If you own a coffee shop or cafe, you know that there are many ways to make a good cup of coffee. Each customer has different preferences, and your offerings need to be diverse enough to accommodate them. 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 is 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.
What 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 or not it has a good “stretch”: its 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.
Oat milk is quickly becoming the leader of non-dairy milks to use in coffee drinks. It is made from a combination of oats, water, and sometimes canola oil. 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.
Oat milk has a creamy taste that is akin to full-fat dairy milk in coffee. It has a smooth texture that won’t interrupt your coffee, which explains why it is growing in popularity so rapidly.
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.
Almond milk is one of the most popular nut milks to use in coffee. It comes in several flavors, and many manufacturers produce both sweetened and unsweetened varieties.
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 or espresso may vary between roasts and brands, so be sure to try several options if you want to make almond milk a mainstay on your beverage menu.
Almond milk has a nutty flavor that can sometimes taste bitter. Your customers may prefer sweetened almond milk in coffee for a smoother taste.
You can create a silky foam with almond milk, but this non-dairy milk has a tendency 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.
Prized for its thick texture and exotic flavor, coconut milk is quickly becoming a favorite dairy alternative for coffee drinkers. Using coconut milk in coffee can bring a tropical twist to your beverage without artificial flavors, and the naturally dense consistency of this non-dairy milk won’t water down your coffee.
Coconut has a sweet, distinctive flavor that some people love. However, some of your customers may not like the strength of coconut milk’s flavor, and they could feel that it overpowers their coffee.
Coconut milk creates a less dense froth with larger bubbles than dairy 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.
Soy milk has a smooth and creamy texture with a relatively neutral taste. Many brands do not leave any noticeable aftertaste.
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.
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.
It has a slightly nutty or vegetal flavor with a thin texture that dissolves easily.
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.
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.
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.
Rice milk does not contain enough protein to create a satisfactory foam in steamed drinks.
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.
Cashew milk has a slightly sweet taste that is less nutty than other nut milks.
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.
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.
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.
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.