The Difference Between a Milkshake and a Frappe

Do you know the difference between a milkshake and a frappe? How about a cabinet? Read on to learn the New England frappe drink definition.

By Aimee Tucker

Jul 12 2022


Milkshake vs. Frappe

Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker
When is a milkshake not a milkshake? In New England, of course, when it’s a frappe (or a cabinet). Confused? Let’s break down the delicious difference between a milkshake, frappe, and cabinet. According to the American Heritage College Dictionary, a milkshake is a “a beverage that is made of milk, ice cream, and often flavoring and is blended or whipped until foamy.” Unless you live in New England, where a milkshake would never include ice cream. Adding ice cream makes it a “frappe” drink. As a teenager, I worked for a popular ice cream stand, Kimball Farm, in my hometown of Westford, Massachusetts, and like most jobs dealing with food and/or “visiting” customers, I spent a decent amount of time explaining things on the menu. Some questions relating to New England ice cream flavorswere normal (What’s in Frozen Pudding ice cream? You don’t want to know) but others were uniquely regional – the kinds of things a local might know (What are jimmies?), but had others feeling puzzled. The number one “from away” question? “What’s a frappe?”
One New England chocolate frappe.
One New England chocolate frappe.
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
Sometimes it got very “Who’s on first” kinds of confusing. Here’s a typical re-creation: Customer: “I’d like a chocolate milkshake, please.” Me: “Do you mean a milkshake or a frappe?” Customer: “I mean a milkshake – with ice cream.” Me: “If you want ice cream, you want a frappe. A milkshake just has milk and syrup.” Customer: “Uhm…I’d like whatever has the ice cream.” Today I’ve made a classic chocolate frappe with 3 scoops of chocolate ice cream, a generous splash of milk, and thick drizzle of chocolate syrup. I put all of my frappe ingredients into a tall glass fridge jug with an opening that perfectly fits my immersion blender (or “stick” blender), and then pulsed away until I had a thick and rich concoction – namely, a chocolate frappe.
chocolate ice cream
All good frappes start with lots of ice cream.
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
I don’t know why we call the delicious mix of ice cream, milk, syrup, and sometimes malt powder a frappe (pronounced “frap”) here in New England, but when you really think about it, a milkshake shouldn’t be anything other than shaken (NOT stirred) milk and syrup. And a frappe, which sounds funny and looks elegant with those double p’s, must (of course) be the fancier of the two, meaning the one with the ice cream. It makes perfect sense. [text_ad]
The fountain menu at Kimball Farm in Jaffrey, NH. We’ll get to “tonic” another time. Also, note that prices may no longer be accurate…
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
Now for those who wonder if a chocolate milkshake in New England is basically just a glass of chocolate milk, the answer is a resounding NO. Chocolate milk is the casual stirring of chocolate syrup into a glass of milk. A chocolate milkshake is the vigorous shaking (or blending) of the two until the consistency is perfectly creamy and a frothy head is formed. I used the same stick blender is a tall glass pitcher to make this drink as well.
One New England chocolate frappe.
One New England chocolate milkshake.
Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey
Finally, to make matters even more confusing, if you’re from certain parts of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, you order a cabinet. What is a cabinet? Basically it’s the same thing as a frappe (usually coffee-flavored and made with Autocrat Coffee Syrup), but it got its name because that’s where the blender was kept. We like to keep milkshake-loving tourists on their toes here in New England! So, readers…which name do you prefer? Milkshake, frappe, or cabinet? And which flavor is best? This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.

SEE MORE: 75 Classic New England Foods