Many coffee shops offer whole cow’s milk as the default for espresso-based beverages, as this is the milk traditionally used for lattes, cappuccinos, and other coffee shop classics. But for vegans, the lactose intolerant, those who are generally health conscious or don’t like the taste of regular milk, most coffee shops also offer non-dairy alternatives. These include soy, almond, hazelnut, and rice milk, among a select few others. Some of the more uncommon non-dairy milk alternatives include hemp and oat-based beverages. When you want to make a delicious espresso using your home espresso maker, there are a few aspects you’ll want to consider when choosing milk alternatives for your espresso drink froth.
Taste is king. No matter how fine the froth or how creamy the consistency, if your taste buds invert at the taste, it won’t work. Sample any milk alternative you’d like to try in an espresso drink first. Dairy substitutes often come in flavored and sweetened forms, so if you don’t like the taste of unsweetened almond milk, for example, try a vanilla-flavored or sweetened form. Your taste for enjoying non-dairy alternatives by themselves may be a bit different than your taste when these are mixed into an espresso drink, so it may come down to trial and error.
The coffee is also a key factor; a varietal might have notes that clash with the milk alternative you’ve selected. Experiment with different coffee varieties and non-dairy milks to find the combination that works best for you.
Consistency is another important factor. It means the difference between a latte and an Americano. Some non-dairy milks are thin, making them poor candidates for those who like the rich, creamy consistency of milk. Rice milk is often the thinnest non-dairy milk, but any non-dairy milk can separate slightly. Oat and hemp alternatives have more of the creamy consistency if that’s what you prefer. Soy milk devotees might have issues here unless they drink their coffee quickly; soy milk foams poorly and will separate and coagulate in the acidity of the coffee.
The reputation of a milk substitute for espresso drinks, however, rests lightly on its foam. Creating a stable foam is partly a function of the proteins in the milk, and even non-dairy milks consist of proteins suspended in water. Almond milk has been found to be one of the better foam creators of the non-dairy alternatives.
In the end, it all comes down to preference, and no two people have the same taste buds. Much like anything else, trial and error will help you determine which your favorite is when it comes to non-dairy beverages in your coffee drink of choice. Creating espresso drinks is an art, and when you make espresso drinks at home, you become an artist. Feed your inner artist, and enjoy!