Are you looking to ditch dairy? Whether you’re making the switch from dairy milk to a plant based alternative for health, ethical, or environmental reasons, or even just because you prefer the taste, the endless choices (and what seems like new options appearing daily) can be mind boggling. Check out our guide below for the breakdown on the benefits and drawbacks of our five favourite alternatives.
Affordable and widely available, soy milk is a good option with a smooth, neutral taste. Many soy milk brands do not leave a noticeable aftertaste so if you’re adding milk to curb the more ‘bitter’ excesses of your coffee, this is a great alternative to choose. It’s got a thick, velvety texture, much like dairy milk, making it easy to steam and results in a nice, creamy froth. Plus, it’s high in protein, is cholesterol free and low in saturated fats. No wonder soy milk has been one of the top alternatives to dairy milk for ages!
One downside, soy milk can curdle when added to hot coffee; this is due to the acidity and/or temperature of the coffee. To avoid this at home, try warming or frothing the milk first, then slowly pouring in the coffee after.
Going to give soy milk a go? We encourage you to look for an organic option; soy milk is one of the highest genetically modified crops and often treated with pesticides. Its farming practices are invasive and require a lot of water, so opting for organic helps to minimise your environmental impact.
Almond milk is one of the most popular nut-milks to use in coffee, but can have a bitter aftertaste due to the additional nutty flavours. Luckily, it’s widely available in different formats - from lightly sweetened and gently flavoured, to raw and unsweetened. To avoid the slightly bitter taste, we recommend finding one of the slightly sweetened versions.
Almond milk on it’s own is great for gluten-free diets and contains less than 50% of the calories of dairy milk, but it does lack many other nutrients, such as calcium and protein. You’ll find that a lot of almond milk options are ‘fortified’ to include these essential nutrients.
You can create a nice silky foam with almond milk, but this non-dairy milk has a tendency to separate or “curdle” in coffee for the same reasons as soy milk: acidity and heat. Latte art made with almond milk may look nice on top of the beverage's foamy layer, but it could leave a watery drink underneath. As with all milk alternatives, we recommend you opt for the “Barista versions”, which are specially formulated to make better foam and better withstand heat and acidity.
As a whole, almond milk is far more environmentally friendly as compared to dairy milk, but it is the most water intensive of our plant milk recommendations.
Pea milk, contrary to what one might assume, is not made from green garden peas. Instead, it is actually made from split yellow peas. In fact, this milk is actually the closest thing that looks and tastes like dairy milk. It’s super rich in iron, potassium and calcium, along with vitamins A and D. Besides this, it’s one of the lowest alternatives in sugar - up to 50% in some comparisons.
This milk is really environmentally friendly, too. Split peas require less land, energy and water than similar crops, whilst honing the amazing ability to regulate nitrogen levels in soil and surrounding air, which helps in improving soil fertility.
As most milk options high in protein, pea milk can be steamed and frothed wonderfully - creating a nice microfoam. Whilst this milk doesn’t curdle easily, we would suggest slightly warming it before adding it to a hot cup of coffee to avoid any chance.
Coconut milk is thick and velvety in texture, with a lovely tropical taste. Even the unsweetened versions of this alternative have a lightly ‘sweet’ taste to it. Plus, it stands up well to heat and acidity, so there’s less of a chance of curdling than other options.
Not only is it a little “tropical holiday in a cup”, coconut milk is one of the most environmentally friendly milks. Coconut trees don’t require much water, and the trees themselves absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide.
The only downside? Coconut milk is high in fats and calories, so it’s not for those watching the waistline!
Oat milk is the favourite alternative to use here at CRU HQ. It’s made from a combination of oats and water (sometimes with a little bit of oil); this results in a full bodied non-dairy milk which has a creamy and rich texture, mimicking that of full-fat dairy milk in coffee.
Oat milk can also be foamed due to the lower protein content, so it’s perfect if you’re looking to get a proper frothy coffee. It’s also packed full of fibre, and can help to fight high cholesterol. Though, it is higher in unsaturated fats and sugar contents.
Not only is oat milk good for the health and froths nicely, it’s one of the most environmentally friendly alternatives. Oats require less water than most of the other alternatives on our list - making it one of the least impactful on the environment.
Rice milk is by far the best option for coffee drinkers with any lactose, soy or nut allergies, perfect those with any food intolerances. It’s also the most neutral tasting plant based milk, in our opinion; perfect for those who want the faintest hint of creaminess and sweetness, with the coffee flavour still front and centre.
With no lactose or cholesterol, this milk is also ideal for those watching their heart health and blood pressure - but a caution to our diabetic readers or those watching carb intakes - rice milk is super high in carbohydrates and can potentially cause blood sugar spikes.
If you’re one for making things yourself, it doesn’t get much easier than rice milk. Simply soak some rice overnight, blend and strain out any solids, and voila: your very own homemade rice milk!
Need some coffee so you can start whipping up your plant based milk creations?