CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive promotions and regular updates on everything coffee!
<div id="yt-player" data-ytid="a4AS4_Y0ZUw"></div>
If you’re a fan of our YouTube channel, you may have seen AJ review five alternative milks in two machines to try and find the best option. Non-dairy milks have become incredibly popular both in cafes and homes for multiple reasons: health, diet, environmental, or ethical reasons. So, how do they stand up, and which tastes better?
We’ll be discussing almond, coconut, oat, and soy milks, though there are plenty of other types out there — like cashew, hemp, rice, pea, flax, hazelnut, macadamia, and more. But we thought these four were the most popular to pair with coffee, thus most worth our review. (Personally, I’ve found Chobani’s oat milk to be surprisingly delicious.)
Compared to cow’s milk, these non-dairy options are generally a bit thinner and harder to froth because of a lack of protein and fat content. Sometimes to counteract this, you can find cartons labeled as “barista style,” “barista edition,” or “barista blend.” These are formulated with small amounts of stabilizing agents, such as oils or gums, that are designed to assist in creating foam when the milk is steamed. The proteins in these additives help form and stabilize the tiny air bubbles, and the fats contribute to the creaminess and mouthfeel.
So let’s start with how these milks work on a super-automatic, something like the Gaggia Magenta Prestige Super-Automatic Espresso Machine. Whole milk is the most standard option, and so became the control group we compared every other milk to. When frothed and watched over a one, three, and five minute period, there was mixing in the bottom third of the drink, but the top foam held its volume well.
The Gaggia Magenta Prestige is a sophisticated and powerful espresso machine that produces authentic one-touch milk drinks on the fly with a crisp full color display and easy to navigate menu. $899.00
The Gaggia Magenta Prestige is a sophisticated and powerful espresso machine that produces authentic one-touch milk drinks on the fly with a crisp full color display and easy to navigate menu.
Almond milk frothed differently. The foam dispenses similar to whole milk but when espresso is added, the middle layer is darker and more concentrated. As for the bottom layer, it ends up extending higher up in the glass than with the whole milk.
<div id="yt-player" data-ytid="a4AS4_Y0ZUw"></div>
Coconut milk takes this difference even farther. When used, espresso forms a very thin, dark layer in the middle, while the milk fills up even more of the glass below the shot. We also found it doesn’t create much foam. All this combined means the resulting drinks will taste stronger up front before tapering off to a mild, thinner finish.
Often lauded as the best non-dairy option for its creaminess, oat milk curdles in super-automatics. Everything may look fine when the milk dispenses, but add the shot and your drink takes a turn for the unappetizing. This can happen for a number of reasons — the plant-based milk can be spoiled, too hot, or react poorly with overly-acidic coffee.
Finally, soy milk — often people’s first foray into non-dairy milks. Appearance-wise, soy can be the closest to cow’s milk, forming nice and distinct layers that gradually settle over time. The final product is a beautiful drink that starts espresso-forward with a hint of milk, and ends milk-forward with a hint of espresso.
The other espresso machine we tested on was the semi-automatic Quick Mill Arnos Espresso Machine to see how each alternative milk performed for a standard latte.
Just like with the Gaggia Magenta Prestige, we began with whole milk as a reference point. Whole milk without a doubt will form to a nice latex paint texture, making pouring latte art with fine details a breeze.
Moving on to almond milk, we found the results to have much larger bubbles in the pitcher. Even when giving it a few taps on the counter, the poured design looked more like a pumpkin than it did a rosetta. It seems that air bubbles are just part of the almond milk texture.
Coconut milk produces less big bubbles and more of a presentable design, but it can be tricky to hit the sweet spot of texture and end up a bit too thick. Even still, it’s more forgiving and pours much better than almond milk.
Of the three options, oat milk feels most like cow’s milk when steamed and poured — which is why it’s become such a favorite amongst baristas. Where the oat milk curdled in the super-automatic, it doesn't when manually frothed.
Soy milk thickens up while steaming like the coconut milk, but is still pourable for latte art. However, the final product ends up with more foam, which may be good or bad depending on your preference. With practice, you may also be able to incorporate less air at the start of the steaming process to avoid the foam altogether.
Of course we have to talk about taste. And, of course again, the following opinions are our personal ones, and are dependent on the beans and brew recipes used.
Almond milk was the best tasting; sweeter than cow’s milk but not overpoweringly so, and has a subtle nutty flavor that complimented the coffee's notes. When overheated, the milk quickly becomes bitter, so you should shoot for around 130-135 Fahrenheit or 54-57 Celsius.
However, it’s important to mention that almond growing and specifically almond milk production has raised sustainability concerns, particularly relating to water consumption.
As for coconut milk, the flavor is not overwhelming. In fact, it doesn’t taste much like anything, only giving a slight sweetness and very little body. It is perhaps the thinnest of the group.
The oat milk, unsurprisingly, added the strongest flavor to the drink. I, personally, like oat milk and the slightly earthy taste and the thicker body. It coats your mouth a bit with each sip and is especially comforting in the winter months.
Finally, as always, soy. This milk is strangely similar to coconut milk, meaning it doesn’t import much flavor on the overall drink. It is the least sweet of the bunch with a slightly earthy taste, and mixed with a latte, it offers a sort of watered-down taste.So there you have it! Our deep dive into several of the most popular plant-based milks for espresso drinks. Everything is up to personal taste and these are just ours! Make sure to follow our YouTube channel to keep up to date with new videos.