As far as we are concerned, milk and coffee are meant to be together. Sweet, creamy milk and intense espresso seamlessly pair to make a satisfyingly delicious drink or two, be it a latte or a cappuccino. However, the last decade has seen the rise of milk alternatives in both grocery stores and cafes around the globe, which begs the question: which milks make the best latte?
We’re here to make a guide describing our experiences steaming, frothing, and tasting a variety of different milks over the last few days.
A small group of people from around our office formed together to, in a process that we think will be fair, test these different milks in regards to latte making.
For this test, we used Lavazza Super Crema as our espresso, which was ground up in a Eureka Zenith and then prepared as 18 gram ristretto shots. These double shots were pulled by one of our most knowledgeable coffee expert and frothed in a number of our dozens of milk pitchers in the kitchen. We suggest using either a heat exchange or a dual boiler semi-automatic espresso machine to make lattes and other milk-based drinks quickly and efficiently.
Whole milk is the most common choice when making a latte, so we used it as our main point of comparison for grading. Between drinks, we each cleansed our palettes with seltzer water in order to catch the distinct flavors of each latte.
The Scoring Scale
The three categories we used to judge the milks are how well the milk frothed and poured, as well as the taste of the final latte. The scoring system was simple with each of the category scores ranging from 1 to 5, with a possible maximum score of 15. In the case of a tie, taste receives priority.
We had a lot of fun testing these milks, so we hope this guide brings you a little bit of joy and a lot of fun information.
Whole Milk, The Gold Standard
Ask any barista at any cafe, and they’re likely to tell you that whole milk makes the best lattes. When steamed, whole milk becomes sweet and soothing, with a creamy consistency that allows it to froth well and create beautiful latte art. For our experiment, we found whole milk lived up to all of its promises as the easiest to froth and pour into latte art.
Oh, and it tastes great as well.
Final Verdict: 15/15
2% Milk, Always a Bridesmaid
Sorry, 2% milk lovers, our tasting crew just couldn’t get behind this one. While the milk froths well and makes latte art just fine, the latte we made broke down super quickly, separating milk and espresso within minutes.
For us, the overwhelming consensus: It was almost as pretty as whole milk, but the latte was watery and less flavorful. If you want flavor, pass this one up.
Final Verdict: 13/15
Lactaid (Whole): A New Challenger Approaches
Some jovial joking around the office downplayed Lactaid’s potential, but wow, were (most) of us wrong. It passed every test with flying colors, and the Lactaid latte tasted really good. Lactaid is just cow’s milk without the lactose, so it contains the exact same fat, sugar, and protein content as the whole milk we used. The main difference was Lactaid’s sweetness, which we compared to being almost syrup-like.
TLDR: Lactaid was a surprisingly good test, as it basically mimicked all of whole milk’s qualities and ended up being a touch sweeter. It didn’t break down and separate rapidly like the 2% milk. Lactaid is our biggest dark horse challenger, so far.
Oat Milk: Room for Improvement
To be honest, I usually experiment with Oatly's original oat-based drink on my own in the kitchen, and have found that it’s a fun alternative. I was hoping the tasters would agree. They didn’t.
The oat milk was a real champion on the preparation end, as it steamed, frothed, and poured very well. The latte art and consistency were similar to whole milk. Our barista even felt that Oatly poured less like an alternative and more like the whole or Lactaid had the day prior.
For taste, we determined that oat milk doesn’t add much. It’s almost flavorless, and sometimes brings forth too much of the nutty flavor of oats. It was just okay, but nothing our volunteers would actively seek out again. They did comment on it’s creamy consistency being similar to whole milk, but the blandness of flavor left them wanting for more.
Final Verdict: 11/15
Note: To be fair, Oatly’s Barista Edition product wasn’t readily available to us. They specifically created it for coffee lovers like us, but after a major sellout in the US, the product was not back on the shelves yet.
Cashew Milk is Coffee Enemy #1
I was so hopeful for cashew milk. With a similar profile to it’s almond brother, I thought it would be at least okay, and perhaps cashew’s distinct sweetness would come out as a great tasting alternative. Sadly, cashew milk faltered in almost every test.
It frothed pretty well for its thinnes, but the cashew milk was filled with air bubbles and separated in our carafe quickly, which are clear signs of an incoming bad pour. A low viscosity doomed this thin, oily latte with no control for latte art and an unappetizing look.
The cashew latte was sweeter than the previously tested oat milk, but it’s thinness and strange aftertaste turned the tasting crew against it. This is another milk alternative that we suggest skipping altogether.
Final Verdict: 7/15
Almond Milk: A Predictable Sip
Almond milk is the standard milk alternative in coffee shops around the U.S. It froths okay if you practice a bit, but otherwise the almond flavor can be pretty strong. The tasting group was very underwhelmed by almond, but acknowledged it as okay.
It is thicker than cashew, which means it didn’t separate as quickly, but lacked the sweetness of the cashew milk and had a grainy mouthfeel.
Final Verdict: 8/15
Soy Milk is Just Sort of “There”
Really, soy milk is just kind of there. Like, almond milk, it is a top alternative at most cafes. It takes more time to froth than the other options, but does have a decent consistency. The testers had mixed reviews for this one.
Our in-house barista noted that this particular brand (Silk) was sweeter than other soy milks and was better in both flavor and frothing, but still wasn’t a fan. The testers found it plain. There were mixed reviews when comparing which was better between almond or soy, but trust me when I say nobody was adamantly arguing in favor of one or the other.
Overall, the two most common milk alternatives are also the most average. Neither soy or almond bring anything exciting to the table, as they are both average at frothing and offer mild, bland flavors that really don’t come close to rivaling dairy’s sweetness in a latte.
To be fair, there are some “barista edition” milks that can be found for soy, almond, and other milk alternatives that are specially made for these purposes that are most certainly worth seeking out.
Final Verdict: 7/15
Macadamia Nut Milk: Milkadamia Miracle
This day would have been really boring if Milkadamia hadn’t saved the day. We were all excited to try this one, and saved it for last in hopes of a big success.
Well, it was pretty good!
The macadamia nut milk was comparable to cashew in terms of sweetness, but was just a bit thicker, which helped it avoid instant separation. We actually couldn’t see just how long it took to separate, since we let a sparkling-eyed coworker swoop in for the first sip.
The flavor was sweet and had a light, nutty aroma that the tasting crew enjoyed. This one was the clear winner for the day, and though it struggled to froth and pour (similar to the cashew), the overwhelmingly loved taste helped pardon the thinness of the latte.
Final Verdict: 11/15
Coconut Milk is Basically Water
The final day of testing started simple enough with coconut milk. Like the other nut-based milks, Coconut was very thin and didn’t provide much for in the form of froth. It poured very poorly, unable to make any latte art.
As for taste, it was one of the lowest ranking milks overall. I will admit my own critical error, I accidentally bought unsweetened coconut milk for this test. This may have downplayed some of the flavor, but probably not by much. The faint taste of coconut didn’t add much to our milk and because of the previously mentioned thinness, this latte just couldn’t cut it.
Final Verdict: 4/14
Goat Milk, A Cautionary Tale
Oh goat milk, did we ever make a mistake by letting you into our kitchen. The truth is, one of our taste testers suggested goat milk when we were throwing around ideas, and for some reason, we let this happen.
The lowdown is this, goat milk was great at frothing and for creating latte art. The thick, protein rich drink really surprised all of us when our barista made a beautiful latte with the odd smelling, yellow goat milk.
The surprise didn’t end there. One sip is all it took for each and every one of us to react accordingly. The goat milk was salty and tangy, completely overwhelming our latte. We had fun trying it, but mostly as a fun joke, watching each of our faces twist with every passing sip.
Final Verdict: 9/15
A side note, all is not lost with goat milk. Our barista was pretty invested in its possibilities to create some inventive, savory lattes. For now, we’ll take a nice, long break from goat milk.
Below we have compiled all of the milks we tried and how they did within each category.
Our overwhelming favorites were the Whole, 2%, Lactaid (whole), and Macadamia Nut milks.
We hope you enjoyed this guide, and hopefully our team trying out all of these milks has either saved you some time, or inspired you to try them for yourselves! If you want to learn how froth as well as some of our in-house experts, click the picture below to see our YouTube playlist on all things milk frothing.