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Best Plant Based Milk Alternatives for Coffee

October 21, 2021

We’ve Tested the Most Popular Plant Based Milks for Coffee

If you are one of the rapidly growing number of people aiming to eliminate, or reduce, milk in your diet for health or environmental reasons, you have probably considered a plant based milk for your coffee.  But, which one will be best?  We’ve tested the four most popular milk alternatives and summarised our thoughts on the main pros and cons of each for milk based coffees, or when added to black coffee.

Oat Milk

Oat milk is a blend of oats, water and canola oil.  When oats are ground and added to water they create a full-bodied flavour, which is very similar to full-fat milk.  Oat milk is high in fibre.  So, there are additional health benefits of drinking it in coffee.  Although those looking to reduce carbohydrate intake might want to avoid oat milk.

How does oat milk taste in coffee?
The creamy and thick nature of oat milk makes it very a popular choice for coffee-based drinks.  The flavour is less distinctive than other alternatives, so it doesn’t overpower the taste of the coffee.  

Can oat milk be frothed for coffee?
The high protein content in cow’s milk makes it perfect for foaming.  A high fat content, compared to other alternatives, means oat milk can also be frothed.  But, it produces larger bubbles than cow’s milk while frothing.  Which means successful frothing requires practice to achieve a consistently creamy result.  However, there are now a number of barista-edition oat milks that make easier to coax out micro-bubbles for the perfect frothed consistency.

Does oat milk curdle in coffee?
In our tests, we found that oat milk didn’t curdle in our coffee regardless of the temperature or acidity level of our drink, which are the factors which can cause other alternatives to curdle.

How sustainable is oat milk?
Oat milk is regarded as one of the more eco-friendly options.  Oats take less water to produce than most nuts.  They need fewer herbicides too, thanks to their hardiness against weeds.  In this sense, oat milk is an excellent choice.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is made from soaking and grinding soybeans.  It has a relatively neutral taste which is one reason why it has been a popular milk alternative for a long time.

How does soy milk taste in coffee?
Soy milk has a creamy texture and quite a neutral flavour which lets the taste of the coffee come through.  But, if you enjoy the full body that cows' milk helps deliver when added to coffee, soy under delivers in comparison.

Can oat milk be frothed for coffee?
Because soy milk has a similar consistency to cows’ milk, it is relatively easy to froth.  Soy lattes have been popular for a long time for this reason. 

Does soy milk curdle in coffee?
Soy does have a tendency to split in coffee when it is over heated, or when combined with a highly acidic coffee.  But, if you use a low acidity coffee, like Brazilian or Colombian, and don’t overheat the soy milk, it’s unlikely to split.

How sustainable is soy milk?
Soy milk has good environmental credentials in terms of water use and green house gasses.  But, the main environmental concern is the need to clear and convert large swathes of native vegetation to grow soybeans.  This mainly for the purpose of using soy as feed for livestock.  But, growth for milk production adds to this impact.

Almond Milk

Almond milk, made from ground almonds and water, is one of the most popular nut-based milk alternatives for coffee.  Almond milk contains vitamin E and healthy fats as well as minerals, although almonds are typically only 2% of the milk.  It generally comes in two forms, sweetened or unsweetened and is widely available.

How does almond milk taste in coffee?
Almond milk offers a nutty flavour which may over power more delicate coffees.  Some people find the nuttiness of almond milk slightly bitter, especially in the unsweetened version.  The sweetened version is probably most suitable across the majority of coffees.

Can almond milk be frothed for coffee?
Most almond milk tends to separate when it is heated.  The low proteins means it doesn’t thicken easily, and any froth is likely to separate.  Some brands have introduced barista versions, which make it easier to get a good milk based coffee.

Does almond milk curdle in coffee?
Yes.  We don’t recommend pouring cold almond milk directly into a hot cup of coffee.  It’s better to warm the milk first, or let the coffee cool.

How sustainable is almond milk?
While ditching dairy might seem a sustainable choice, almond milk is not a much kinder choice. It takes over 6000 litres of water to produce 1 litre of the milk and as most almonds are grown in California, which is prone to drought, it is not ideal.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is ground cashews with added water.  Like almond milk, it is full of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.  But unlike almond milk, it is not as widely available.

How does cashew milk taste in coffee?
Cashew is the least “nutty” of the nut-based alternatives to cow’s milk.  Its creamy texture that makes it perfect for coffee, although it is a bit on the sweet side compared to almond milk and might not be ideal for those who don’t have a sweet tooth.

Can cashew milk be frothed for coffee?
Like most milk alternatives for coffee, the bubbles produced when steam is applied tend to be larger than cow’s milk.  But, it is possible to froth cashew milk with a little practice.

Does cashew milk curdle in coffee?
Cashew milk does tend to curdle in high heat.  This can be avoided by warming the milk gently to prevent it getting too hot, or by letting your coffee cool before adding the milk.

How sustainable is cashew milk?
Cashew nuts use a lot less water to grow than almonds and are considered an environmentally sustainable choice.  The difficulty with cashews is in some of the harsh working conditions for cashew pickers in the largest producing countries, like India, where the human rights of workers are not a high priority.


Best Alternative: the verdict

At the end of the day, the decision on which plant based milk alternative is best for you comes down to personal preference and dietary requirements.  For us though, the best bet is a barista-edition oat milk.  It has a mild, creamy, flavour and performs well when frothed.  It’s also less likely to split in a more acidic coffee and it’s a relatively sustainable choice.





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