A cup of coffee can serve many purposes. On one hand, it can give us energy to workout, keep studying for a test, and cram all night on a task; on the other hand, it can gift us with its rich and smooth aroma, satisfy our taste buds with its bold flavors, and give us a warm hug for every sip we take.
Many people have specific coffee preferences. There are those who prefer it black, sometimes without sugar, and then we have those who like it with milk and cream. Some prefer frothing at the top, and even with a little sprinkle of chocolate powder? Both groups consider each other crazy for their ways, but this also initiates the age-old question, how did the combination of milk and coffee happen?
While controversial in the world of specialty coffee, adding milk to your coffee can enhance the taste to a significant level. Milk and creamer are some of the most common additions to hot drinks. From the Cafe Con Leche in Latin America to the filter coffees in south India, some dairy is what most coffee cups ask for.
Many speculate that dairy was likely added to infuse extra nutrition, but today, it might be a preference due to the enhanced flavors it provides to the concoction of plain coffee and water. The fats and proteins in the dairy bring out the taste of the coffee, eliminating the bitterness. Coffee can be full-bodied, bold with exotic flavors, but may seem watery to some. Adding some creamer makes it thick and coats the tongue a little better.
The actual science of milk
How does this happen exactly? To get into the science of things, the proteins in the milk bind to polyphenolic compounds, such as tannins. Found in other beverages like tea and wine, milk makes the bitterness from tannins go away. Tannins are the compounds in coffee, which are relatively good for the body but bring out an astringent taste. But when introduced to dairy protein, this unpleasant taste is masked.
Those who prefer steaming cups of black coffee and then have to deal with the unfortunate acidity later find coffee with a little milk easier on their stomachs. This is because dairy proteins also react with chlorogenic acids (CGAs), which are mostly responsible for coffee's boldness and "tanginess." As the milk reacts with CGAs, it makes the coffee less acidic.
Fat and proteins in milk
Another fact is the presence of fat and protein percentage in milk. In cow's milk, 4-5% of the liquid is made of fat globules that sometimes float on top, give off that milky flavor and bind with the proteins. Milk also has two types of proteins, whey, and casein, which make up about 3-4% of the milk. It's these fat and protein globules that give milk coffees their signature tastes.
Additionally, cow milk has a sweetness to it, especially when lukewarm. At the temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit, any sugars in milk will taste sweeter. This would explain why lattes and cappuccinos may taste a little sweet without adding any additional sugar to them. Because of this factor, cow milk also pairs well with any roast level or various brews. If you ask for extra hot milk, be warned that those sugars in milk may be totally burned away!
Should you add milk to your coffee?
For the lighter and delicate roasts, it's best not to add milk, as the coffee can end up tasting a bit sour. Milk is perfect for medium to dark roasts with low acidity and with the flavor profiles of chocolate, earthy aromas, and roasts. Milk can also enhance the taste of roasted, spiced, nutty, and caramel notes. But for medium roasts, goat milk may be a better addition due to its slightly salty and tangy flavor.
Fruity and citrusy coffees are best enjoyed without the addition of dairy or too much sugar.
Buffalo milk is another indulgence to try out with coffee. A little more expensive and higher in fats, it pairs well with coffee and makes for a thick texture even with small amounts. However, large quantities may overpower the aroma and taste of coffee, so be careful about how much you add.
Can you add vegan milk?
Now you may wonder if the vegan options work in the same way? Well, sadly, as amazing as soy, rice, coconut, or almond milk may taste in your coffee, they don't have the effect that dairy does.
This is because the fats and proteins in milk are not present in the vegan options and hence don't have that much of a direct impact on taste as milk. Also, milk of soy, coconut, and rice is made with mixing water and concentrated solutions. But since allergies and lifestyle choices prevent consumers from having milk, oat milk or soy milk may enhance the taste of coffee relatively well.
You could always give creamer a try for a more decadent and smooth cup of coffee with a velvety texture. Of course, with much higher calories and fat than skim milk.
So, if you're still dealing with acidity even after mixing vegan milk, you may want to consider switching to milk or reducing your coffee intake. It's all about maintaining a balance.
Adding some milk also may change how the caffeine affects you. Mixing a little dairy will avoid making you super jittery or disrupting your sleep patterns. In the end, it's all about your preference.