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The Highfalutin Gadget Worth Keeping In Your Kitchen

A milk frother sounds like the ultimate in excess, but it's a morning routine game changer.

There aren't many discounts listed on so-called Amazon Prime Big Deal Days that are capable of tempting me. I'm not a "stuff" person, and I am chronically averse to the sight of kitchen drawers clogged with gadgets I was either given as gifts or which I purchased with a specific project in mind that never came to pass (looking at you, onigiri molds). But scanning the lists of today's discounts, I find that there are some pretty good sales on one item I would recommend to any coffee drinker, a tool that seems highly unnecessary but has changed my morning routine for the better. For a true game changer, look no further than a milk frother.

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I am not personally making espresso lattes from scratch in my kitchen every day (though if you want a homemade pumpkin spice latte, go nuts). Typically I prepare some Dunkin' Original Blend with my drip coffee maker—I have an older version of this Cuisinart one, regrettably not on sale—which is on a timer and fully brewed by the time I'm waking up. Adding some frothy milk to this brew results in a picturesque morning beverage that makes me feel like I accomplished something by 6 a.m. Whenever I'm away from home, I miss this little ritual; no one makes coffee like me. Unless, of course, they froth their milk.

Why a milk frother is worth buying

A milk frother is a cheap little gadget that somehow still feels highfalutin, like you're too fancy for a splash of humble nondairy creamer or something. But frothing milk for your morning coffee has a few advantages. One, the milk (which, for best results, should be at least 1% milk fat) appears to double in volume, thanks to all the air being whipped into it—this means that I can better control my caffeine intake, because a little less coffee can physically fit inside the mug. Two, the foam offers contrasting textures, making me feel like I'm drinking something more "sophisticated" than Dunkin' drip. Three, the layer of foam that sits on top helps to insulate the coffee underneath, meaning that even on a winter morning it's less likely to grow cold as I nurse it. Finally, offering your guests a foam-topped cup of coffee will make you feel like the host of the year.

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Which milk frother should you buy?

There are two main types of milk frother: a wand model and a carafe model. The wand will always be the cheaper, more portable option, and it's a good one to start with to see if you'll actually go to the extra 25 seconds of trouble each morning as you prepare your morning coffee.

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The PowerLix model, on sale today for $9.50, is one I used for about three years, with no issues during that time. Of course, it ultimately costs more than that to operate, since, using it twice a day, I had to replace the batteries every four to five months; your mileage may vary. To use it, hold the vessel with the dairy (cold or hot) in one hand and the wand in the other. Place the wand into the cup at an angle, then turn it on and make gradual movements in the cup while it does its thing. If the wand is running on full battery and your milk is fresh, it shouldn't take more than 10 seconds to get perfect foam. The PowerLix comes with a nice little stand where the frother can hover above the countertop to air dry after rinsing. I've had other models similar to that one, and they're all pretty comparable, so as long as they're all vaguely the same price (i.e., not suspiciously cheaper), you will get a similar product—but I do recommend getting one with the stand.

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The carafe models are pricier, but since they plug into the wall, you don't end up spending any money on replacement batteries. These frothers hold a greater volume of milk, and most can either heat the milk as it foams or keep it cold, depending on your beverage. I use the Nespresso Aeroccino 3, which I like for its simple one-button operation, its compact size, and its shockingly quiet operation. I just pour in the milk and press the button one time; it hums for about 60 seconds, then shuts off automatically. However, I only lucked into this appliance because a family member with a Nespresso got sent an extra one by mistake. Similar countertop models that happen to be on sale today include the Paris Rhône for $38, the SIMPLETASTE for $33, and the EZBASICS for $30.

Like anything else, each model comes with tradeoffs. The wand frother is quicker, but you'll have to heat the milk separately in the microwave before foaming it. The carafe model is more hands-off, but has more components to clean (cup, lid, and detachable whisk). But having used both models, I can say that each one makes me eager to enjoy my coffee at home, rather than making Starbucks purchases more often than I'd like to. That alone feels worth the investment.

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