You’ve probably had an oat or almond milk latte at some point in your life, even if you’re not vegan! Non-dairy milk alternatives have become increasingly popular – even high street coffee chains offer a variety of milk alternatives. But what plant-based milks are best in coffee? Well, today we’ll tell you.
First you need to decide what you’re looking for in your milk alternative. Do you want a milk alternative that tastes like cow’s milk? Are you more interested in having a good texture? Or is foamability and latte art more of a concern? Depending on your answer, you may prefer some plant-based milks over others.
We recommend looking for barista-specific versions of all of these milk alternatives, if possible. This is because they are more similar to regular dairy milk, which is a suspension of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Most plant-based alternatives just don’t have these, as they’re a simple suspension of ground nuts, soy, oats, etc in water. So when you add them to coffee, the acidity of the coffee makes them curdle. However, plant-based milks for baristas have added suspension and stability regulators. This makes them less likely to curdle, and much easier to steam for latte art.
We’re big fans of oat milk. Not only is it delightfully creamy, it also imparts a light, sweet flavour to the coffee.
Oat milk is also one of the best options for frothing. While it will produce larger bubbles than dairy, you can still use it to make great latte art. A quick tip: don’t heat it up as much as you would with cow’s milk. This makes it difficult to pour well, and it might affect the flavour of the oat milk, too. Some baristas also believe that you need to pour latte art faster with oat milk.
This is probably the closest to cow’s milk that you’re going to get with a plant-based alternative, as the rich mouthfeel of oat milk is very similar to that of dairy. It’s well worth trying out!
In terms of flavour, almond milk can vary. Obviously, all almond milks will have a nutty flavour, but the sweetness will depend on whether you buy a sweetened or unsweetened milk. Unsweetened can have a bitter finish, so many choose to use sweetened instead. Depending on how you like your coffee, this can enhance or detract from the natural flavours of your beans! We would definitely recommend experimenting with the different types of almond milk to see which you prefer.
Unfortunately, almond milk tends to curdle in coffee, especially if you pour cold almond milk into a hot cup of coffee. You can minimise this by warming the milk up first.
Soy milk is pretty good if you’re trying to replicate milk. It does have a slightly strange flavour that takes some getting used to, but the flavour of most soy milks work well in coffee.
If you’re looking for foam, soy milk is good, as it has fairly high protein levels, which makes it easy to froth. Part of soy’s popularity is because how well it performs when used in latte art. Some baristas think that it is the most comparable to dairy!
However, soy milk does have a tendency to split, especially if you’re drinking a particularly acidic coffee. You can help this by actually using more soy milk. Use a large measure, and heat it slowly before pouring it into your coffee. You might also want to try a soy milk that has been fortified with calcium, as this can help too.
We would argue that coconut milk has the most flavour of any of the non-dairy milk alternatives. This can make it quite polarising – some people adore the coconut flavour in their coffee, and think that it brings out interesting notes. Others think that it changes the natural flavours too much, and therefore can’t stand it!
Coconut milk is lovely and creamy, and because it has lots of natural fats, this means it is pretty good for frothing. You can make some pretty elaborate latte art with it, so that’s a win in our book!
If you dislike the flavour of coconut, then this definitely isn’t for you. But if you like how it changes up your coffee, this milk alternative is as good as (or even better!) than oat milk.
This is probably our least favourite of the plant-based milks. It is quite thin and watery – you won’t find a creamy texture here! Because it is so watery, we sometimes find that it dilutes the coffee, making the flavours duller and less noticeable.
It has a fairly neutral flavour, so it doesn’t affect the flavour of coffee at all, especially in comparison to other milk alternatives on this list. However, frothing is pretty much out of the question, as there’s nowhere near enough protein in rice milk to create a bubble or foam.
Overall, rice milk is better used for smoothies, but for people with nut allergies this could be an option.
Let’s head into more unusual territories. Cashew milk has a nutty taste, but it is less overwhelming and more naturally sweet than almond milk. It is also fairly creamy, giving it a pleasant dairy-like consistency. And while it can foam, but beginners to latte art sometimes find that cashew milk creates a soap-like texture when steamed.
However, cashew milk is more difficult to find than many other milk alternatives, and it tends to be more expensive than many of the other options. However, many baristas swear that homemade cashew milk is miles better than store-bought. Perhaps you should give it a go.
Finally, there’s hemp milk. A more unusual milk alternative, this is a potential option for coffee. The hemp flavour is unique (a bit like pine nuts and sunflower seeds) but some people quite enjoy it. However, hemp milk can be quite watery, so it doesn’t have a lovely creamy mouthfeel like oat or coconut milk. It can foam, but the bubbles tend to dissipate quickly.
Much like cashew milk, hemp milk is not as easily available, and it is fairly expensive. This might be a milk alternative that’s better as an experiment, rather than a go-to.
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