Non-dairy milk alternatives and how to pair them with coffee

Almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, soy, oat, hemp, cashew, and new milk popping up each day… If you follow non-dairy milk, you know the options are plentiful. But the great question remains, how do these milk alternatives taste in your coffee? Let’s find out!

OAT MILK is a plant-based milk made from extracted whole oat grains. Oat milk is naturally creamy, sweet, and holds up well structurally when heated, making it an excellent option for almost any coffee drink. Slightly higher in fat than the others on this list, oat milk is hands-down our favorite milk alternative. Oat milk is also naturally high in fiber and protein and contains heart-healthy beta-glucans, which makes it a wonderful option for individuals with high cholesterol.

Recommended pairing: The neutral, natural, gentle sweetness and rich texture of oat milk makes it a wonderful pairing for every coffee.

ALMOND MILK is a plant-based milk made from almonds. Without additional flavoring, almond milk tends to be slightly bitter, though most almond milk manufacturers add a slight sweetener to the milk to make it more palatable. This sweetener tends to fade when almond milk is warmed, which can make a critical difference in your coffee’s final taste. Almond milk in black coffee tastes slightly sweet while almond milk in a latte or cappuccino tastes slightly bitter if heated to too high a temperature. Overall, almond milk is a great option if you add cold milk to your coffee, especially if your coffee has natural nut tones. The one caveat is that almond milk’s light texture can water down coffee if too much is added to your cup.

Recommended pairing: Coffees with strong almond, vanilla, or nut tones, such as South American coffees.

SOY MILK is a plant-based milk made from soaked and ground soybeans. Soy, a popular dairy alternative for latte lovers, is high in protein, creamy, and maintains its structure when heated or steamed. Unsweetened soy milk tends to have a mild, slightly earthy flavor that makes a good pairing for coffees with natural earth tones. Flavored soy milk can pair well with coffees that mirror their flavorings, such as chocolate, but can also overpower the coffee if too much milk is added.

Recommended pairing: Coffee with strong earth tones, such as Asian coffees.

COCONUT MILK is made from the soaked, grated flesh of a coconut. Exotic in flavor, with a velvety texture, coconut milk can be delicious in the right coffee. Naturally sweet and protein-rich, coconut milk is best used as a cold milk alternative as it is likely to curdle when heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (milk steamed for a latte or cappuccino is generally heated to 155-160 degrees Fahrenheit).

Recommended pairing: Coconut milk infuses your coffee with a subtle taste of coconut so, while this really comes down to individual taste, we’ve found our preferred pairing is with Sumatrans and Papua New Guinea coffees.

PEA MILK, lesser-known than the other milk in this list, is made from pea protein and is surprisingly fabulous as a non-dairy alternative! In texture and taste, pea milk is closer to cow’s milk than almond, coconut, or soy milk and has natural stabilizers that allow it to heat without splitting or curdling. The one downside to pea milk is that it can be slightly bitter if not sweetened.

Recommended pairing: The texture and taste of pea milk make it an all-around good match for any coffee or espresso-based drink.

If none of the aforementioned dairy alternatives appeal to you, fear not, there are others you can explore including, cashew milk, macadamia milk, hazelnut milk, rice milk, and hemp milk. We’ve tried most of these and found hazelnut milk’s and macadamia milk’s nut flavor overpowering in black coffee (but nut-addicts, you may love it!), rice milk a little watery (but that may be a great thing if you are trying to water down your coffee without adding a strong flavor), and cashew milk and hemp milk too difficult to find consistency.

As a final note, if you primarily use non-dairy milk in your coffee, look for a barista version of your favorite plant, soy, or oak milk — they often include the stabilizers needed to heat the milk without it splitting or curdling. If barista-style milk is unavailable, we encourage you to spend a few extra minutes studying your chosen milk’s ingredients to ensure the sweeteners and / or fats added compliment or remain natural when added to your coffee.

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