Not many culinary duos are more dynamic than milk and coffee. The flavor balance, nutritional benefit, or even the charming visual of milk and coffee blending together should be enough to satisfy any skeptic of the milk coffee nuptial.
Lattes, cappuccinos, and a whole array of other dairy-infused variants, milk contributes more than half of those. Milk’s origin, flavor, chemical content, and texture – all matter for the quality of a coffee drink. Veteran baristas are well-renowned for always picking local and organic milk for their coffees. Milk basically generates a unique flavor balance from its creaminess and sweetness.
By the end of our Best Milk for Coffee article, you’ll not only be able to understand types of milk but also will be knowledgeable on how and which one to pick based on your taste and health.
The Science Of Milk
A certain type of milk’s compatibility with different coffees relies on the milk’s molecular makeup. To simplify, two essential elements in milk play a role – fat, and protein.
- Milk’s chemistry is a sophisticated combination of fats. It’s called milk fat globules. The globules act as emulsifiers
- They keep each globule from coalescing. Also, protects them from degradation by the enzymes in the fluid part of the milk
- The fat globules coat our tongues and carry the taste of coffee. Thus leading to less acidity and less bitterness. Hence, milk is a perfect adjunct to a sweet, rich, and creamy drink. But also for these same reasons, milk when added to a fruity drink is less pleasing
- Now, let’s talk about protein. It’s called casein proteins
- The level of protein is essential as it’s responsible during heating for creating tiny bubbles (microfoam)
- The bonding of the milk proteins with coffee globules underlines the favorable taste notes in lattes and cappuccinos. This chemical reaction generates an even, hot, and better-tasting coffee
Best Milk For Coffee: The Typology
There are basically two types of Milk out there – Dairy and Non-Dairy. Below we’ll discuss these types and how they work with coffee.
Milk Type: Dairy
Different Milk Sources
- COW MILK: The old standby. Quality and variations depend on a myriad of factors, such as fat percentage and cow-raising conditions. Cow milk provides sweetness and texture that complements perfectly without being underwhelming or overpowering. It’s also cheap, accessible, and familiar
- GOAT MILK: Almost grassy, salty, and very tangy in flavor. It can be appealing to avid Greek yogurt addicts. It lacks the sweetness of cow’s milk. Blends best with coffees whose roast levels are designed for sugar browning such as medium-roasted coffee beans
- WATER BUFFALO: A real treat but hard to find. It’s the fattiest type of milk. It’s incredibly rich and can overpower a cup in large doses. If used moderately it offers a perfect little morning indulgence. The flavor is sweet but in a tangy-cream way. It’s certainly worth trying but remember it’s expensive milk
Daily Consumption Choices Based On Fat Percentage
- Traditionally, the more fat exists in milk, the creamier and richer it will be. Thus, whole milk is the go-to option for the most. It carries 3-4% fat content. This helps to achieve an optimal balance of texture and taste in coffee
- Whole milk, despite its name, actually only has to contain a minimum of 3.25% milkfat to be labeled as such. Most companies go for 4% to give maximum deliciousness. It is the most common and the most useful type of milk in espresso bars
- Because the 3-4% fat is neither too much nor too little to strike an ideal balance between taste and texture when mixed with your coffee. Whole milk is a default choice in cafés when you don’t specify your milk preference. Hands down the best coffee milk of choice anywhere, anytime
- It has 1% or 2% milk fat. It has less sweetness and more body compared the whole milk. Not a bad option to cut down on your fat and calories
- A cappuccino or latte made with reduced-fat milk tastes a tad weak and watery
- Reduced-fat milk of 1% or 2% doesn’t have a drastic difference in either flavor or mouthfeel. Sometimes they seem a little flimsy in the cup
- Often a barista will mix whole and skim milk to make an approximated low-fat version. It’s not really ideal as a barista-made milk blend tends to be inconsistent. Either too watery or too fatty compared to an original 1-2% reduced milk. However, latte drinkers won’t be able to tell the difference
- It contains little to no fat. It retains some sweetness when compared to reduced-fat milk. It’s even lighter in body and doesn’t add much density to coffee
- When steamed, it creates a drier and denser head of foam. This allows an espresso’s flavor to cut through strongly. As it has no milkfat at all, it has a sort of blue tint
- The lack of fat can actually sometimes make this milk taste sweeter, but the lack of viscous fat won’t coat or cling to your tongue compared to other fattier milk
- When skim milk is poured into regular brewed coffee, the drink can turn almost gray. Doesn’t provide much body but can seem sweeter
Skim VS. Reduced-Fat VS. Whole Milk Chart
Whole milk contains the most calories and most fat among these three. Where skim milk has the most calcium and reduced-fat milk has the most vitamin D.
- On the exact opposite end of the spectrum, creams add a hefty dosage of the body to a coffee. It ranges from 12% fat in the half-and-half version to 38% in the heavy cream version
- Most creams are best for small dashes in dark roasted coffee. It’s used as the main ingredient in a latte
- Half-and-half (12% fat) is the least fatty in the category. It has a sweet buttery flavor. Other variations are Cream (20% fat), Heavy (38% fat), and Heavy Whipped (38% fat with some added air). Regular half-and-half is a diet drink. It’s good because users pour more of it into their cups to gain sweetness and a creamy texture
- Delicious in small doses is mostly used as the base of milky espresso drinks. On their own, it can taste more like melted ice cream or custardy than just straight milk
Milk Type: Non-Dairy
It is one of the most popular non-dairy nut-based milk in the market. It does come in multiple flavors. Manufacturers produce both unsweetened and sweetened types. However, with coffee, almond milk doesn’t work as well as other non-dairy milk.
Almond milk for its temperature and acidity can curdle in coffee. To avoid such, avoid pouring cold almond milk into your hot coffee. The reaction of the acidity with your coffee can vary depending on coffee roasts and brands. So be sure to try several brands and roasts.
Almond milk has a natural nutty flavor. It can sometimes taste bitter. To avoid such a bitter taste and add a smoother taste, you may use the sweetened type of almond milk.
You can make silky foam with almond milk. But it tends to get separated when heated. Latte art crafted with almond milk can look nice on top of the drink’s foamy layer but it can leave a watery body underneath.
Oat milk has risen as one of the most crowd-pleasing non-dairy milk for coffee. A combination of water, and oats, can sometimes have canola or rapeseed oil for emulsification. The outcome is rich and surprisingly full-bodied non-dairy milk that can rival whole dairy milk.
Oat milk is considered one of the best coffee milks for the presence of fiber content in it. Thus it’s a top choice for health-conscious users. Not only it contain relatively little fat but also doesn’t sacrifice protein. The presence of fiber, however, makes this a stand-out non-dairy choice of milk for customers who want to boost their digestive health.
Oat milk has a creamy taste. The creaminess is similar to full-fat dairy milk. The texture is smooth and also blends easily. This is why it’s rapidly growing in popularity.
It can be foamed but it can produce larger bubbles due to its lower protein amount. Also, it takes longer to foam and steam compared to cow’s milk. That being said, it’s still good enough to make foam for latte art.
Most coffeehouses are familiar with using soy milk in their coffee. This milk has been a popular alternative for many years. It is easily accessible worldwide and relatively affordable. Thus, it’s an attractive option for café businesses.
Some soy milk curdles in coffee. Similar to almonds, it happens because of the reaction to the acidity or very hot temperature. Without preservatives, it can be more prone to get separated in your coffee. To avoid temperature issues, try pouring it warm into the serving cup and then slowly add the coffee.
Soy milk has a creamy, smooth texture with a relatively neutral taste profile.
It has a good stretch. That’s why for so long it has been a popular alternative to dairy milk. Veteran baristas can make a foam similar to that of dairy milk.
Among different types of milk for coffee coconut milk is particularly cherished for its creamy and thick texture. It is another emerging dairy alternative for coffee drinkers. It has a high-fat content that goes well in coffee drinks. Manufacturers can offer a neutral taste with only a hint of coconut flavor. It’s best to use this milk from packaged cartons, not from cans. Canned coconut milk is way thicker and carries a stronger coconut taste.
There’s a misconception that this milk has a sweet and strong flavor only befitting for a tropical drink. But it’s actually a more subtle coconut flavor. In coffee drinks with syrups or other flavorings, the light coconut taste can be masked. For a latte or cappuccino, some sweetness will remain. Best Buy has a neutral flavor.
Coconut milk makes a less dense milk froth with larger bubbles than standard dairy milk.
Hemp seed milk is also a popular option for its high protein content. The hemp plant contains Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It’s the psychoactive component of cannabis. But fear not, unlike the plant, hemp seeds and seed milk do not have enough THC for any effects. Since December 2018, industrial hemp is legal in the United States. So hemp seed milk is more widely available now.
Hemp seed milk has a slightly nutty or vegetal flavor taste. It’s a thin texture that gets dissolved easily.
Hemp seed milk steams very well. Because of high protein level. Its stretch is compared to soy milk’s but hemp milk’s foam can get dissipated faster.
Because of its creamy texture that resembles dairy milk in coffee, people are reaching for cashew milk more and more. That being said, many veteran baristas claim that house-made cashew milk for steaming and taste is better. Basically, they are advising that, if you love to incorporate cashew milk into your coffee, weigh the costs and benefits of making it on your own.
Cashew milk has a slightly sweet taste. It is less nutty than other nut-based milk.
Cashew milk has a decent stretch. Only when it comes to steaming. Its bubbles are larger, so the foam is less dense compared to dairy milk. If you aren’t watchful, cashew milk will give you a soapy texture when steamed.
It is both nut and soy-free. So, it’s a popular choice among coffee drinkers who have allergies and lactose sensitivities. So, it’s also recommended that, if you need a hypoallergenic option for your coffee, rice milk is a non-dairy option for you.
Rice milk has a very neutral taste. This neutral taste allows the flavor of your coffee to come alive. However, its watery and thin texture does not allow your coffee to hold the creamy consistency that we all look for.
Rice milk does not have enough protein to give you a satisfactory foam in steamed drinks.
From the protein of Yellow peas, pea milk is produced, thus it doesn’t have any green luster. Pea milk has a relatively high protein level when compared to other non-dairy milk. Also, it contains a healthy dosage of potassium.
A lot of coffee lovers view pea milk as the best substitute for dairy milk, simply because of its taste. It is smooth and neutral non-dairy milk. There is neither any pea-like taste nor any vegetal aftertaste when used in coffees or lattes.
Like other high-protein milk substitutes, pea milk is good at making foam. The foam has a silky texture. So, experienced baristas can make latte art from it.
What Is Considered To Be The Best Milk For Barista Coffee?
When it comes to cappuccinos and lattes, it is always recommended to use whole milk before anything else. It offers just the right balance of fats, sugar, proteins, and water content to make a smooth microfoam without being unbearably creamy.
How Can Oat Milk Be Bad For You?
Oat milk is not compatible with gluten-intolerant or celiac disease patients. Unflavored oat milk carries the highest amount of carbohydrates and calories of plant-based milk types. Although the sugar is natural, oat milk is pretty high in carbohydrates.
Which Milk Is Perfect For Your Weight Loss?
For most people, cow’s milk is the best option. It’s an important source of calcium and protein. Those who are trying to lose weight better switch to either reduced-fat or skim milk variants. People who are lactose intolerant should also drink lactose-free milk.
What Kind Of Milk Does Starbucks Use?
Starbucks uses whole milk unless otherwise requested. This new conversion will help to establish reduced-fat milk, also renowned as the 2% milk, as the standard dairy in all of the beverages served in Starbucks North American coffeehouses.
Which One Is The Healthiest Milk To Put In Coffee?
Almond milk is the healthiest milk preference to mix with a cup of Joe. Unlike whole milk, which can make your cup of coffee full of high calories (180 kcal), almond milk will keep it down to 100 calories per serving of coffee.
Which One Is The Best Coffee For Health?
The Arabica dark roasted is the healthiest coffee. Coffee lovers who prefer to limit their caffeine content without drinking decaf; serve the purpose perfectly. On the other hand, Blonde Robusta will give you the biggest buzz.
Taste is a relative concept. So we’re not going to declare some kind of milk ranking proclamation. That being said, if you’re looking for optimum milk-drink consistency the front-runner is none other than organic whole milk. But if you are facing problems drinking and using dairy milk and products we recommend either of Oat or Almond milk. They can easily produce rich, lasting microfoam than any other options by a pretty huge margin. Overall, try making perfect latte art and see which one suits your daily needs best and make a true companion out of that.
Enjoy Your Coffee!