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on May 28, 2023
With the rise of veganism and sustainable practices many coffee lovers are turning towards non-dairy milk to enjoy in their drinks. Whether it’s for health reasons, allergies, or environmental reasons, trying out an alternative milk is a great place to start.
There are so many options – soy, almond, coconut, cashew, oat, and more. While none exactly replicate like cow’s milk, many of them are an excellent substitute for the texture, and some may even prefer the flavor over regular milk.
However, one of the main factors that coffee drinkers look for in an alternative milk is whether it enhances coffee and espresso in the same way as cow’s milk. For example, how well does it steam and foam? Does the flavor complement coffee? And can you create latte art with it?
There’s a reason cow’s milk is ideal in coffee: it has the perfect blend of fat, protein, and sugar that works well with coffee, along with the ability to be steamed and foamed in drinks like cappuccinos. Taste and texture are essential for alternative milks, and many brands even have a “barista edition” that is designed to work in coffee for foaming and latte art.
Choosing a vegan milk that enhances your coffee is no easy task. Aside from personal preferences, alternative milks have different nutritional values (specifically calcium, vitamin D, and protein) when compared to cow’s milk.
Additionally, each type of milk has different environmental impacts, though all plant based milks are better for the environment than dairy. However, some types of milks – such as almond milk, which has high water usage – aren’t as great for the environment as other plant-based milks.
Below is a list of the plant-based milks currently on the market, including popular ones like coconut, soy, and oat milk, and some lesser known milks like pea and potato milk.
At the top of the list is oat milk, a thick, creamy, and delicious milk that has a consistency similar to whole milk, which makes it ideal for steaming and frothing milk and even creating latte art. (Oat milk creates larger bubbles than cow’s milk due to having a lower amount of protein, and it may take a little longer to go through the process.) It’s rich and full-bodied (due to the combination of oats, water, and an emulsifier such as canola oil), and typically has a neutral or slightly sweet taste (depending on the brand).
Oat milk is high in fiber, which is great for those who want benefits to their digestive health, and also contains protein, which is excellent for those who want similar nutritional content to milk. It contains very little fat but it is higher in sugar since oats are a natural source of carbohydrates.
Aside from the flavor and ease in which it can be used in coffee, oat milk is one of the best plant-based milks, since it uses little land and is mostly rain-fed. However, while it creates more emissions than some other types of milk (such as almond milk) and requires more land than almond or rice to grow, it’s still a great choice as a milk substitute since it has the lowest environmental impact out of all plant-based milks.
Some popular oat milk options include Oatly The Original, Oatly Barista Edition, and Califia Farms Oatmilk.
Coconut milk is known for its sweet taste and thick, creamy texture, which can be a great substitute for creamer, complementing different types of coffee drinks.
While coconut milk can have a neutral or slightly sweet flavor that works well in coffee, it’s not ideal for drinks that require foam and latte art since it doesn’t steam or froth well, with larger bubbles and a thinner froth. This is due to the lack of protein in coconut milk – foam requires enough surfactants to bond the liquid and air from the steam wand, and getting that perfect smooth texture for milk needs the right blend of fat and protein.
The taste of most coconut milks is sweeter than other plant-based milks and will (of course) add a coconut flavor to your coffee.
Coconut milk has a high amount of saturated fat (around 3 grams a cup), which may not be ideal for those monitoring their cholesterol and heart health. However, it’s a good source of vitamins A, B1, and E.
Coconut milk also has a low environmental impact due to the prolific amount of coconuts grown in tropical countries (such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand), and they also don’t use many fertilizers and pesticides. However, the positives are offset by the destruction of rainforests, exploitation of workers, and the environmental cost of transporting coconut milk to North America. Certified Fair Trade products can help you choose coconut milk that is made through sustainable means.
The taste and nutritional value of coconut milk also depends on the brand and type of coconut milk. For example, canned coconut milk has a much thicker consistency and powdered coconut milk can be made to your preference, but both of these have a strong coconut flavor. Popular brands include Pacific Foods, which has an original and barista blend, and So Delicious, which has coconut milk and a creamer.
Hemp milk has a unique flavor that is nutty or seed and can also have a bitter or fishy taste. Depending on the brand, it can also have a noticeable (sometimes unpleasant) scent.
Texture-wise, hemp milk is on the thinner side but it can create microfoam for drinks like cappuccinos and it can be used in latte art – however, the foam created by hemp milk may dissipate quickly.
Hemp milk contains around 3 grams of protein per cup and contains more iron than cow’s milk. It’s also full of healthy fats such as omega 3s, which is excellent for promoting healthy brain and heart function, and it’s a good source of magnesium, which contributes to bone, muscle, and nerve function.
Hemp is one of the oldest crops (first being cultivated in Central Asia around 10,000 years ago) and hemp milk is one of the more sustainable plant-based milks. It can grow without herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides while enhancing soil health. However, it uses more water than oat, pea, or soy milk (but still less than almond milk or dairy).
Popular brands for hemp milk include Living Harvest Tempt Hemp (which comes in several flavors and sweetness levels), Pacific Foods, and Elmhurst (which comes in a barista edition). You can even make your own homemade hemp milk by blending hemp hearts and water and then straining.
Soy milk is one of the most accessible and affordable popular alternatives to dairy for a number of reasons. It has a neutral (sometimes slightly sweet) flavor with a mild aftertaste, and a smooth and creamy texture. Additionally, soy milk is thick and creamy, and it can produce similar foam to dairy milk, which makes it ideal for latte art.
Soy milk is one of the most sustainable non-dairy milks since it has lower emissions and uses less land and water than many other plant-based milks.
Some well known brands include Silk (a go-to for many) and Pacific Foods (which also comes with a barista blend). Soy milk can also be flavored and come in swweetened or unsweetened versions.
Almond milk is one of the most popular plant-based milks. It has a slightly nutty taste that tastes great in coffee but has a thin consistency, so it won’t always work in place of creamer – it does work great if you just want to add a little flavor.
Unfortunately, as popular as it is, almond milk isn’t as sustainable as other types of plant based milks due to the fact that it uses the most water out of all alternative milks.
The most popular brands of almond milk used for coffee include Almond Breeze, Blue Diamond, Elmhurst, Califia, Silk, and Pacific Foods. Many of these brands offer a sweetened and unsweetened version.
Rice milk is a great alternative for those looking for dairy-free, nut-free, and soy-free milk. It has a neutral taste, which is perfect if you’re looking for a splash of something in your coffee. However, it has a thin, watery texture that can water down your coffee and it isn’t ideal for foaming and steaming due to the lack of protein.
Rice milk isn’t the most sustainable milk alternative since it uses a large amount of water – around 14 gallons per glass – and it has the highest carbon emissions. Rice paddies also contribute to 20% of human-related methane emissions.
Rice Dream is a well-known brand that offers a variety of flavors (such as vanilla, chocolate, and horchata) along with enriched and unsweetened milk for those wanting to watch their health.
Cashew milk has a sweeter and less nutty taste than other types of nut-based milks. It has a creamy texture that can mimic creamer in coffee, but when it comes to successfully steaming, it really depends on the brand and type of cashew milk. Some cashew milk can produce froth, creating larger bubbles and less dense foam than regular milk, while other types can be thin and watery.
Cashew milk contains vitamin A and E and a small amount of protein. It’s low in calories and has no cholesterol or saturated fat.
In general, cashews have a positive impact on the environment due to the fact that they prevent soil erosion. However, when cashews are exported overseas, the shipping process results in high emissions.
Additionally, there is a serious impact for people involved in cashew farming, since these nuts are harvested and processed manually, and the process can be difficult and dangerous.
Cashew milk is offered by a multitude of brands, including Elmhurst, Silk, Califia, Pacific Foods, and Forager. Many of these offer unsweetened and flavored versions. You can even make your own cashew milk with JOI’s cashew milk base.
Hazelnut milk adds a nutty (and sometimes slightly bitter) flavor to your coffee. Unfortunately, it does not steam or froth well due to the fact that it separates when heated, so it’s best to use it to add flavor.
Hazelnut milk is low in calories and contains no cholesterol or saturated fat along with omega-3 fatty acids, which makes it beneficial for heart health. It’s also a good source of B vitamins, vitamin E, and folic acid.
Hazelnuts require less water than other types of nuts and they can survive harsh conditions like growing on land and soil that isn’t ideal for tillage – they are even resistant to droughts. Additionally, they are pesticide free, have a high yield per plant, prevent soil erosion, and sequester carbon. Unfortunately, child labor has been used in the production of hazelnuts in Turkey, which produces more than 70% of the world’s hazelnut market, so you need to consider the source of your hazelnut milk.
Elmhurst and Pacific Foods are two of the main brands that provide hazelnut milk. JOI also provides a Hazelnut Oat Plant Milk Base if you want to create your own hazelnut milk.
Pea milk — surprisingly – does not taste like peas and is actually a good substitute for the taste of dairy milk due to its neutral flavor and lack of an aftertaste. When it comes to steaming, pea milk works for foam and latte art due to the high protein content. However, some brands fare better than others and pea milk can (on occasion) separate from the coffee.
If you’re looking for protein in your non-dairy milk, pea milk is an excellent option since it has a higher protein content than other alternatives – up to 8 grams a cup. Some brands of pea milk are fortified, allowing them to be high in potassium, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fats.
Peas typically require a lower amount of water than many other crops, reduce the need for artificial fertilizer, and fixes nitrogen into soil.
Ripple and Sproud are two popular brands of pea milk. Sproud offers a barista-style milk that steams and blends into coffee well, while Ripple works as just a splash of flavor in black coffee.
Macadamia nut milk has a slightly sweet flavor and creamy texture that complements coffee, and barista edition macadamia nut milks can be steamed and frothed.
Macadamia Nut milk is high in healthy fats and it’s a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, E, B6, calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, and thiamine.
Macadamia nuts are considered moderately sustainable as long as pesticides are not used, although it uses a significant amount of water.
Milkadamia is the most well-known brand of macadamia nut milk, offering several flavors and sweetness levels.
This one might sound strange, but it’s one of the newest alternative milks on the market. Taste-wise, it has a slight vegetal and bitter flavor, but it has a creamy texture that can be steamed and foamed.
Potatoes are one of the more environmentally friendly crops, and use less land than oats and less water than almonds.
Potatoes are full of antioxidants and essential nutrients, along with being gluten-free. Potato milk comes with these benefits and may also be fortified (depending on the brand).
Currently, potato milk isn’t available in the US, but Dug – a new brand created in Sweden – is available in European markets (and soon to be offered in the states). Dug offers original, unsweetened, and barista editions for those who want a splash of flavor or foam in their coffee.