So what’s the difference between making milk froth and milk foam anyway? Is there a difference at all?
These were the very first simple questions I had about frothing milk when I started experimenting with making lattes and cappuccinos for the first time in my own home and they’re probably the first questions most beginners have too.
First of the difference between froth and foam is simple and mostly semantics. They are both basically the same thing. Milk with small bubbles. The difference is in the texture.
Foam usually consists of bigger, lighter bubbles that tend to sit on top of the milk or coffee. Froth is consistent with tighter bubbles that mix together with the milk and coffee resulting in a thicker textured drink from top to bottom. Foam is much easier to make and many working baristas really only make foam despite their best intentions.
When tighter froth is not made correctly steamed milk added to drinks tends to be flat even though there may be tons of fluffy foam on top of the drink. A keen eye can see the difference and most people can taste the difference too.
In short its all about the texture here. Flavor only slightly factors in.
So how are these froth bubbles made?
They’re made in both professional settings and in some homes. They are typically made with a steam wand which can be purchased as a stand alone device or can be found as a standard feature on virtually all espresso makers made for both commercial and home use.
For those of us that don’t have espresso machines and don’t want to buy extra accessories you can make some forms of frothed/foamed milk at home by using your french press pot and your countertop microwave.
Another difference between frothed milk and foamed milk is that frothed milk tends to be harder to make and is usually not made by inexperienced home baristas. Foam is typically easier to make with a press pot and it’s also easier to make with an automatic steam wand too. To make excellent froth takes a lot of practice and a bit of talent and usually better equipment
For basic drinks that will turn the heads of most people a basic foam will be good enough to produce a wow so don’t worry to much about getting perfect froth unless you are trying to impress pros. Most people who buy these drinks all the time won’t notice the difference anyway, especially if they get these drinks from Starbucks with a lid. You can’t even see the foam or froth anyway.
As you can see in this picture the foam is really light and airy. The bubbles are bigger and this stuff will float on the top of just about anything.
In contrast the picture below shows tight frothy bubbles. These bubbles are heavier and will mix into a beverage much better.
If you are looking to make a Latte then you are going to want to make a bit of foam and use the frothier milk underneath the foam for the majority of the milk added. Just top the cup with a bit of fluffier foam and you’ll have a great cup.
A Cappuccino would be opposite. Make your foamed milk and only add a little frothy milk on the bottom first and that cap it with a load of fluffy foam on top of your cup.
If you want to get a better distinction between foam and froth then keep practicing and put a wand milk steamer on your wishlist.