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Brewing Coffee with Alternative Milks: A Guide

Brewing Coffee with Alternative Milks: A GuideBrewing Coffee with Alternative Milks: A Guide" />

I've been brewing and enjoying coffee for years, but it wasn't until I developed a dairy allergy that I had to start exploring non-dairy milks. Switching to alternative milks can seem intimidating at first, but with some knowledge of the different options and how to use them, you can make delicious coffee drinks at home.

Types of Alternative Milks

There are so many plant-based milk options now, going dairy-free doesn't mean giving up creamy and delicious coffee drinks! Here are some of the most popular alternatives:

Soy Milk

Soy milk has been around for a long time and was one of the first plant-based milk alternatives on the market. It has a creamy texture and nutty flavor that works well in coffee. Soy contains protein so it gives a frothy foam when steamed. Just be aware that it curdles more easily than dairy milk.

Almond Milk

Almond milk is one of the most widely available and popular nut milks. It's made from ground almonds and water, sometimes with added vitamins and minerals. Almond milk has a light and slightly sweet flavor. The unsweetened version works best for coffee so you can control the sweetness.

Oat Milk

Oat milk has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. It's made from soaked oats blended with water. Oat milk has a mild, pleasant flavor and creamy texture. It foams up nicely when steamed and doesn't separate or curdle as easily as other milk alternatives.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk comes from blended coconut meat and water. Canned versions tend to be thicker and richer, while cartons contain diluted coconut milk. The thicker canned milk can overpower coffee's flavor, so cartons work better for adding directly to coffee.

Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is made from soaked cashews blended with water. It's creamy and foams well when steamed. Cashew milk is subtly nutty and slightly sweet. Shake or stir it well before adding it to your coffee to distribute the cashew creaminess evenly.

Tips for Brewing with Alternative Milks

Brewing great tasting coffee with non-dairy milks takes some adjustment from what you'd do with regular dairy milk. Here are some tips:

  • Always give alternative milks a good shake or stir before adding them to your coffee to evenly distribute any solids or separation.

  • Consider a slightly coarser grind size to prevent over-extraction or bitterness since plant milks won't cut through the coffee's acids like dairy milk.

  • Use milk alternatives sparingly - just a splash or dollop is often enough. Too much can make coffee taste watery.

  • Experiment with making milk substitutes at half strength by diluting unsweetened milk with water. This prevents diluting the coffee's flavor too much.

  • Heat alternative milks before adding them to coffee if you're making a latte or cappuccino. This prevents curdling and improves steaming performance.

  • Add the espresso or coffee to the milk rather than pouring milk into the coffee when making layered drinks. This helps maintain separation of the layers.

  • Consider blending milks like half oat and half almond milk. Mixed milks can give you the best of both worlds!

Steaming Alternative Milks

One of the biggest adjustments when going dairy-free is learning how to steam plant-based milks to make foamy and velvety lattes and cappuccinos. It does take some practice, but it's doable with these tips:

  • Always start with cold milk straight from the fridge. Milk alternatives should be as cold as possible when steaming.

  • Use a stainless steel pitcher rather than plastic which can absorb flavors. Glass can break when exposed to high heat.

  • Fill the pitcher only 1/3 full to allow room for expansion. Too little or too much milk makes it hard to steam properly.

  • Hold the steam wand tip just below the surface so it aerates and incorporates air. Plunging it deeper can make milk bubbly.

  • Steam for less time than dairy milk, usually 5-15 seconds. Overheating can cause separation and curdling.

  • Swirl the pitcher to evenly blend and incorporate foam.

  • Knock the pitcher on the counter to burst large bubbles and make the foam denser.

  • Pour milk immediately after steaming for optimal foam quality.

With practice, you can make microfoam with alternative milks that rivals what you'd get with dairy!

Enjoying the Flavors

The natural flavors of plant-based milks allow you to enjoy your coffee in new ways. Try enhancing the flavors by adding complementary ingredients:

  • Cocoa, cinnamon or vanilla go well with almond milk's sweetness

  • Maple syrup pairs nicely with oat milk

  • Vanilla or almond extract add flavor to subtle soy or cashew milk

  • Unsweetened coconut flakes on top lend tropical flair to coconut milk coffee drinks

Don't be afraid to experiment with different alternative milk and coffee flavor combinations. Try alt milks from various brands and find your favorites! With some adjustments to your brewing method and expectations, plant-based milks can give you just as many delicious coffee drinking options.

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