Pairing Plant Based Milks with Coffee.

This article was guest written by Oli Baise, a Leeds based barista who runs coffee blog Drinky Coffee.

Research by the market intelligence company Mintel suggests that one in three people in the UK prefer to drink plant based milk instead of dairy. 

Plant based milks vary greatly in how well they pair with coffee. We’ll go through what the best vegan milks are to add to coffee, as well as how suitable each plant based milk is for steaming and frothing in a cappuccino or latte

What Makes a Plant Based Milk Pair Well With Coffee?

Dairy milk works well with coffee because its fats and proteins bind with some of the tannins found in coffee. This rounds out some of coffee’s more bitter notes. Dairy milks’ relatively neutral taste means that it rounds off these harsher notes without changing coffee’s overall flavour profile.

For a plant based milk to pair well with coffee, it needs to have the following:

  • Enough fat and protein in it to round off coffee’s bitter notes and give it a creamier texture.
  • A neutral enough flavour so it doesn’t clash with or overwhelm your coffee.
  • The ability to withstand exposure to high temperatures without splitting.

The table below shows each of the popular milks and the characteristics that affect how well they pair with coffee:

Type of Milk Flavor Profile (when unsweetened) Sugar Content Fat Content Protein Content Curdle Point (temperature)
Dairy (semi skimmed) Sweet-neutral 5%

(lactose)

2.0% 3.5% 95 Celsius
Soy Neutral 0.4% (sucrose) 1.7% 3% 60 Celsius
Oat Sweet 7% (maltose) 1% 2% 71 Celsius
Almond Sweet-neutral 0.5%

(sucrose)

1.25% 0.5% 71 Celsius
Cashew Sweet-neutral 1.25% (sucrose) 4.5% 1.9% 60 Celsius
Coconut Nutty 3.3% (sucrose) 2.4% 2.3% 65 Celsius
Rice Sweet 5% (sucrose) 1% 0.1% 60 Celsius
Pea Neutral 0% 2% 3.5% 76 Celsius

I’ve included each milk’s sugar content, as this affects how suitable they are for steaming (which I’ll talk about later).

What are the Best Plant Milks to Add to Coffee?

The best plant milks to add to coffee are oat milk, pea milk and soy milk.

Each of these three milks needs to be paired with coffee slightly differently to dairy milk, and I’ll run through these now.

  • Oat Milk: Oat milk is thinner and has around half the fat content of dairy milk. This means that you need to add a bit more of it to your coffee in comparison to dairy. Oat milk is the closest in taste to dairy, so is the best substitute if you’re used to drinking coffee with cow’s milk.
  • Pea milk: Pea milk has the most similar consistency to dairy milk, so you want to add a similar amount of it to your coffee as you would with dairy. Pea milk is pretty much tasteless, so if you put sugar in your coffee then you might want to use a bit more to make up for the natural sweetness that you get when you add dairy milk to coffee.

  • Soy milk: While soy milk also has a similar consistency to dairy, its relatively low splitting temperature means that you should wait just before you’re going to drink your coffee before adding your milk.

I specifically do not recommend adding cashew milk or coconut milk to coffee.

  • Cashew milk has a tendency to give coffee a slick, oily mouthfeel. I’m not sure why it does this, but it’s not very appetising.

  • Coconut milk’s flavour really clashes with coffee. The milk’s fruitiness exacerbates coffee’s natural sharpness resulting in a nasty sour milk type flavour.

Although rice milk doesn’t have enough fat content to pair amazingly well with coffee, it’s a good option for an office coffee station because it’s hypoallergenic. 

Unfortunately most plant based milks are either made from nuts or beans, two hyperallergenic food groups.

Having the option of rice milk is therefore good for anyone in the office who suffers from allergies.

What is the Best Plant Based Milk for Steaming and Frothing?

The best plant based milk for frothing into a latte or cappuccino is oat milk.

To steam well, a milk needs to have:

  • A protein content of 2%or higher: Milk increases in volume when you steam it because its proteins stretch. There needs to be a sufficient amount of protein in milk for this stretching to occur.

  • A splitting point below 60 degrees Celsius: The ideal temperature for steamed milk is 60 Celsius. Your milk needs to be able to reach this temperature without splitting to be able to steam well.

  • A naturally sweet flavour: When you steam dairy milk, its lactose breaks down into sucrose, making it sweeter. Sweeter plant milks better imitate dairy milk froth than more bland milks.

Oat milk most best meets these three criteria (especially flavour). There’s a reason why the vast majority of coffee shops serve oat milk lattes to their non-dairy customers.

What’s the Deal with Barista Milks?

In the last few years, plant based milk companies have been increasingly releasing “barista milks” that are specifically designed for steaming and frothing.

These are almost always oat milks that have been fortified with additional vegetable fats and pea protein.

This added protein makes them easier to steam for beginners. Remember what we said about how steamed milk expands in volume because its proteins are stretched? Well the more protein we have to work with the easier it is to work with.

I’d recommend barista milk if you have a fresh milk coffee machine and are new to using a steam wand. It will be easier to get a good texture for milk based espresso drinks with barista milks compared to regular plant milks.

Wrapping Up

The best plant based milk to pair with coffee is oat milk, as this works well added to coffee, as well as for steaming into a latte or cappuccino.

Soy and pea milk are also good options to add to coffee, but are less good for steaming.

Rice milk is a good option for offices because of its hypoallergenic nature. This is something that’s unique to rice milk, so it’s always a good back up if someone has allergies.

If you’re curious about having a coffee machine in your office then why not reach out to our team of experts by calling 01865 341011 or by sending us an enquiry.

We’d love to hear from you.