocolate with something light and frothy. However, if you want a thick and creamy finish to your coffee, we suggest steaming your milk to a microfoam texture.

Can you make steamed milk at home?

The short answer is — yes! Although a machine gives you the smoothest results with the least amount of hassle, you can make your own steamed milk at home if you’re prepared to put a little bit of extra effort in.

The jar method

This method is pretty simple. First, warm your milk over the hob or in the microwave and place it in a glass jar. Screw the lid onto your jar tightly and shake until you see lots of air bubbles appear in your milk. If the glass is too hot to hold, then you can always wrap a dishcloth around it.

Next, remove the lid and place the jar in the microwave. Turn the microwave on and set the timer to 30 seconds. Heating the milk proteins helps the foam set.

The French press method

Measure your heated milk into a French press, making sure that the milk level is higher than the steel fitter at its lowest point. Then, quickly pump your plunger up and down repeatedly to create air bubbles.

The hand whisk method

You can either use a balloon whisk or an electric whisk to create the bubbles here. As you gently heat your milk over the stove, whisk vigorously. If you’re using an electric whisk, take care to make sure you avoid any splashes. This method of milk-frothing takes quite a bit of intensive work. But remember, the more you whisk, the more bubbles you whip into your milk!

Capuccino with frothy steamed milk

The Velvetiser method

The Velvetiser heats and mixes your hot chocolate to the perfect temperature and consistency. However, this doesn’t mean that it can’t double up as a milk steamer: pour your milk in and enjoy a smoother, creamier version to add to your coffee.

You don’t always have to steam your own milk to enjoy a rich and thick cup of coffee. Our Coffee Pods let you enjoy a coffee that’s both nuanced in flavour and smooth in texture.

However, we understand that not everyone owns an espresso or Nespresso® machine. That’s why, if you make your coffee from scratch using coffee beans, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with steaming your own milk. Just make sure you use high-quality beans that are full of kick — ours come in five different blends, letting you select the bean that’s right for you.

As long as you’re prepared to put in a bit more effort, you can transform your coffee into something you’d happily drink in any cafe.