Tips for Brewing the Perfect Coffee with Alternative Milk
It seems like alternative milk is all the rage these days, with many coffee drinkers in recent years making the conscious shift from dairy milk to plant-based alternatives. Many cafes and supermarkets are jumping onto the trend by increasing their plant-based product line.
Once upon a time when the specialty coffee scene was still living it up in its heyday era, you’d be lucky to come across a café serving anything more than good ol’ full cream milk. Up until a few years ago, alternative milk occupied a tiny corner of the coffee industry. Today it’s expected that most metropolitan cafes have, at the very least, a strong rotation of soy, almond and oat on offer.
If you’re an avid alternative milk drinker, you might notice that it can be a little tricky to nail the perfect cuppa. Here we will share some of our super secret barista tips so you can enjoy café-quality coffee at home!
Why Alternative Milk?
There are a whole heap of reasons as to why people are changing up their coffee-drinking habits and swapping out dairy milk for plant-based alternatives. Some of these reasons include:
- Lactose Intolerance and dairy allergies
- Vegan and plant-based diets
- Environmental impact of the dairy industry
- Ethical considerations over animal welfare and the treatment of dairy cows
- Variety and diverse flavour options
- Because it tastes great!
Top Alternative Milks for Coffee:
The most popular alternative milk options that work fantastically with coffee are:
Hot tips from our Coffee Experts:
You may notice that sometimes pouring soy milk on top of an espresso results in curdling, or that it takes far less time steaming almond and oat than regular milk. Believe it or not, working with alternative milk options can be quite technical! Here are a few of our top troubleshooting tips for working with alternative milk.
Due to their chemical composition, plant-based milks react to temperature much faster than dairy milk. You’re going to want to keep your steaming time short to avoid burning your milk.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), the ideal temperature for steaming dairy milk is between 55°C and 65°C.
Pro Tip: If you’re a soy drinker, you may notice that your coffee can be subjected to curdling, especially when the beans tend to have fruity or acidic notes. Steaming your milk too hot can contribute to curdling as the acidity of the coffee and the high temperature of the soy milk create a chemical reaction that results in separation. Reduce curdling in your coffee by aiming for a slightly lower milk temperature, and make sure to let your coffee sit so that the crema dissipates slightly for that ultra-smooth, even pour.
Frothing and Texturing Milk:
There are slight technical variations when it comes to steaming soy, almond, oat, coconut, or other alternative milks. A good rule of thumb is to avoid too much aeration (the amount of air you introduce into your steaming) and letting the milk naturally froth and texturise through the introduction of temperature.
You want to aim for 2-3 seconds of aeration at the start of your steaming process. Steam your milk as if you were going to make a flat white rather than a latte or cappuccino, as alternative milks will naturally foam up much quicker compared to traditional milk.
Mixing It In:
The following tips are pretty universal across all milk, whether your go-to is dairy, skinny, or plant-based.
Build a canvas for your latte art! Before you go in for your ‘main’ pour, add approximately 10 to 20 ml of textured milk to your espresso base and give it a little swirl. This will create a ‘coffee canvas’, setting the foundation for pouring beautiful latte art with your remaining milk and ensuring a good foam-to-milk ratio.
Pouring your milk in a thin stream from a height helps with integration and allows you to create a nice base without breaking the espresso crema too much. Pour slowly and steadily, and once your cup is half full carefully bring your milk pitch closer to the surface of your coffee and pour a wider net of liquid into the cup. You can start off attempting to make a coffee love heart, as seen in our Tik Tok here!
Bonus Round! Soy Milk:
We’re definitely not pointing fingers here, but if we had to shine the spotlight on the most temperamental alternative milk… well, soy drinkers would know what we’re talking about!
Soy milk is notorious for curdling with coffee. This is because of several reasons. Firstly, the type of proteins it contains compared to dairy milk, which reacts to heat during the steaming process and secondly, the acidity of the coffee. There is a significant pH difference between soy milk (around 7-8) and coffee (around 4-5).
Proteins in soy milk react to the acidity of coffee, hence curdling - which is never ideal! So how can we combat this?
- Lower your milk temperature. Hotter soy milk is more likely to curdle with coffee. You can aim for 45-50 degrees Celsius when steaming/heating soy milk.
- Before you add the heated milk to your coffee, add a splash of cold soy milk to the espresso shot and give it a really good stir. This will incorporate the coffee and milk into a homogenous shot and reduce the chance of curdling.
- Let the espresso shot rest a little before adding milk. Heat is a big contender in why curdling happens, so if your espresso shot has a chance to cool down even just a few degrees, it could make a big difference.
- Play around with different brands of soy milk to see what works for you. Some great brands include: Bonsoy, So Good, The Alternative Milk Company, Silk, Vitasoy, and Happy Happy Soy Boy.
We all love a good, strong milky coffee in the morning! Making health and sustainability-conscious decisions in how we enjoy our daily brew shouldn’t mean that we have to skimp on taste.
Exploring the world of alternative milk can be a delicious journey filled with unique flavours and tons of creative possibilities! Nailing these tips will set you up for true coffee success. So go ahead, grab your favourite alternative milk, brew a fresh batch of coffee, and indulge in your very own dairy-free masterpiece!