Wednesday January 20, 2010 | 8 comments
If you own a tea cafe or drink a lot of tea lattes and don’t want to invest in a decent (read: expensive) espresso machine, affordable options for heating and frothing your milk and chai lattes are, unfortunately, quite limited. While I can’t speak to the adequacy and efficacy of the Froth au Lait Professional Milk Frother for home use, I cannot recommend the professional NSF version for commercial/cafe use unless you don’t mind replacing it every 6-18 months. I have owned four of them, employing two at a time, over the past three years, and eventually gave up on them for a different solution.
The Froth au Lait Professional looks promising: a sturdy, stainless steel pitcher mounts easily on top of a solid-appearing base with a simple on/off button and hot/cold switch. To use it, you assemble a three-part paddle on a hollow metal post in a pitcher, pour in the milk, mount it onto the base, and turn it on. The cycle time to heat and froth the milk is about 3-3.5 minutes – a long time if you’ve got several latte orders lined up during an insanely busy Saturday.
The cons of this device outweighed the pros for us. If your cafe is a loud, raucous place, you won’t mind the jarring (and, increasingly loud, over time) clatter it makes. Granted, espresso machine steamers are loud too, but a loud hisssss is preferable to the clankity-clank of this appliance for your cafe’s chi.
Your milk should be hot when it’s finished cycling, but unfortunately, ours would often stop halfway after making a few drinks in a row (this suggested to us that the thermostat got thrown off because the device isn’t adequate for subsequent cycles). As a workaround, we’d hold the button down to finish heating the milk.
About four months into owning the Froth au Laits, we noticed that the paddle assembly’s gears became worn down (plastic), causing a looser fit and resulting in additional clamor from spinning parts. More disturbing, however, was that milk would seep onto the motorized base because of the degradation of the paddle assembly’s fit. Because of this, and despite diligent and repeated cleaning, we still always had smelly deposits of milk around and under the motor post and base at the end of the day, which was very difficult to clean. I can only assume that repeated exposure to leaked milk from the pitcher caused the base to eventually fail, because they all died between six months of use (for the first one, which they replaced) and about 1+ years (for the last three, which they wouldn’t replace).
Because these units leak, have long, unreliable heating cycles, and plastic paddle frothing assemblies that become worn down with use, they are not really suitable for a busy cafe environment. As such, I consider them disposable and not of “professional” or commercial quality. In fact, I don’t know why they would even bother with the NSF certification when the leaked milk constantly pools on the base, creating an ideal environment for bacterial growth unless detailed after every use (the milk even gets under the spindle, which the paddle units attach to).
After having called several coffee equipment suppliers in search of a solution, I’ve found out that there is a general consensus that for commercial use this machine just doesn’t make the grade in terms of quality, performance, and durability. The only affordable solution I’ve found since these died is the Quick Mill Auto Milk Steamer (I got mine from Chris Coffee online for about $250). The cycle time is shorter (90 seconds), it heats the milk to a perfect 140 degrees each time (rendering lactose in milk at its sweetest), and it’s a lot easier to clean.
If you’ve found a solution to the latte-making-sans-espresso-machine conundrum for $1000 or under, I’d love to hear about it!