There are many reasons to choose non-dairy milks and almost as many types to pick from. But which plant milk works best with speciality coffee? Can you make a vegan cappuccino that tastes good?
It can be difficult to know whether to choose soy, almond, or oat milk. Some non-dairy options have overpowering flavours and others are difficult to foam. Milk can impact upon many aspects of a coffee’s final flavour and aesthetic. As we know, these factors are essential elements for any coffee lover (unless you drink it black, of course). Modern coffees use steamed milk, in an attempt to produce a foam by ‘stretching’ the milk. Many coffees, such as the latte, cappuccino and flat white, all depend on this style of the milk to fulfil their criteria.
The Best Plant Milk For Coffee
In recent years, the use of plant milks has exploded. Many people are trying to reduce their intake of animal products and the speciality coffee market is no exception. Whether you choose non-dairy milk for ethical, health, or other reasons, it’s important to find one that doesn’t overwhelm the subtleties of your coffee.
Why does the milk matter?
Traditionally, the majority of all milk is made up of protein molecules. The level of proteins do vary, dependent on the milk you’re using, however, once heated, they ‘melt’, trapping the air and ‘stretching’ the milk to a foam.
Given the vast differences between dairy and non-dairy milks, the performance of each does differ. The outcomes all contribute to the overall flavour and texture of the coffee, meaning connoisseurs are often experimenting, to discover the perfect cup.
Having a non-dairy latte doesn’t have to mean losing speciality quality. Why invest in great beans and learn how to make an espresso-based drink only to have it taste bad?
According to a recent survey the following milks are the most common alternatives to dairy milk. As you can see there are some clear preferences, but for what reasoning?
This is probably the best-known plant milk around the world. People have been using soy alternatives to animal products for generations. It is great not just for those who want to avoid dairy, but also for people with nut allergies. It is also widely available. Most coffee shops will be more than experienced with using it.
Soy milk is a popular alternative to dairy milk, thanks to its similar protein levels and performance when heated; making it easy to replicate the smooth foamy textures of a dairy milk. However, it can curdle as a reaction to the coffee’s acidity or temperature, so be cautious.
And how does it taste? Some say soy is a great neutral-flavoured milk that can work well with speciality coffee. Others report it as tasting like cardboard.
Ceiran Trigg is the director of Ancestors Coffee in Norwich, UK and he says that “it varies, but can be quite overpowering.” He feels that the nutty flavour means that soy can complement coffee from South American origins but distort the qualities of African beans, which tend to have fruity notes.
This dairy alternative milk’s popularity has steadily been on the rise. A nut milk that comes in varieties of sweetened and unsweetened, diversifies its contribution to the final flavour of a coffee.
However one should be cautions because it often splits in the cup. This is when the milk curdles and separates. It is more likely to happen with an acidic coffee and can also be caused by a large difference in temperature between the coffee and milk.
Without saying almonds, it tastes nutty with a slightly bitter aftertaste, hence why some opt for the sweetened version of almond milk, depending on the roast used for the coffee itself. It can definitely complement a few light roasts, but higher acidity cups will distort and get a weird sourness. Latte art is easily manageable, and texture can be great
Talk about texture. Coconut milk’s properties are creamy and naturally dense, making it a firm favourite.
The natural sweetness of a coconut’s flavour is prominent. Some may argue that it distracts from the flavours of the coffee but that would depend on the coffee, of course.
It certainly adds flavour by welcoming an exotic-like experience without the need for any artificial flavourings or sweeteners. Moreover, its foam is also more bubbly than dairy milk, giving it a livelier appeal but a quicker disintegration rate.
This plant milk is quickly gaining popularity, and for good reason. Oat milk boasts many beneficial components, as it’s void of saturated fat but loaded with protein, fibre and natural sweetness. Oats also contain beta-glucans which help with aiding heart health and lowering cholesterol.
It is also believed to be one of the most neutral flavoured of all alternatives to dairy and doesn’t overpower the coffee. “If you’re having a Brazilian bean, you’ll taste Brazil. If you’re having an Ethiopian, you’ll taste Ethiopia,” he says.
Manufacturers have put the coffee first and made plant-based milks to suit light coffee. “Their fat content is less, with not as much oil. Therefore, the coffee remains the focus of the drink.
A dairy-free milk, void of both nut and soy, makes rice milk a popular option for coffee drinkers with nut allergies and those who are lactose intolerant. In comparison to other plant-based milks, it is light and refreshing!
As you may well imagine, rice milk does not have a lot of flavour and brings quite a neutral taste, allowing the flavour of the coffee to triumph. On top of that, it is rather watery, which can dilute your coffee somewhat.
It’s not ideal for the speciality coffees we are used to. It’s distinct lack of protein means it does not generate the foam-like texture you may be looking for.
Hemp, Hazelnut, Cashew & Others
Hemp, hazelnut, and cashew milks are widely disregarded for speciality coffee drinks. Hazelnut has a distinctive flavour that can mask or distort the nuances of the beans. And hemp is too watery to work with.
Cashew milk has a milder flavour than almond milk but is also naturally sweeter, which can be overwhelming in coffee. It also doesn’t foam well. These types of milks are less commercially available and can be more expensive than soy, almond, and oat products.
How Plant Milks Behave Differently To Dairy
How milk reacts to heat and foaming depends on its proteins. Vegan milks obviously contain different proteins than the lactose and whey proteins in cow milk, so they behave differently under stress.
Temperature changes, the acidity of coffee, and the impact of frothing cause plant milks to curdle more easily. Some baristas advise steaming dairy-free milks to a slightly lower temperature than cow’s milk to prevent this happening.
Obviously, there are many health benefits to choosing a non-dairy milk, as well as the clear environmental successes of it, making the big coffee chains include it on their menus.
Dairy-free living is becoming more common, whether it’s a lifestyle choice or something you have to adapt to due to allergies.
There is increasingly large choice in the non-dairy milk market and many products are created for baristas. With this variety, it is likely you can find a plant milk that works with your choice of speciality coffee and lifestyle