The lowdown on dairy-free milks

We all know that coffee and milk go together like a good wine and cheese, from the perfect foam on a cappuccino to a hearty splash of whole milk in an Americano. But as loads more of us are making the switch to veggie and vegan diets, the craving for dairy-free and plant-based milks (or mylks/m*lks) has sky-rocketed.

We don’t know about you, but we find it really hard to know which is going to taste best in our morning cup of coffee. That’s why we’ve done some research for you and put together a list of pros and cons for some of the most common dairy-free milks below.

So whether you’re thinking about making the switch in your coffee at home or in your coffee shop treat, here’s the lowdown.

Are plant-based milks good with coffee?

The reason cow’s milk works so well in coffee – particularly milk-heavy drinks – is because it contains the perfect combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat that works great when steamed and has a nice creamy texture on your palate. The higher the protein content the better the foam, and the higher the fat, the creamier the texture.

When it comes to dairy-free alternatives, each m*lk has a different ratio of fat, carbohydrates and protein, which changes how it reacts to steam and coffee. It’s a blinking minefield – science! *brain explodes*.

What’s the best milk alternative?

Soy milk

The OG of dairy-free milk and undoubtedly the most popular thanks to its pretty neutral taste and creamy texture. Soy milk is a great replacement for milk in an Americano or a cup of instant, but avoid it if you’re putting it in a latte or a cappuccino as it has a tendency to curdle. Bleurgh!

Soy milk has loads of nutritional benefits that you can’t get from other plant-based mylks, including protein which is often lacking in a vegan diet. It’s also really low in saturated fat.

The main problem with soy is the amount of land required to plant the soybeans needed to keep up with demand as it’s such a multi-purpose food. So it’s worth doing your homework to find out where your soy is coming from and whether it’s a sustainable option.

Rice milk

Rice milk has a much lower fat and protein content than cow’s milk, which means it’s really hard to get a good texture from it. Rice milk is best reserved for a dash here and there.

Rice milk is the one milk that most people can tolerate because it’s lactose free and doesn’t contain nuts or soy. Because it’s so low in fat, it’s great for people with restricted diets.

Just like rice, it contains a lot of carbohydrates so best avoided if you’re diabetic or don’t fancy a sugar overload. Because rice milk is so low in protein, it’s definitely not as satisfying as a glass of cow’s milk or soy.

Oat milk

Ah, oat milk. In our opinion, oat milk is the closest you’re probably going to get to replicating cow’s milk. It’s balanced, creamy, fairly neutral tasting and makes a good froth so you can use this in your Nespresso machines and create latte art like a pro.

Full-bodied in taste and texture, oat milk is creamy without overpowering your favourite coffee. Plus, the production of oat milk isn’t horrible for the environment, so that’s a win.

Sugar, salt and preservatives can sometimes be added, so make sure to choose wisely if that’s not your bag. Also check the calorie content – oat milk can sometimes be higher in carbohydrates and calories than other alternatives.

Almond milk

Besides soy, almond milk is up there with the popular dairy-free alternatives, but it’s a pretty controversial one because of it’s eco credentials. Growing almonds requires a heck of a lot of water and, did you know, over 80% of the world’s almond supply is grown in California where they’re facing a huge ongoing drought crisis?

It can be pretty tasty but it does tend to overpower coffee with its nuttiness – great if you like nuts I guess!

Almond milk has a tendency to curdle so can’t be frothed without leaving a watery layer which, let’s face it, nobody wants. We think that while there’s so many more sustainable options on offer, we’ll be leaving almond milk on the shelf for now. As per soy, if you’re going to drink almond milk, do your research!

RECOMMENDED: Try this with our Amaretto flavoured coffee.

Coconut milk

Different to the coconut milk you add to your Thai green curry, coconut milk for drinking is usually a mix of coconut water, rice milk and water. It’s similar in texture to skimmed milk so great in your cup of instant.

Coconut milk is obviously a winner if you’re a fan of the exotic flavour it provides. But you’ll know it’s there when you add it to your coffee. You can froth it, but it can be hit or miss because the bubbles are much bigger.

It will defo curdle if added cold to hot coffee so heat it up before you add it in! Also, make sure you love the taste of coconut before you start buying it by the gallon.

RECOMMENDED: Try this with our Island Coconut for an exotic dream of a drink!

Pea milk

Pea milk is the new kid on the block! And no, it’s not green (who knew!) Pea milk is made with yellow split peas so it looks milky and acts suspiciously like cow’s milk so it’s quite a good all-rounder!

Pea milk has quite a high protein content so it’ll produce a nice textured milk and it’s neutral enough that you won’t realise you’re drinking peas. Plus, it ain’t bad for the environment, so that’s a win.

Make sure you’re reaching for an unsweetened version or one that is produced with agave which has a lower sugar content. Watch out for any added ingredients like vegetable oil which will skew the nutritional benefits. While it doesn’t taste like peas, it does have a taste of its own, which you’ll have to get used to.

Our winner?

We’re oat milk all the way. The barista versions will give you the best froth if you’re wanting to replicate your coffee shop favourite at home, and it’s creamy, neutral flavour will help your favourite coffee continue to taste like your favourite coffee. Our favourite brands are Minor Figures, Oatly, and Rude Health.

If you’re taking a foray into the wild world of dairy free full-time, we’d definitely recommend doing some more homework on the topic to make sure you’re choosing the alternative that’s best for you, your coffee and the environment. Happy drinking!