As the sun rises, mainstream consumers everywhere seek their first hit of caffeine. For many, the experience wouldn’t be complete without a topping of steamed milk. Sure this frothy delight is a luxury, but millions swear by it. Some whip it up at home in fancy espresso machines. Others drop $5 for barista-prepared lattes, cappuccinos, and the like.
Mrs. Moose and I have enjoyed our morning caffeine for years without the benefit of steamed milk. Recently, that changed. Here’s the story of how we become full-time foamers—and how we managed to do it on the cheap.
Last summer, an excellent cook hosted a Sunday brunch. I attended. A beautiful copper-clad espresso machine sat on her counter. She said she didn’t use it anymore. She told me that whenever she needed steamed milk, she would pour a little bit into a cup, microwave it, and whip it with a handheld frother that had cost her all of $5. The frother did the job faster and with less hassle than her complicated espresso contraption. Of course, it grabbed my attention to hear that a $5 machine had outperformed its $500+ counterpart. I drank a latte and loved it—especially since I knew the back story.
Months later, as the holidays approached, I struggled for gift ideas. I decided that Mrs. Moose might enjoy some steamed milk as part of her mornings. But which frother should I buy? I’m an optimizer, so an answer to this question required in-depth research.
I eventually identified two candidates. At the low end stood the IKEA Produkt, which sold for a mere $2.49. At the high end stood the BonJour Primo Latte, which garnered good reviews and sold for $19.99. In a spasm of holiday excess, I bought them both. I figured that if the IKEA model performed well, then we could buy multiples to give away as stocking stuffers.
As it turned out, there wasn’t enough time for testing in advance of the holidays. Since then, however, we’ve been using both frothers and making the inevitable comparisons.
The BonJour wins. Its motor runs smoother. It comes with a handy stand. It’s more solidly constructed. It produces finer bubbles that stay around until the final sips of coffee. The only downside: the BonJour drains batteries like crazy—in three months, we’ve burned through three pairs of AAs. (Perhaps we should use rechargeables, but then we’d have to buy a charger and that would mean more research for me.)
Is the IKEA a bad buy? Not at all. The BonJour costs eight times as much, but I wouldn’t say it’s eight times better than the Swedish option. The Produkt’s froth is heady enough; it’s just not as luxuriant as its competitor. ( I will say this: the IKEA’s batteries seem to last longer.)
Because of its low price, we think the Produkt makes a great starter frother. And a starter frother makes the better present for someone who isn’t already into steamed milk. Here’s why. So many times we give gifts believing they’ll receive regular use. But then they don’t—and our bad decisions end up languishing in dark closets. Whenever a gift’s future use is uncertain, I think it’s reasonable to give samples or entry level products. If recipients really like the gift, they can buy more or upgrade. The value you’ve bestowed, then, is that you’ve introduced someone to something new—for instance, an affordable luxury such as steamed milk.
So next December we’ll give a $2.49 stocking surprise with instructions on how to make barista quality lattes and cappuccinos. Unless, that is, a better idea comes along . . .
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Here are illustrated instructions for making your own latte. I assume you have access to a microwave. We froth the milk while it’s still cold, but if you prefer, you can heat it first.
Step 1: froth 1/4 cup of cold 2% milk for 20 seconds.
Step 2: microwave for 20 seconds.
Step 3: pour and scoop steamed milk into hot coffee (note mini spoonula in action).