Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CBTL Milk Frother Review

Recently, "latte art" (design done on a cup of espresso with milk as the "paint") has been a rage. With coffee lover admiring a beautifully poured cup of cafe latte that looked too good to be drank.
Latte Art - Taken from Kelvin Tan's Facebook.
Some barrista might had chance upon this by mistake as they were pouring frothed milk over and into the espresso. For those that prefer their coffee with milk, otherwise known as a latte, it only make sense to get the frothing right.
Why is frothing important?
Apart from having milk foam that allows you to impress you guests with some drinkable art, frothing, or steaming milk actually brings the flavour of the milk out better. Think of it as how wine drinker "aerate" their wine with a decanter. Thankfully, decanting milk would look silly and best left with the wine/cognac lover.
Coffee as they say, awaken the senses. A good cup of roasted bean, grounded and brewed (or in this case, used along with the single press machine) is as seductive as watching (insert your favourite imagination here) dance. Your nose will flare as you take in a deeper breathe of air to pull in those aroma. Serotonin or happy hormone flows through your body as your tongue salivates and waiting to sip that freshly brewed cuppa.
A cup of espresso with foamed milk is known as a cappuccino - and i want to see a show of hand how many here that just simply love this drink.
Frothing milk is an art by itself, if not science. While some feel that it is only achievable using gourmet coffee machine with steam wands; and will usually cost you about RM1,500 and above - maintenance/cleaning not included, it make more sense to invest in something simpler.
A famous manufacturer has varieties of milk frother that usually utilises hand pumping motion like their french press cup. It takes about 3 minutes to create sufficient foam to be used for the coffee. They also have battery operated frother that looked like a modified battery operated toothbrush (in fact, it might work too, you think?).
However, both these method requires you to heat the milk to about 65degree C. This temperature is known to "bring the natural sweetness of the milk out". So, you now need a thermometer.
It just get too complicated, isn't it?
Or, should i get into the chemistry of milk and how lactose, fat and protein works hand in hand with heat and steam to brings out the full potential?
If you are a coffee drinker like me and would want "Barrista-like" prepared cappuccino or cafe latte, it make some sense to invest in a milk frother that has temperature control AND will create good foams.
Wait, did i hear you say, GOOD Foams?
Is there BAD foams?
Well, apparently, there are. From my research before committing to get the frother that i will be reviewing, i found out that those micro-foams are what the barrista will call "pourable foams for latte art" are the GOOD foams. Bad foams are akin to someone blowing bubbles into the cup using a straw (like when we were kids) - it's unrefined.
So, when i got wifey the CBTL Single Press Coffee Machine for our anniversary and house warming, it was another two days before we decided to just buy the CBTL milk frother.
For the record, We bought both units and were not given the unit for testing - so this review is honest and we would like to be as frank as possible with it so you will make an informed choice with your purchase.
Let me start off this review by putting in a few cons for this CBTL milk frother:
1. This unit is sensitive. It can stop working after a few times.
2. All electrical parts must NOT touch any form of liquid (sweat not confirmed though). There are two essential part which is on the Mug and on the Cap that must stay dry.
3. The cap (with the frothing attachment) MUST always be position faced down when in operation and when put out to dry. Else, milk/water WILL trickle into the bushing between the cap and the motor and render your unit useless.
However, as the unit is under warranty (assuming nothing happens in a year/during warranty, and not due to negligence, like immersing the whole unit into a tub of water), CBTL with their superb customer service, will replace it FOC. It is also their reputation at stake.
Blue LED that Ahbeng will approve.
If you can read past the three cons above, you are ready to purchase and use this milk frother that makes really really good milk foam that even the barrista will feel that their years of training are put to shame.
The unit is like a mini kettle where the top portion (mug and cap) can be removed while the base unit stays plugged into the electrical socket.
It has three lines on the internal wall to help you proportion your milk accordingly for that perfect cup of latte or cappuccino. It comes with one removable frothing attachment if you just want to have hot milk.
Never leave your unit when in use with the cap cover down like this. Water will trickle into the bushing and render the motor spoil. Show is the removable attachment for frothing (with spring) and just the milk stirrer to warm the milk.
The unit will create warm milk with micro foam in 3minutes or heated milk in 2minutes. This is essential as you do not want to let your espresso sits too long in the cup and get cold. Always prepare the milk first and then the coffee!
With blue lights that Ahbeng will approve too!
Shown in the photo above, you can see that for warm milk (without foam), you can put the milk to the MAX level. It will automatically boils the milk while the stirrer ensure even distribution to bring out the flavour and sweetness of the milk. This has effectively made SUGAR and CREAMER obsolete. You now have pure coffee and milk only in your cuppa! Healthy!
If you want foam, fill up to the MIN level or the MID level where you will get super smooth micro foam ready for latte art!
The trick to this is to use cold milk. Cold milk are more receptive to foaming. Putting in cold milk will gives the frother more time to foam the milk before they start heating it up and stop at 3minutes sharp. See the official video of this milk frother to judge the quality of the foam! My decision to buy this unit was based on the foam quality - nothing else!
True to the video, i get consistent same type of milk foam every time i use it. Only caveat is that i can prepare one at a time and has to ensure the mug to cool down before pouring in another batch of milk for foaming. But as they say, good coffee is worth the wait!
Fresh Cold Milk to the mid line
Foaming in progress
 I have used the unit for other purposes too, like spiking my children's chocolate powdered milk with milk foam that got them drinking it down in a jiffy. No more excuse not to drink milk for them.
Papa made "Special Milk"
The unit we first bought had mechanical problem perhaps during the unit demonstration at the CBTL outlet, that they were not careful (or rather, did not know) not to leave the unit upside down and some milk could had gotten into the bushing, dried up and caused the stirrer not to move. We got it changed the next day and all has been working fine since.
As there is too much technicality in just "washing" the unit, wifey has bestowed that frothing responsibility to me (plus cleaning up).
No better way to feel like a barrista, really.
Next up will be to learn to pour latte art! Stay tuned!


  1. How much did you pay for the frother?

  2. I forgot! It's RM280. :) Sorry!

  3. thank you very much!

  4. I'm from Singapore, and just like you I've experienced problems with my frother as well.

    I've kept it as clean and dry as possible to reduce the chances of running into problems like you had mentioned regarding the machine.

    I've probably had it replaced 3-4 times since I got it in early 2011, and finally they gave me the 2012 model as replacement

    The 2012 model was no better, it constantly kept breaking down, 1 minute to dispense coffee but 15 minutes wrestling with a frother is not funny especially when its almost every single time.

    I've thrown the frother away and might look into getting a Nespresso frother instead, hopefully my problems would be solved.

    Just thought I'd share my two cents. =(

  5. ENdruu - i share your concern. Fortunately, my current frother is running fine, almost 8 months and still working as expected. I had it replaced once.

    Finger crossed on a solution from Coffee Bean soon. Practice your consumer right!