It feels like the vegan wave has been rising almost exponentially over the past few years. And, let’s face it when both Burger King and KFC start making vegan burgers it’s probably something that’s here to stay. But what’s this got to do with great coffee? Well if milk is off the menu then you need to know what the best milk alternatives are for your lovingly roasted beans! We’ve tested all the main contenders for your cup (so you don’t have to) and we’ll give you our top tips for the perfect non-dairy cup, no jargon, no BS, just great (vegan friendly) coffee, made simple.
Oat ‘milk’ is a blend of oats, water and occasionally canola oil. When oats are ground to create a liquid the result is pretty full-bodied in flavour, which, in our opinion, is somewhat akin to full-fat milk. Oat milk is also high in fibre which means there are some added health benefits to drinking it, in or out of a cup of coffee.
The creamy nature of oat milk makes it perfect for coffee. We like it because it doesn’t overpower the taste, unlike other milk alternatives for coffee or tea.
The protein content in cow’s milk makes it perfect for foaming. Oat milk can be frothed but it does produce larger bubbles - but if latte art is your thing you can make some pretty cool shapes with it.
In our experiments, we found that oat milk didn’t curdle in our coffee regardless of whether it was added hot or cold.
Almond milk is one of the most popular nut-based milk alternatives for coffee. It generally comes in two forms, sweetened or unsweetened and is widely available in most supermarkets.
If you like a nutty flavour then this could be for you. A word of caution though, almond milk may overpower the flavour of your coffee and we don’t want anything competing with the main show in town; your coffee beans! Our signature blend, for instance, has almond notes so it may work. But, if we look at our Italian Job blend the walnut notes in this may clash. A rule of thumb for almond milk in coffee is that the sweetened version is probably more suitable across the board for most coffees.
Almond milk tends to separate when it is heated. It can foam but may leave a watery layer underneath.
Sadly, yes. We recommend that you don’t pour cold almond milk directly into a hot cup of coffee. Instead we suggest warming first, even if your objective here isn’t to make pretty patterns on top of your coffee.
Soy Milk, until perhaps a decade ago, was pretty much the only alternative to cows milk on supermarket shelves or in a coffee shop. Soy milk is made from soaking and grinding soybeans, it has a fairly neutral taste which is perhaps why it has been so popular as a milk alternative for so long.
It’s pretty creamy in texture but also neutral in flavour. For this reason, it lets the taste of the coffee shine through allowing you to enjoy any type of coffee without the milk alternative altering the taste of your brew. However, if you like what real milk brings to your coffee profile, soy underdelivers a little in comparison.
Because soy milk has a very similar consistency to cows milk it’s relatively easy to froth. Soy lattes have been popular for a long time, probably because of its frothy qualities.
Acidity is the reason that liquids curdle. Coffee will be more acidic than soy milk so cold milk will curdle in your coffee. Warming it will generally negate the curdling effect but if your soy milk is too hot it will curdle even more, and you don’t really want weird tofu-esque lumps floating around your coffee do you?
Coconut milk has a rich and exotic flavour (that’s if you’re a fan of the often-overlooked Bounty bar). The texture is similar to a skimmed milk, which can be a plus when it comes to doing things like making a latte. Coconut milk (not to be confused with the coconut milk you use in a curry) typically consists of water, coconut water and rice milk.
If you like coconut then this could be for you! It tends to be quite sweet so, if you like that kind of thing, then you could be on to a winner. Like almond, however, the taste is pretty distinctive and if you are drinking a coffee that has predominant flavours like, hazelnut, vanilla or cherry, the taste of the coconut might overpower that of your coffee.
It is possible to froth coconut milk, after a fashion. However, the bubbles it creates are bigger than cow's milk bubbles and, in our experience, it can be a bit hit and miss.
If added cold after you have poured your coffee, the coconut milk will curdle. Like most plant-based alternatives, to prevent curdling, you should warm your milk first (or, as it’s becoming clear, just stick to oat milk).
Cashew Milk in its most basic form is ground cashews with added water. It’s full of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Cashew Milk, unlike its nut-based counterpart, almond, is a little harder to find in supermarkets and coffee shops.
Cashew is actually the least ‘nutty’ of the nut-based milk alternatives. It also has quite a creamy texture which makes it perfect for coffee. It is a bit on the sweet side so might not be the best milk alternative for coffee drinkers who don’t have a sweet tooth.
Like most milk alternatives for coffee, the bubbles produced when steamed do tend to be larger but it is possible to froth cashew milk.
Like most milk alternatives the best way to stop cashew milk curdling in your coffee is to try one of two things. Heat the cashew milk, so it is warm and add it or, alternatively, let your coffee cool. A few seconds in the microwave or the steaming function on your espresso machine should get your milk alternative to the desired temperature.
Rice milk is widely available in supermarkets and could be especially good for those who want a dairy alternative for coffee but are allergic to nuts. Rice milk is often sweetened using sugar or rice syrup which is something to bear in mind.
Rice milk is pretty watery and also slightly sweet. It’s quite neutral in flavour too. It does not, in any shape or form, have a creamy texture so if you are looking to replace milk with a non-dairy alternative, rice milk probably isn’t for you.
No. There’s not enough protein in rice to make bubbles.
Rice milk added cold to coffee will have a tendency to curdle slightly, however, much less so than many of the other milk alternatives. Again, we would suggest heating slightly to avoid any potential for curdling.
Hemp milk is made from, you guessed it, hemp plants. Hemp is probably best known for cannabis but the milk alternative will only contain trace elements of THC and will not produce a psychoactive effect or ‘high’ (insert appropriate emotion here). Hemp milk contains high levels of protein so it does have some added health benefits.
Hemp milk has a slightly nutty but not overpowering taste. The texture is quite thin, so no creaminess but because the taste is fairly neutral it works well in most coffees.
Yes, the high protein content means you can make a decent froth for a coffee from hemp milk. It’s most similar to soy in terms of how it behaves but as it’s a relatively new entrant to the market it’s not as widely used yet.
Yes, unfortunately, your coffee will curdle if you add hemp milk cold. Again, warming slightly first will negate the worst of the curdling effects.
Pea milk could be the silver bullet for those seeking a like for like replacement for cow’s milk in their coffee. Contrary to what you think, pea milk isn’t green. It’s made from yellow split peas so looks, and importantly behaves, most like cow’s milk. Why? It’s the super-high levels of proteins that are in split peas that make this the dairy alternative for a coffee hero.
Pea milk pretty much tastes like milk. Unlike the nut-based alternatives there is no overpowering taste. Also, it doesn’t taste like peas, green, split, mushy, or otherwise.
Yes. Like other high protein alternatives pea milk can produce really good foam.
Pea milk has less of a propensity to curdle in your coffee but we would advise warming it to completely remove any chance of you seeing those nasty lumps.