Plant-based milks have come a long way in recent years and there’s so much more on offer for discerning customers now, so it’s vital you know your stuff when it comes to these dairy alternatives.
It’s not just vegans and dairy-intolerant customers asking for plant-based milks in their morning coffee – reducing the amount of animal products we eat is a great way to reduce our personal carbon footprint so more of your environment-conscious customers will be making the switch. Each plant-based milk has a specific environmental impact but suffice to say that any plant-based milk is better for our planet than cow’s milk.
Each milk alternative tastes different. Some successfully mimic cow’s milk when poured in a hot cup of coffee, others add a new flavour dimension. Some syrups work well across the various alternatives so it’s good to know what adding syrups to plant-based milks can do.
Many plant-based options don’t hold up nutritionally to cow’s milk. If nutritional value is important to you then look out for protein, calcium and vitamin D fortified versions. One watchout is that these fortified versions need a good shake before you pour because the vitamins often separate and end up on the bottom. Be sure to read the labels and make informed choices.
And then – we must discuss taste and flavour. Not everyone looks for the same things when it comes to how they take their coffee. Many brands offer plant-based milks, as well as ‘barista’ editions that can be steamed for lattes and cappuccinos.
You need to know how to use them, what their flavour profiles are, how to pair them with complementary flavours and syrups, and also what not to do with them.
It’s not a complex topic but you have to know what you’re doing when it comes to these dairy alternatives, so we’ve got the full lowdown for you right here.
- Almond milk comes in sweetened and unsweetened varieties
- Bear in mind this sweetness when you are adding syrups or sugar
- Almond milk has a creamy texture with a nutty flavour and a slightly bitter aftertaste
- Almond milk doesn't perform as well as some other non-dairy kinds of milk, it can curdle in coffee for the same reasons as soy milk: temperature and acidity
- Some opt for the sweetened version of almond milk, depending on the roast used for the coffee itself
- To combat curdling, avoid pouring cold almond milk into very hot coffee.
- If you like an extra layer of flavour, almond milk offers coffee that dimension. Having said that, it doesn’t have as much protein as dairy milk and could leave your coffee tasting ‘thin’ and watery
All of the classic syrups all work well with almond milk and hazelnut is probably the best. If you want to be a little more adventurous, try a shot of raspberry syrup, as raspberry really benefits from being partnered with the sweet soft flavour of almond.
They are regularly paired together in popular desserts like panna cotta with raspberry sauce or in the English classic, the Bakewell Tart.
- Cashew milk has a creamy, sweet flavour like cow's milk and some other non-dairy milks
- Unsweetened cashew milk has a mild flavour and a slightly rounder mouthfeel than almond milk
- Cashew milk has less of the nuttiness you get from other nut milks but does give you a touch of natural sweet flavour, as well as that creaminess that many people love
Because of its creamy texture, cashew milk performs well in coffee but sometimes struggles to produce tightly bubbled foam. It can resemble soap bubbles rather than what we are used to seeing on the top of a well-made cappuccino.
Cinnamon, vanilla and hazelnut all perform well, with the standout flavour being cinnamon
- Coconut milk is all about that unctuous and rich texture and sweet, creamy flavour
- The natural sweetness of coconut is prominent. Some may argue that it distracts from the flavours of the coffee but that would depend on the coffee, of course
It’s creamy and naturally dense, making it perform incredibly well in the foam and froth department.
Vanilla and cinnamon work incredibly well but again, for the more adventurous give cherry syrup a try. Coconut and cherry are both stone fruits and their nutty and fruity notes work really well together, especially in hot chocolate.
Oat milk has many beneficial components, as it’s void of saturated fat but loaded with protein, fibre, and natural sweetness. It has a milder taste compared to soy milk and almond milk. To some, it tastes like cereal.
- Oat milk has a wheat-like flavour making it quite neutral in taste
- Its malty notes are favoured by many coffee drinkers making it the most favoured alternative to cow’s milk
- It creates a nice foam, however, like many other plant-based milks, it can split
Vanilla and cinnamon work well but beware of oat milk’s inherent sweetness so go easy on the syrup, you probably need less than usual.
- Rice milk is void of both nut and soy making it a popular choice for those with nut allergies and those who are lactose intolerant.
- In comparison to other plant-based milks, it is light and refreshing in flavour
- Rice milk does not have a lot of flavour allowing the flavour of the coffee to shine through
- It is rather watery, which can dilute your coffee and make the texture feel ‘thin’
The fact that rice milk carries so little flavour of its own, the lid come off on what works well. The classic three all perform well, but so do all of the flavours you can easily pair with coffee. For the adventurous give banana syrup a try as it is a liquid version of the classic Banoffee Pie.
- Soy milk probably has the longest history when it comes to being a milk alternative
- Most coffee shops will be more than experienced with using it
- Its key selling points are its accessibility and affordability, as well as its high protein content
- Soy milk has a mild and creamy flavour, but this can vary between brands, and is typically sweeter than most of the other milk alternatives
- Like rice milk, the taste is somewhat nondescript. Baristas like this as they know it will not adulterate the flavour of the coffee
- 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 dairy milk
- It can curdle as a reaction to the coffee’s acidity or temperature, so treat it with care.
Like rice milk, the coffee becomes the star of the show, so think about what flavours work well with coffee and experiment.