Which milk is best for coffee?
Sacrilege for some, sacred to others: milk is a key ingredient no coffee lover can ignore!
And why should you? Adding milk to your coffee can be a great way to:
- Enhance coffee flavour
- Create a slightly thicker, more velvety texture
- Reduce Bitter tastes
- Explore new flavours with the immense variety of milk alternatives now available
But which milk should you go for?
Is whole milk best for coffee? And how about dairy-free? Milk alternatives are accessible and extremely popular. Seriously, type ‘dairy free milk’ into Tesco online and you’ll find over 70 different options. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got to sample 70 different cups (although we wouldn’t judge if you wanted to…). Whether milk is off the menu or you’re just fancying a new flavour, we’ve got the low-down on the best milks to try.
But first, why do we add milk to coffee?
If you like milky coffee, you’re not alone. Many people – coffee connoisseurs included – enjoy their coffee with a splash of milk. Go ahead, we say. As long as you are enjoying your brew, it’s fine by us!
If you’ve sipped and sampled and still vote milk, then stick with it. Adding milk to coffee is a great way to reduce bitterness and bring the strength down a notch. Good quality milks can also enhance the flavour of some coffees. This is particularly true for medium/dark and dark roasts; look out for coffees with tasting notes of chocolate, nuts and sweet caramel, and you’ll have a milk-kissed coffee to die for!
The texture and body will change a little, too. This is because you are adding fats and protein to the coffee, making it ever-so-slightly thicker and more velvety.
That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that many of our speciality coffees will be sweet and balanced enough to enjoy without milk. So, if you’ve got into the habit of adding milk to way-too-bitter supermarket coffee, we’d suggest you try our freshly roasted speciality coffees just as they are. You might prefer it, you might not – just take a sip and see!
Adding Dairy Milk to Coffee
Milk is the main ingredient in many espresso-based drinks – just think of your latte or coffee shop cappuccino. Something so important shouldn’t be skimmed over (see what we did there?). Milk should be centre-stage.
For many baristas, full-fat milk is the best way to achieve a sweet, creamy coffee. The fat molecules in full-fat milk coat your tongue to give you a rich drink with more mouthfeel.
Semi-skimmed milk is the most popular option in UK fridges and will work just fine in your daily brew, but the finished cup will be less sweet and a tad more watery. So, if you’re looking to upgrade your coffee, opt for milk with 3-4% fat.
Oh, and start by trying milk in darker roasts rather than ones that are light, fruity and floral – rich, toffee-like darker roasts and creamy milk are made for one another.
*** *** ***
Non-dairy and still delicious
Whatever your reason for going non-dairy, you still deserve exceptional coffee. And an exceptional milky coffee, if that’s your brew of choice.
So, which milk should you add?
Almond milk is made by soaking almonds (who would’ve guessed it?) before blending them with water and straining the mixture. This popular non-dairy option is low in calories and high in vitamins E and D, so scores pretty highly on the health front.
Almond milk can divide coffee drinkers. Some people find its texture too watery or its flavour too distinctively nutty, while others like the lovely flavour sweetened almond milk can bring to your cup. We were quite partial to our almond milk Americano and found this milk to work particularly well with a medium or medium/dark roast.
Almond milk sports a fairly high protein content, so it’s a good choice for froth and latte art. Just bear in mind that you need to heat the milk before adding it to your coffee (this is the case for most non-dairy milks). Also, almond milk tends to separate when heated, so you might find a watery layer beneath your latte art. It’ll still look lush, though.
Soya milk has been a staple in the dairy-free aisle for years. Its non-distinctive taste makes it wonderfully versatile. Unlike almond milk, which has a nutty taste that only pairs with some coffees, soya milk will mix happily into any drink. It has a smooth, creamy texture and is a top choice for froth. This is why you see soya lattes on so many coffee shop menus. It can take a bit of perfecting, however, as overheating soya milk can make it curdle and leave lumpy bits bobbing about in your drink
Rice is nice, yes? We think so, but maybe not in coffee. Our rice milk coffee was quite watery, and we missed the creamy texture of cow’s milk and other milk alternatives. There’s also no chance of a frothy latte as rice milk doesn’t contain enough protein to steam. That said, rice milk is the ideal solution for those avoiding both dairy and nuts. Feel free to give it a go; it’s just not a milk we’ll be going back to.
Oat milk, on the other hand, did tickle our tastebuds. Made by blending ground oats with water and a little oil (for emulsification), we found oat milk to be a full-flavoured and creamy alternative. We’d even say it had a hint of full-fat milk luxury. The slight oaty taste won’t overpower your drink, and its smooth structure blends well. There’s a natural sweetness, too, which works very well in an espresso.
Gold stars for health, as well: oat milk is high in fibre, low in fat and a good source of vitamin B.
You’ll be able to get a substantial amount of foam and steam from oat milk, although the bubbles will be larger than froth made with cow’s milk. Another plus point is that oat milk doesn’t need to be warmed before adding to hot coffee – no curdling here!
Make your brew a bit tropical with a splash of coconut milk – oh la la!
Coconut milk is made from water, coconut and rice, plus vitamins and (vegan) stabilisers. We’re not talking about the type of coconut milk you add to Thai curry here; if you’re reaching for a can opener, you’ve got the wrong stuff!
Coconut milk (the plant milk sort) has a floral, coconutty flavour. It’s quite sweet, making it a top choice if you usually take your coffee with sugar. The distinctive taste means you need to be choosey when adding it to coffee – you might find its taste too overpowering in some brews.
And the texture? We’d give it a 6. It’s not rich and creamy like oat, but certainly doesn’t share the watery thinness of rice milk. We’d give it a middle-ish score on the froth front, too, as you can use it in lattes, but they don’t always turn out the best (can be a bit too bubbly).
Why Does Non Dairy Milk Curdle in Coffee?
Curdling is the most common issue you’ll encounter when adding non-dairy milk to coffee. Protein content and coffee acidity determine how milk reacts to your hot coffee, and the low acidity in dairy milk means it rarely curdles.
Proteins in non-dairy milk, however, often coagulate when they come into contact with acidic black coffee (because they are significantly less acidic than the coffee). Solving this issue is simple – just warm your milk alternative before adding it to hot coffee. Leaving your joe to cool a tad first is another tip in the curdle avoidance quest.
Oat milk is the exception. Generally, you can add it to coffee straight from the carton – no heating required.
Fancy learning more? GRAB A FREE COFFEE GUIDE FOR YOUR KITCHEN SHELF!
- Step-by-step info of the coffee process
- Fun coffee glossaries
- Failsafe brew guides for each method
- Lots of cheeky tips!
Get it now! It’s totally free!
Enjoyed this guide? Check out:
No coffee is complete without top speciality beans. Be sure to find the perfect single-origin coffee for your brew in our lovely online coffee shop!
Join the troop
And we will plant a tree