The Bellman stovetop steamer provides a cost-effective alternative for moka pot users, but can be expanded to accommodate other coffee brewers.
BY KATRINA YENTCH
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos by Katrina Yentch
Last week, we explored how the Cafelat Robot and other hand-lever style espresso machines on the market could be a cost-effective alternative to having a countertop espresso machine. To accompany this affordable setup, I also received the Bellman stovetop steamer from Prima Coffee Equipment.
Many of us who have been behind bar know that the handheld “milk frothers” of the early 2000s just don’t cut it for a good café-quality milk drink. They usually mix the liquid around in a messy uncontrollable motion, often resulting in a sticky and lukewarm beverage—plus a dead battery soon after. For great velvety-textured milk, we need to incorporate steam, and in high amounts too. As expressed in the last “Test Drive,” not all of us have access to that high pressure that pricey commercial and home espresso machines offer, but recent devices on the home coffee market have offered competitive solutions.
Although the Bellman stovetop steamers have been around for a few years now, they didn’t come onto my radar until the pandemic, when many baristas were stuck at home and aching for a good milk-steaming experience. And so, I did not only see this gadget come into popularity; but I also saw a ton of makeshift ways to create latte art. The Bellman has proven to be one of the more consistent and easiest ways to do this.
Bellman is a coffee company based in Taiwan that makes several types of coffee products like siphons and coffee filters for single-serve brewers. The stovetop steamers are easily their most popular products in the lineup. I tried the CX-25s stovetop steamer in particular, which retails on Prima for $109 USD. It features a stainless steel cylindrical body with a removable top, and users add water to the body before sealing.
Similar to the moka pot, the intention is that users will build steam pressure within the device by heating the water on the stove. The only difference is that there’s not a bed of coffee inside the body. To ensure the buildup of sustained pressure, the top of the Bellman stovetop steamer comes with a gasket around the threading of the lid. The functionality of the device is super user-friendly. After filling the chamber inside halfway with water, you only need to wait about 3-5 minutes (just enough time to brew the espresso simultaneously) before the device gets hot enough to exert steam pressure, which releases out of a steam wand controlled by a small knob attached to the body.
As far as the quality of the milk itself goes, if you know how to steam milk, it really does release a ton of high-quality pressure into your pitcher during the frothing process. There really weren’t any complaints about how well the device can froth milk, especially since there really isn’t anything else on the market that exists to compare it to. I got a creamy velvety texture, which resulted in café-quality latte art. I even steamed two drinks right after one another, and there was still leftover steam inside the Bellman stovetop steamer; I had to leave the steam wand open for about a minute to release the rest of the pressure inside, so definitely be careful in handling the device. It will get hot and stay hot!
There are some simple modifications to the Bellman stovetop steamer that I think could make it a more efficient and safe product for someone to use at home. The handle attached to the steamer could probably be in a more ergonomic position, as it is placed at an awkward angle in the back. Consequently, you can’t move the pitcher around much while you’re steaming milk. It would also be nice if the wand tip had more holes to release pressure. There are currently two holes, and neither Prima nor Bellman make separate wand tips you can attach (although Prima does sell replacements for nearly every single part of the device).
Safety wise, since everything gets so hot, there could also be some rubber attachments to the steam wand and the handle similar to a countertop espresso machine for better handling. There is a small safety feature that Prima Coffee outlines in a how-to video, which is that there are additional holes in the handle that release steam if you leave it on the stove for too long and forget about it. That way, the steamer won’t overload on pressure and explode. However, I’ve heard mixed reviews on how efficient these holes actually are. When you are done, you can either release the rest of the steam and leave it to cool on its own, or you can simply run cold water over it.
Overall, I’m seriously impressed with the Bellman stovetop steamer. I was able to pour solid latte art with this device and the Cafelat Robot. I think the Bellman steamer would make a fitting companion to both the moka pot and any kind of cost-effective espresso maker—or a plain good Café Au Lait for those who appreciate steamed milk in their brew! Combining the cost of this product with the Cafelat Robot, you end up with an espresso-milk setup that costs about $500 USD. By comparison, a home countertop espresso machine by most commercial equipment providers typically retails at $2,500-$5,000 USD.