If your budget and caffeinated beverage habit aren't getting along, you might skip the daily trip to the coffee shop and prepare your pick-me-ups at home. Maybe you want to hone your barista skills from the comfort of your own kitchen. Whatever your reasons for doing so, it's easy to steam milk at home and create some foam, even if you don't own an espresso machine or other coffee steamer-type device (although – full disclosure – you're not likely to get quite as dense and smooth a foam as you can produce with an actual steam wand).

Drinks Made With Steamed Milk

Once you learn how to steam milk at home and make some milk foam, you can prepare all sorts of hot drinks, including many popular coffee and espresso beverages. They're mostly just variations on a theme, so if you can make one, you can make others. Some examples include:

  • Cappuccino: Shots of espresso with a small amount of steamed milk and lots of foam to fill the cup (plus, they can be "wet" with more milk and less foam or "dry" with less milk and more foam)

  • Cafe latte: Shots of espresso with steamed milk to fill the cup and a thin layer of foam on top

  • Cafe macchiato: Shots of espresso with a few drops of steamed milk and a dollop of foam (typically served in a demitasse like straight espresso shots)

  • Cafe mocha: A latte with chocolate syrup or powder

  • Cafe breve: A latte made with steamed half and half instead of steamed milk 

  • Cafe au lait: Half coffee and half steamed milk

  • Cafe and cocoa: A cafe au lait with chocolate syrup or powder

  • Hot chocolate/hot cocoa: Steamed milk with chocolate syrup or powder 

The Best Option for Homemade Steamed Milk and Foam

If you don't have access to a steam wand, one technique quickly heats up milk (technically, you can only steam it with a steam wand) and produces a decent froth at the same time. It works best with skim or 2 percent milk. You can use whole milk, but the foam will consist of larger, less-dense bubbles than with a lower-fat alternative.

Pour about 4 to 8 ounces of milk into a microwave-safe jar with a lid. The jar should be big enough that the milk fills it no more than halfway so there's room for the liquid to expand. Close the lid securely and vigorously shake for 30 to 60 seconds until you have the amount of foam you want. Take the lid off the jar and microwave the milk for 30 seconds, and the liquid gets hot and the foam stabilizes.

Use a spoon to hold back the foam while you pour as much milk onto your coffee, espresso or chocolate as you want. Then, use the spoon to scoop the froth onto the top of your drink. If you like, top the foam with some cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa powder, chocolate syrup, caramel sauce or other ingredient of choice.

Other Ways to Heat Milk and Make Froth

If you only want hot milk and don't care about foam, simply microwave it for about 30 seconds per 8 ounces. Alternatively, warm it up in a double boiler (or mimic a double boiler by placing one pot on the burner with a little water in it and a second pot with the milk over the first pot without letting the upper pot come into direct contact with the water). This gentle heating method prevents the milk from quickly boiling over, developing a scorched taste and developing a film at the top.

Then, there are a few ways to add froth to the milk once you heat it up:

  • Whisk it by hand (if you also want a workout).

  • Use an electric mixer or blender on medium without submerging the blades all the way to the bottom.

  • Use an immersion blender on low for really good results, but be prepared for flung milk and a potential mess. Put the milk in as deep of a bowl as you have.

  • You can buy a frothing wand or pump frother. These work well and cost less than an espresso machine with a steam wand.

  • Put the milk in a French press and pump the top to create foam. This is similar to a pump frother and spares you from having to buy something else if you already have a French press.

About the Author

Eric Mohrman

Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.