What is the best non-dairy milk

Milk alternatives for coffee in the test

#Coffee knowledge
A contribution by Maria Anschiz in the #coffee knowledge category from March 3, 2021

Whether cappuccino, café au lait or latte macchiato, many popular coffee drinks are topped with milk foam. For all those who enjoy their coffee vegan and therefore need a milk substitute for their coffee, we have tested plant-based milk alternatives.

Soy, grain or nut milk is an alternative, especially in the lactose-free or vegan diet. Without discussing the sense and necessity of cow's milk and milk alternatives, we tested how various milk alternatives work in cappuccino. According to the law, milk made from grain or nuts may not be declared as such, but we would like to stick to the designation milk. For our comparison, we heated up all milk alternatives, frothed them and prepared them as a classic cappuccino with our Yirga Santos espresso and our Karibu coffee.

The types of milk in the test

Grain

  • Oat milk
  • Spelled milk
  • Millet milk
  • rice

nuts

  • Almond milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Hazelnut milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Rice and almond milk

Legumes and seeds

  • soy milk
  • Pea milk
  • lupine
  • Hemp milk

Oat milk is one of the types of cereal milk. It is made from fermented grain. The oat milk tastes pleasantly sweet due to the production-related conversion of starch into simple sugar. Due to the strong taste of the oats, however, it is not for everyone. In the cappuccino, the grain taste is only minimal, and it leaves a sweetish note. Unfortunately, the espresso is suppressed a bit, lighter roasts are quickly lost here. But the oat milk can be frothed really well - and with a little practice, it even works with the latte art. A really good alternative!

Spelled milk belongs to the group of cereal milk varieties. In terms of appearance, it is very similar to conventional cow's milk. The nutritional value depends on the type of grain used and - in terms of vitamins and minerals - can be compared with that of cow's milk, but not with the protein content. Spelled milk is poor in high-quality proteins, calcium and vitamins. However, these can be added. When frothing spelled milk, more foam volume is created than with the other varieties tested. The taste of the frothed milk has more natural sweetness than the other types. Latte art works very well with the spelled milk, it can be easily foamed with fine pores. The cappuccino gets a pleasant caramel note and tastes only slightly like grain.

Millet milk is also one of the plant-based types of milk. Compared to oat milk, the color is more yellow and the taste is stronger. It is rich in carbohydrates and extremely low in fat with a fat content of only 1%. Millet milk is only conditionally suitable for foaming. The foam settles quickly, it quickly becomes watery. The taste does not match the espresso either, any aromas are overlaid by the dominant millet taste. The combination of espresso and millet milk was the least convincing of all the alternatives tested.

Rice milk consists of whole grain rice and water, which is emulsified with oil to thicken it. And what does it smell and taste like? Direct hit, after rice! Rice milk is one of the types of cereal milk that is rather poor in nutrients, vitamins and proteins - vitamins or calcium are often added by the manufacturers. The fermentation of rice in the manufacturing process creates a pleasant natural sweetness. Rice milk is rich in carbohydrates with a good 10%. Rice milk is, however, not at all suitable for foaming, as the protein content is super low at 0.2%. The foam quickly dissolves again and divides into an aqueous and a foam-like component. When cold, the thin milk tastes like rice and is a little reminiscent of rice pudding. Surprisingly, the taste of the rice itself hardly disturbs in a cappuccino with the Yirga Santos espresso. In a cappuccino, the rice milk has a very pleasant taste that is more reminiscent of a light coffee with milk. Rice milk is also increasingly found in flavors such as vanilla or chocolate - or mixed with almond milk or soy milk.

Almond milk is a herbal drink made from almonds and water. To make almond milk, pour warm to hot water over freshly ground roasted almonds and let them steep for several hours. Almonds are an alkaline food - so the kernels are ideal for a healthy and alkaline diet. The foamed almond milk is particularly creamy, has a slight almond note and tastes slightly sour. The sour note comes out even stronger in the cappuccino, which doesn't convince me in terms of taste.

In addition to the many types of cereal milk, cashew milk is one of the nut milk varieties. It's basically just cashew nuts and water. It is high in fat and low in carbohydrates. The taste of the milk is very dominant and rather unsuitable for many espressos. The cashew milk does not cut a good figure when it comes to frothing milk. The foam dissolves quickly and the watery mass begins to separate immediately. Unfortunately, the combination of cashew milk with espresso did not convince us in terms of taste.

Hazelnut milk tastes just as you imagine it: it has an authentic, strong hazelnut taste, the aromas of the hazelnut go very well with the Yirga Santos espresso. The foam quality, on the other hand, is rather poor: liquid and foam separate quickly from one another. Like cashew milk, hazelnut milk is high in fat and low in carbohydrates. In contrast to the cereal milk varieties, the nut milk has no natural sweetness. For this reason, sugar is often added to it, which you should pay attention to when buying.

Coconut milk is made by pureing the pulp with water and then pressing this mixture through a cloth. The result is an aromatic, milky liquid with a fat content of around 15-25%, depending on the amount of water used. The fibrous mass that remains in the cloth is extracted again with boiling water and squeezed - the second time a watery coconut milk is created. For this reason, fat and water are also separated from each other in the packaging. Therefore, the coconut milk should be shaken well before use. Due to its high proportion of medium-chain fatty acids, coconut milk is used by the body as a quick source of energy. Contrary to our expectations, the coconut milk is rather odorless. The milk is difficult to foam and the resulting fine-pored foam dissolves rapidly. The frothed milk tastes like coconut and gives the cappuccino a pleasant freshness. Compared to soy milk, coconut milk tastes less watery in cappuccino.

Rice and almond milk is one of the increasingly popular milk alternatives. This mixture combines the natural sweetness of rice milk with the fine, nutty taste of almond milk, thereby softening the strong rice taste. The whole thing is very harmonious. In our comparison, however, the rice and almond milk is the one with the most carbohydrates. The foam quality is okay, but rather watery. But the foam still has a nice, fine firmness. The typical almond scent only comes towards you while the milk is frothing. The milk is excellent in cappuccino. The chocolaty aromas of the Yirga Santos espresso are supported by the almond aroma and the sweetness of the rice milk.

Legumes & seeds

Soy milk is a herbal drink made from soybeans. Soy is rich in fiber, consists of 36% protein and is therefore a very good source of protein. The content of carbohydrates (approx. 2 grams) and fats (approx. 2.2 grams) is below that of cow's milk (4.8 grams of carbohydrates / 3.5 grams of fat). Compared to cow's milk, however, soy milk contains less vitamin B2 and less calcium. But how does the soy milk taste? Soy milk smells earthy, tastes slightly like grain and has a pleasantly mild sweetness resulting from the manufacturing process. Despite the high protein content, soy milk only foams moderately well. In the cappuccino, the taste of the soy milk is virtually lost - the cappuccino becomes watery and has little taste.

Although the hemp plant is one of the oldest crops on earth, hemp products have recently appeared on isolated supermarket shelves. The nutrient-rich seeds of the hemp milk plant are finely ground and mixed with water. To thicken and sweeten, a little salt and rice syrup or tapioca starch is added. The plant-based milk substitute is naturally lactose and cholesterol-free and contains a high proportion of omega-3 fatty acids. The hemp drink could not convince when it came to frothing milk. Frothing is not a problem, but the result will quickly become watery and after a short time the milk will almost completely separate from the coffee. The typical hemp taste disappears in the cappuccino and becomes slightly earthy. Since there are not many suppliers yet and hemp milk is rather difficult to find, it is worth experimenting and mixing the drink yourself.

Pea milk consists of pea proteins, obtained from yellow split peas, water, a little rapeseed and sunflower oil. It is naturally vegan, lactose, gluten and allergen-free and, thanks to its naturally high protein content, it fits well into a health-conscious diet. But does it taste healthy too? The drink doesn't taste like peas at all. Rather, the slightly yellowish milk stands out due to its sweet taste and comes close to cow's milk. The foam is creamy, but unsuitable for Latte Art as it becomes very firm after a short time. In the cappuccino, the sweetness of the milk foam in combination with our Karibu coffee is reminiscent of hot chocolate. If you are not a fan of sweetness, you should make sure to use the unsweetened version when buying.

The German sweet lupine is coming. Due to its locality and the high vitamin and protein content, the lupine has an ecological and health advantage over many milk alternatives and does not require any genetic engineering. The Anabu is straightforward and the plant can grow easily even under difficult weather conditions such as frost and heat, which makes it interesting for future agricultural challenges. All in all, this makes sweet lupins a serious substitute for soy. In terms of taste, the milk is rather neutral and slightly reminiscent of cow's milk in the finish. The frothed milk is creamy and solidifies after a while. In the cappuccino, the coffee tastes a bit bitter together with the lupine milk, which does not convince us in terms of taste.

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What do I have to consider when frothing?

Since plant milk heats up faster than cow's milk, it can more easily happen that the milk overheats when it is frothed, becomes blistered and latte art is no longer possible. A temperature of 55-60 ° C is therefore best suited for the ideal foam quality. For comparison: cow's milk should not be heated above 65 ° C. However, not every plant milk is suitable for frothing. With cow's milk, protein and fat content are decisive for the foam result. The situation is similar with milk alternatives - the higher the proportion of protein and fat, the better the milk can be frothed. Alternatively, more and more providers are bringing so-called barista editions onto the market. By adding proteins and fats, the foamability and also the taste should be improved.

How sustainable are milk alternatives?

In short: it depends. Not every vegan milk automatically adorns itself with a good ecological balance. The extent of the environmental impact depends on the cultivation and processing of the product. The exact measurement of the effects is difficult, however, because in addition to water consumption and CO2 emissions, factors such as genetic engineering, rainforest deforestation or the use of pesticides must also be taken into account. That makes a comprehensive comparison very complex. It is known, however, that the cultivation of rice, cashews or almonds requires large amounts of water. In addition, the products have to be imported, which increases the ecological footprint. In comparison, oats, spelled and lupins require little cultivation area with high harvest yields and score points with their locality. As a guide, if you want both vegan and environmentally friendly, you should pay attention to local cultivation and low water consumption when choosing the milk alternative.

These coffees taste great with milk: