When you walk down the aisle of most stores, you will likely see a lot of milk options. In the past, these options used to be cow’s milk that was differentiated by its fat content. However, there are a lot of alternative types of milk that have entered the market in recent years. As baristas have seen the types of milk increase, they have experimented with them and learned a few things about them. In this article, we will be looking at the most popular plant-based milks to explore their upsides and downsides.
Why Choose a Milk Alternative?
The main reason for choosing a milk alternative or plant-based milk is due to health concerns. Vegan and plant-based diets have become more popular in recent years due to the myriad of health benefits they have. Many people are looking into the health benefits of plant-based milks and how they fit into their lifestyles and going for these alternatives.
Some people are allergic to cow’s milk or are lactose intolerant. The risk of threatening reactions from taking milk is enough to push these people away from cow’s milk and towards plant-based milk. Some people are sensitive to some compounds found in milk, with the effects of consuming it being less severe than an allergic reaction, but still serious enough.
Next, some are concerned about practices in the dairy industry. People are better educated about the chemicals, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics used in this industry. Exposure to all these compounds can have long-term health effects and there are a lot of people who would rather avoid this altogether.
Plant-based milks and other alternative milk types often have lower calorie counts than cow’s milk and thus can be a great option for those who are looking to reduce their caloric intake. The benefits of taking these types of milk also include reduced intake of saturated fats and proteins.
The Pros of Using Alternative Milk Types
One advantage of opting for these types of milk is that it is easy to find the best plant-based milk for latte at your local grocery store. These types of milk have become so popular in the past few years that you can find them in most places. Also, many of these non-dairy milk options come with all the nutrients you could need, such as calcium and vitamin D. Additionally, these non-dairy options can be fortified so they end up with higher mineral contents than regular milk.
Another benefit is the lower caloric count, saturated fat amounts, and protein levels discussed above.
Milk alternatives also come in numerous flavors, consistencies, and textures. For example, you can find the best non-dairy milk for coffee in different flavors and consistencies depending on the type of coffee you would like to make. Due to people’s preferences, you can find unsweetened, chocolate, sweetened and even vanilla flavored plant-based milk.
The different consistencies and textures also give you a lot of flexibility when making a cup of coffee, which is especially true when you consider making coffee art.
Before you pick plant-based milk over cow’s milk, think of some downsides of doing so. One of the downsides is that these milk alternatives often have a lower protein content compared to cow’s milk. Since protein is essential for good health, you might need to supplement your milk intake with other sources of protein.
Another downside to think about is the compounds that are added to milk alternatives. Plant-based milk alternatives will typically have a lot of sweeteners, thickeners and other compounds added. Cow’s milk has a specific flavor texture and profile when fresh. Plant-based alternative milk manufacturers try to replicate these properties by adding some of these additives and compounds.
Although they are mostly harmless, many of these ingredients can cause inflammation, trigger certain sensitivities or even cause allergic reactions.
Now that we understand the pros and cons of using plant-based milk alternatives, which types of plant-based milk alternatives are available? What are their upsides and downsides?
Oat has become a very popular option for a lot of people over the past few years. Oat is liked so much because it has a milky and neutral flavor which makes it a great option for lattes where the taste of the coffee needs to come through.
Oat milk is very different from soy and cow’s milk because it does not foam the same as the other two. It foams slowly, taking twice the time it takes to foam cow's milk to get a good volume. The good news is that oat milk can handle temperatures of between 55 and 66 degrees Celsius, which is the perfect temperature for a latte.
Oat is challenging to make art on because you have to pour harder. The protein in the oat milk is the main culprit as it makes it harder to create microfoam. Microfoam contains small bubbles of milk held together by protein and if there is little protein like there is in oat milk, the bubbles and thus the microfoam do not form properly.
Soy milk is one of the oldest plant-based milk alternatives and this can be seen in how far this type of milk has come. The best soya milk for coffee now comes with some stabilizers and acid regulators so it is a great option for coffee making. These improvements have only come in the past few years, and they have also been incorporated into other types of plant-based milk alternatives.
One of the reasons why soy milk is the best plant-based milk for latte is because of how it foams. It foams fast and holds its texture when heated at 55 to 66 degrees Celsius. Also, the texture and great taste of the milk are not affected at these temperatures.
Because it has a lot more protein than most other types of plant-based milk, soy forms a great microfoam that holds its shape for a long time. Because of all the additives in soy milk, it is also great for coffee art because it pours similarly to cow’s milk.
So, what does soy milk taste like? In the past, soy milk did not taste good, but this has changed in recent years. Soy milk has been improved to a point where it is a great alternative for cow’s milk. When you use soy milk to make dairy free cappuccino, you will likely taste beans, grains, and other distinct flavors in it.
Because soy milk feels very creamy it would not be a great option for Arabica espressos. However, it is a great option for Robusta blends where the creamy taste of the soy milk will not feel overpowering against the Robusta bend espresso.
Coconut is used a lot in meal preparation, but when used as milk, it is mixed with soy milk in many cases. The ratio of the coconut and the soy milk will vary depending on the product you buy and depending on the profile the manufacturer was going for.
Coconut milk infused with soy is a great option because it foams well. Also, it is easy to work with as it is easy to make latte art with it. Additionally, the finished latte art will often have a shimmer which makes it look even better.
Although coconut milk can handle about 50 to 60 degrees Celsius, it becomes clumpy at about 65 degrees Celsius. The reason is that the proteins in the coconut milk start to denature at this temperature. We do not suspect the soy milk because we have already seen that it can remain stable at this temperature.
If you like your latte with a little sweetener, you will like the coconut milk flavor. However, you might not be impressed if you like your coffee black or with as little sweetener as possible. Baristas describe using coconut milk for lattes as making a normal espresso and then adding normal coconut milk to it.
However, if you like lattes or cappuccinos with sweeteners added, you will love coconut milk in your coffee.
Almond is very similar to coconut milk because it is easy to make latte art with it, but it does not do well under higher temperatures. Another reason why almond milk might not be a great option for you is that most manufacturers process it so much that it ends up losing so much of its profile. For example, many of the popular almond milk brands you will find in the market have most of their protein removed.
Which Is the Best Option?
Looking at all the pros and cons of these milk alternatives, we have to ask, “what's the best plant-based milk for coffee”. The best option is soy milk. Because soy milk has been in the market for a very long time, it has been refined enough that it is a great alternative to cow’s milk.
If you are considering plant-based milk alternatives, there are some pros and cons to think about. However, the pros do outweigh the cons and there are lots of alternatives you could try out. You could experiment with options like coconut and almond milk, but most people will advise you to go with soy milk.