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TOOL DEPARTMENT

Got froth? We test tools for latte lovers

June 13, 2007|Emily Dwass | Special to The Times

GETTING out of bed isn't always easy. OK, it's never easy. For some people, it helps to visualize a tall mug of coffee topped with billowing clouds of hot foam. In the not-too-distant past, the only way to get that kind of froth was by driving to your favorite barista or by investing in an espresso machine with a gizmo for steaming milk.

Clearly, plenty of sleepy souls want their lattes at home, because stand-alone milk frothers have been gaining in popularity. The newest , the electric Nespresso Aeroccino, has been flying off store shelves since it appeared last November. It seemed like the moment to put the latest generation of milk frothers to the test.

There are several types on the market. Some simultaneously heat the milk and froth it. Others just froth; you have to heat the milk beforehand or after. And frothing, which is simply putting as much air as possible into the liquid, can be achieved either via a whisking motion or by injecting steam. There are low-tech whisking wands and vessels with built-in heating mechanisms and whisks. One looks like a French press coffee maker; another sits on the countertop like some impressive attachment on a fancy espresso machine.

I tested six frothers, including all of the above types, ranging in price from $20 for a manual pump to $90 for that Nespresso Aeroccino. In assessing the machines I considered the quality and volume of foam they produced, speed, design, ease of use and ease of assembly and cleaning.

When it comes to froth, I looked for a fairly dense foam with plenty of volume and bubbles that had staying power in the cup. Experts say less fat equals more volume, so I used nonfat milk in all the tests.

While none was perfect, one stood out above the rest: the Froth au Lait. This gadget, which looks like a cross between an electric kettle and a blender, transformed one cup of cold milk into more than three cups of hot froth in four minutes. And what froth! It looked like mounds of clouds atop the coffee, with a velvety texture somewhere between meringue and whipped cream.

The only downside was that the Froth au Lait was a little tricky to clean, and it took up more space on the countertop than most. Though it didn't seem like something I'd use on a daily basis, it would be great to have to make lattes for my book club.

The Nespresso Aeroccino definitely is a cool new tool, because it can heat and froth the milk in one step in less than a minute. The problem? It can froth only half a cup of milk at a time, not enough to fill my mug. The quality of the foam was good, but the $90 price tag seemed high for a single-serving frother.

I was curious about the frothXpress from Capresso, a company known for its coffee machines and burr grinders. But it was extremely challenging to assemble. I went into panic mode as I studied the instructions, which included scary words like "upper red O-ring" and "siphon." When I finally connected the parts, the result was a lovely mass of hot milk and froth. And then it was almost as difficult to clean as it was to assemble.

Cleaning was an issue with all the models tested; it's essential to wash them immediately, before the milk residue hardens. Easiest to clean are pumps, because they can be submerged in water. Electric and battery operated machines are tougher to wash because they have components that shouldn't get wet. Inevitably, I managed to get water on parts that were supposed to stay dry.

Until the day the frother geniuses invent a compact, preassembled machine that quickly makes plenty of voluminous, luxurious foam, is easy to clean and doesn't cost an arm and a leg, I may just keep two in my kitchen. To bestow billows of foam on guests, I'll use the Froth au Lait, keeping it tucked out of sight in a cabinet most of the time.

For daily, single-serve frothing, I'd reach for the Bonjour rechargeable wand. It's sleek, well-designed, easy to use and in 30 seconds doubled a cup of heated milk into two cups of dense foam, which held up well when it hit the coffee.

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food@latimes.com

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Turn up the volume

The Froth au Lait Froth 'n Sauce, which looks like a cross between an electric kettle and a blender, has a 500-watt, 120-volt motor and a pitcher that holds 8 to 12 ounces of milk. It comes with two sets of whipping blades, one for froth, another for making sauce. Unlike the original Froth au Lait, whose pitcher is lined with nonstick coating, this pitcher's interior is stainless steel at the base.

What's the difference: Heats and aerates simultaneously. Two whips rotating in opposite directions aerate the milk. The heating/frothing cycle takes about three or four minutes, depending on the milk used. Shuts off automatically.

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