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What Milk Alternative Is Best For Coffee? – Find Out Here

As coffee continues to grow in popularity, the market is flooded with milk alternatives. From almond milk to soy milk, there is a milk alternative for everyone.

Of all the types of milk, though, none have the protein, calcium, or a high protein content of real milk.

While milk substitutes are often a better option for those who drink coffee, they can be a little trickier to stomach.

Sure, a nice cup of tea or a frappuccino may be the ideal drink for you, but when you really need that caffeine kick, you want it in a milk-soaked way.

While it may take a little getting used to the taste, it’s worth it to keep the pounds in check.

The Best Non- Dairy Coffee Milk

If you own a coffee shop or cafe, you know there aremany ways to make a good cup of coffee. Each customer has different preferences, which you can accommodate by offering a diverse menu.

Beyond differing tastes, some patrons may have dietary restrictions or dairy allergies that prevent them from enjoying traditional coffee offerings like lattes and cappuccinos.

If you want to offer options for lactose intolerant and vegan customers, it’s important to know what kind of non-dairy milk is best in coffee.

In this guide, we examine eight alternatives to dairy milk and the key factors that determine their compatibility with coffee.

Plant-based milk substitutes compare nutritionally to cow’s milk

Many plant-based options don’t hold up nutritionally to cow’s milk, specifically when it comes to protein, calcium and vitamin D. When choosing an alternative, those are the nutrients you should watch out for.

Cow’s milk provides about 9 g of protein per cup, 30 percent of your recommended daily calcium and 45 percent of your recommended vitamin D.

And many non-dairy beverages have little, if any, protein, which may or may not be a concern depending on which other protein-rich foods you eat.

Depending on the manufacturer, milk alternatives are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D—which requires you to shake the container well because the vitamins often separate and end up on the bottom.

However, many aren’t fortified to the same nutritional level as cow’s milk and some aren’t fortified at all. Be sure to read the labels and make informed choices.

Non-dairy milks compare environmentally to dairy

While some milk alternatives have a greater impact on the environment than others, any plant-based choice is better for the earth than dairy.

A 2018 University of Oxford study found that producing a glass of dairy results in almost three times more greenhouse gas emissions than any kind of vegan milk.

So even if you choose the water-guzzling almond, the planet will still be better off.

How do milk alternatives taste?

Finally, that leaves taste.

Not everyone looks for the same things when it comes to how they take their coffee, and many brands offer plant-based milks, as well as creamers—designed to mimic cream—and “barista” editions that can be steamed for lattes and cappuccinos.

We tried the major plant-based milks, presented below in alphabetical order, as well as some popular creamers, to see how well they mix and compare to dairy. Now, the choice is yours.

8 Things That Makes a Non-Dairy Milk Good in Coffee?

For each option in this blog, we’ll tell you how the milk alternative affects the taste or texture of your coffee and whether it has a good stretch.

In coffee terms, stretch is the ability to produce foam for different types of steamed coffee drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.

Protein molecules melt when they are heated, so incorporating air into heated milk or non-dairy milk causes these proteins to trap the air and stretch the milk into a foam.

With these factors in mind, you can decide which options are best for your establishment’s coffee service.

1. Oat Milk

Oat milk has become one of the most popular non-dairy milks to use in coffee drinks. It’s made from a combination of oats, water, and sometimes canola oil or rapeseed oil for emulsification.

The result is a surprisingly full-bodied non-dairy milk with richness that rivals whole dairy milk.

Oat milk is also prized for its fiber content. This non-dairy milk appeals to health-conscious customers because it contains relatively little fat without sacrificing the protein that you can get from dairy milk.

The addition of fiber, however, sets this non-dairy milk apart and makes it the perfect choice for customers who are looking to boost their digestive health.

What are the health benefits of oat milk?

There’s more sugar in oat milk than other alternatives, due to it being made from carbohydrate. It also has a slightly higher (unsaturated) fat content.

The make-up differs by brand though, as some are fortified with calcium or vitamins.

How sustainable is oat milk?

Widely understood to be one of the more eco-friendly options, oats take less water to produce than something like almonds.

They need fewer herbicides too, thanks to their hardiness against weeds. In that sense, oat is a winner.

How Oat Milk Tastes in Coffee

Oat milk has a creamy taste that is similar to full-fat dairy milk in coffee. It has a smooth texture that blends easily, which explains why it is growing in popularity so rapidly.

Can Oat Milk Make Foam for Coffee?

Oat milk can be foamed, though it may produce larger bubbles than dairy milk due to its lower protein content. Oat milk may also take longer to foam and steam than cow’s milk.

This being said, it can still produce a foam substantial enough to create latte art.

2. Coconut Milk

Prized for its thick, creamy texture, coconut milk is quickly becoming a favorite dairy alternative for coffee drinkers.

Coconut milk has a high fat content that plays well in coffee drinks, and many brands have a neutral taste with only a hint of coconut flavor.

Just make sure to use the coconut milk packaged in cartons, not cans. Canned coconut milk is much thicker and has a stronger coconut taste.

How Coconut Milk Tastes in Coffee

Many assume that coconut milk has a strong, sweet flavor that only belongs in a tropical drink. Coconut milk actually has a more subtle coconut flavor than other coconut products like shredded coconut.

In coffee drinks that contain syrups or other flavorings, the light coconut taste is masked. In a latte or cappuccino, some sweetness will come through.

Look for a coconut milk product that is neutral-flavored or try a barista blend created specifically for coffee.

Can Coconut Milk Make Foam for Coffee?

Coconut milk creates a less dense froth with larger bubbles than dairy milk.

3. Soy Milk

Most coffeehouses are accustomed to using soy milk in coffee, as this type of non-dairy milk has been a popular option for many years.

Soy milk is easily accessible in most areas, and its relatively affordable price makes it an attractive option for many businesses.

Some soy milk curdles in coffee as a reaction to the acidity or hot temperature. Soy milks without preservatives may be more prone to separating in your customers’ coffee.

If you think temperature is the problem, try pouring warm soy milk into your serving cup and slowly adding the coffee.

Does soy milk taste good in coffee?

Soy milk has been a popular choice for a long time – maybe surprisingly so, since its got one of the strongest flavours.

Against a hardy, chocolatey espresso, this might not be a problem – but paired with a fruity, floral African coffee, it has the potential to overpower the overall taste.

What are the health benefits of soy?

For most people, soy is a perfectly healthy option – high in protein, and low in sugars and fats. Many brands are also fortified with other vitamins too, which is handy when cutting out all dairy.

Inconclusive links have been made with soy’s effect on estrogen, so the NHS advises those diagnosed breast cancer avoid it.

Why does soy milk curdle in coffee?

It comes down to heat, and the coffee’s acidity – these elements react poorly with a lot of plant-based milks, so some mitigation is needed.

Allowing the coffee to cool off a bit before mixing can help, as can choosing a less acidic coffee – like a Brazilian or Colombian.

Can soy milk be steamed?

As discussed, soy has the tendency to split in coffee. But if you use a low acidity espresso, don’t overheat the soy milk, and pour it in fairly quickly, you’ve got a better chance of getting a better cup.

How Soy Milk Tastes in Coffee

Soy milk has a smooth, creamy texture with a relatively neutral taste. Many brands do not leave any noticeable aftertaste.

Can Soy Milk Make Foam for Coffee?

Soy milk’s good stretch is one reason it has been a popular alternative to dairy milk for so long. Knowledgeable baristas can produce a foam similar to that of dairy milk when using soy milk.

4. Hemp Milk

Hemp seed milk is a popular non-dairy milk because of its high protein content. The hemp plant contains trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of cannabis.

While traces are present in the plant, hemp seeds and hemp seed milk do not contain enough THC to cause psychoactive effects.

As of December 2018, industrial hemp is legal to grow in the United States, making hemp seed milk more widely available. Previously, it was legal only to import dried hemp seeds in order to produce hemp milk.

How Hemp Seed Milk Tastes in Coffee

It has a slightly nutty or vegetal flavor with a thin texture that dissolves easily.

Can Hemp Seed Milk Make Foam for Coffee?

Hemp seed milk steams well because of its high protein content. Many baristas compare its stretch to soy milk’s, though hemp seed milk’s foam may dissipate faster.

5. Rice Milk

Because this dairy alternative is both nut- and soy-free, it is growing in popularity for coffee drinkers with allergies and lactose sensitivities.

If you want a hypoallergenic option for your coffee shop, rice milk could be the non-dairy milk for you.

How Rice Milk Tastes in Coffee

Rice milk has a very neutral taste that allows the flavor of your coffee to come through. However, its thin and watery texture does not give coffee the creamy consistency that some customers want with their beverage.

Can Rice Milk Make Foam for Coffee?

Rice milk does not contain enough protein to create a satisfactory foam in steamed drinks.

6. Cashew Milk

More and more people are reaching for cashew milk because of its creamy texture that mimics dairy milk in coffee.

This being said, many baristas argue that house-made cashew milk is better for taste and steaming.

If you want to incorporate cashew milk into your coffee offerings, weigh the costs and benefits of producing your own.

How Cashew Milk Tastes in Coffee

Cashew milk has a slightly sweet taste that is less nutty than other nut milks.

Can Cashew Milk Make Foam for Coffee?

Cashew milk has a decent stretch when it comes to steaming, but its bubbles tend to be larger, so its foam is less dense than dairy milk’s.

If you aren’t careful, cashew milk may produce a soapy texture when steamed.

7. Pea Milk

Because pea milk is made from the protein of yellow peas, it doesn’t have the green color you might expect it to have.

Pea milk has a relatively high protein content compared to other non-dairy alternatives, and it also contains a healthy dose of potassium.

How Pea Milk Tastes in Coffee

Many people name pea milk the best substitute for dairy milk in terms of taste. This smooth and neutral non-dairy milk does not taste like peas and won’t leave a vegetal aftertaste in your lattes.

Can Pea Milk Make Foam for Coffee?

Like other high-protein milk alternatives, pea milk is good at making foam for coffee beverages. Its foam has a silky texture that allows experienced baristas to make latte art.

8. Almond Milk

Almond milk is one of the most popular nut milks in the non-dairy market. It comes in several flavors, and many manufacturers produce both sweetened and unsweetened varieties.

However, when it comes to coffee, almond milk doesn’t perform as well as some other non-dairy milks.

Unfortunately, almond milk can curdle in coffee for the same reasons as soy milk: temperature and acidity. To combat curdling, avoid pouring cold almond milk into very hot coffee.

Its reaction with the acidity of your coffee may vary between types of coffee roasts and brands, so be sure to try several options if you want to make almond milk a mainstay on your beverage menu.

What does almond milk taste like?

Some people find the nuttiness of almond milk slightly bitter, especially if they’re using an unsweetened version.

That’s clearly not true for most though, as almond milk is an overwhelmingly popular choice – though, fun fact, most almond milks are just 2% almond!

Is almond milk in coffee healthy?

Low in calories, fibre, and protein but slightly higher in sugars – again some commercial milks are fortified, but this depends.

Almonds contain vitamin E, great for supporting a healthy immune system, but due to the low almond content in most milks, the benefits might be negligible.

Is almond milk good for lattes?

Your bog standard almond milk isn’t going to froth well. The low proteins means it doesn’t thicken, and any froth is likely to seperate.

However, some companies have introduced barista versions which make it easier to get a good flat white out of it.

Is almond milk bad for the environment?

Though ditching dairy might seem to be an earth-friendly move, almond milk is not a much kinder choice.

It takes over 6000 litres of water to produce 1 litre of the stuff – and given that most almonds are grown in drought-ridden California, that’s not ideal.

How Almond Milk Tastes in Coffee

Almond milk has a nutty flavor that can sometimes taste bitter. Your customers may prefer sweetened almond milk in coffee for a smoother taste.

Can Almond Milk Make Foam for Coffee?

You can create a silky foam with almond milk, but this non-dairy milk tends to separate when heated.

Latte art made with almond milk may look nice on top of the beverage’s foamy layer, but it could leave a watery drink underneath.

If you want to accommodate lactose intolerant and vegan customers in your coffee shop, it is important to select a non-dairy milk option that can create delicious coffee drinks.

You’ll find that when you compare soy milk vs almond milk or oat milk vs coconut milk, some options dissolve better than others, and some milks are better suited for making foam in lattes and cappuccinos.

Choose an alternative that does not take away from the taste of your house blends and remember to use this blog as a reference as you weigh your options.

How Do We Define ‘The Best’ Milk Substitute?

The best is relatively subjective thing, particularly when it comes to taste. However, we tried to put objective criteria on testing these milks, including:

  • How much foam does the milk produce?
    We used the Ubermilk automatic steamer for our tests to keep the process consistent and heated each sample to 65C.
  • Does it curdle in coffee?
    We measured the pH of both the coffee (our Cultivar Blend, which has a pH of 4.56) and each milk variety to see if there was a correlation here
  • Does the taste profile compliment the coffee?

While we tested a range of brands and milks, not all the brands tested are universally available. So, if you’re outside of Australia, you are going to have to test local brands to determine which one is right for you.

Behavior of Plant Milks 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.

With any non-dairy milk, pay attention to the ingredients list. There are many products made specifically for baristas that are designed to handle the strains of coffee preparation. The additives in these products vary among manufacturers.

Stabilizers are often added to allow the milk to better handle heat and foaming, so products containing these are good choices to create a cappuccino.

But if you’re looking for a “clean” alternative to dairy, you may prefer versions without any stabilizers, even if it means a flatter drink.

Also, take a look at the amount and type of sweeteners and fats that are included and consider whether they are complementary to the coffee beans you’re using.

Too much fat or sugar can mask coffee flavors and be unpleasant to drink.

Ceiran highlights how you can’t simply treat plant milks as dairy. “People don’t consider the difference of flavor when you add milk, be that dairy, oat, or soy,” he says. “It will dramatically change the flavor of the coffee.”

“Each day, I dial in a flat white with oat milk. I think this is why most alternatives have a bad rep, because people taste the espresso, try dairy, and then try alternatives,” he continues.

“Dial it in for the alternative milk and you’re in a whole other ball park. You begin to understand how different origins benefit different alternative milks and what works best.

This way you can order coffees that are at their peak with your alternative milk of choice.”

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 specialty coffee and lifestyle.

So, take a look in different grocery stores and make sure to read the ingredient lists. If you’re still uncertain, ask your barista for their suggestion and try a few different kinds with different beans.

You might be surprised what the best non-dairy milk is for specialty coffee.

Lucy Harper

Lucy Harper

Lucy Harper is the founder and owner of our coffee content site. With a lifelong passion for coffee, Lucy has dedicated herself to sharing her knowledge and expertise with others. Her goal is to help coffee lovers of all levels to explore the world of coffee and discover the joy of the perfect cup. When she's not writing about coffee, Lucy can often be found in her kitchen experimenting with new brewing techniques and coffee recipes.