Best Dairy Alternative for Brewed Coffee

We got a request for a post about the best dairy alternative for brewed coffee. We didn’t look at dairy replacements for espresso-based drinks, because some of those have added gums, emulsifiers and fats that help with steaming, frothing and latte art. If you have issues with the milk alternatives curdling, you may need to try the “creamer” version of these plant milks. Another tip is not to pour the milk into the coffee until it cools a little.

When brewing specialty coffee, we always recommend to at least try the coffee black first, and if you really need to then you can add milk. So, with that disclaimer out of the way, some people just like a little milk in their coffee, so what are the best options? Another way to avoid curdling is to add the milk in first and slowly add the coffee, for those of you committed to drinking coffee with milk.

First thing is why do you want a dairy alternative? Is it for sustainability & environmental reasons? Lactose intolerance? Trying to lower calories? Are you going vegan? Allergies? That will help you pick from the options below.

Second, we only wanted look at options that were unsweetened and would not change the flavor of the coffee. For example, we did not look at hazelnut, coconut or hemp milk because that has natural flavoring and we wanted something as similar to milk as possible in taste and texture. There is lots of information out there about the sustainability and water usage of these alternatives, feel free to check those out, but essentially all of them have less environmental impact than the production of cow’s milk.

Third, it had to be easy to find. Things we could find at our local supermarket or available for delivery with Amazon Prime/Fresh.

Soy milk, almond milk and rice milk have been around for a while, none really serve as a good milk replacement for brewed coffee. They are too watery and tend to curdle unless you buy the creamer version. Also, from a taste and texture perspective, we don’t find them to be suitable alternatives to cow’s milk. If you’re looking for protein, cow’s milk and soy milk offer the best choice.

The two we recommend are oat milk and cashew milk for options that best mimic the taste and texture of adding cow’s milk to brewed coffee. Oat milk is thick, rich and tastes the most like dairy, if you are worried about calories go for the cashew milk which is a little more watery.

You can also try macadamia milk as a third and slightly harder to find option, it adds more of its own flavor and sweetness than the other two and is a little more watery.

There are links below to the specific products we looked at.

As you can see oat milk has about as many calories as 2% cow’s milk, but less than whole milk. Highest in calories and fat of the alternatives.

Cashew milk has far less calories and fat than oat milk or cow’s milk.

Here is the nutritional information for macadamia milk. It is in between oat and cashew milk for calories and fat.

The following are for reference/comparison:

Here is the nutritional information for whole milk.

Here is the nutritional information for 2% milk.

Here is the nutritional information for 1% milk.

Here is the nutritional information for unsweetened soy milk.

Here is the nutritional information for almond milk.

How to Buy Coffee

There is a ton of information out there on this topic, in the spirit of my blog I’m just trying to give you the summarized version. This post talks more about how to make sense of specialty coffee labels.

Don’t buy pre-ground. Don’t do it. You already have the burr grinder and scale I talked about in the must haves post. Coffee is all about freshness, you want fresh roasted coffee beans that you grind fresh right before brewing. This is another reason not to use pods, all that coffee is stale and pre-ground, not to mention overpriced.

The peak flavor for coffee is between 3-18 days after roasting, maybe up to a month. I was at my local organic type supermarket the other day and saw a bag of “premium” coffee and the roast on date was over 2 months ago. Notice I said peak flavor, this doesn’t mean coffee is undrinkable outside of this range, but that most agree this is when coffee tastes best.

Coffee tastes best if brewed within 30 minutes after you grind it, so combine the fact that not only is your coffee going to be 2 months old, it will have been ground 2 months ago. At this point, who cares about freezing, vacuum sealed containers or whatever storage method you use, you’re just preserving staleness. If time is an issue in the morning, grinding your coffee the night before and setting a timer on your coffee machine is just fine, it will be vastly better than any pod or pre-ground coffee you would use. I would not advise using the supermarket grinder though, even though it’s just a week that you’d be using it, grind as close to brew time as possible.

If your coffee only has a “best by” date and no “roasted on” date, stop buying it. Simple as this, if they aren’t willing to tell you when it was roasted, it isn’t worth buying.

Try to buy single-origin or single-estate coffee. Lately there is a lot of focus on sustainability and traceability of coffee. You want to be able to know who grew your coffee, where they grew it, how it was processed, how it was shipped and when it was roasted.

Also to know that in every step of the way things have been done in an ethical and sustainable way from fair wages to use of chemicals and pesticides. Coffee is so much more complex than light, medium, dark or french roast, which is the only information you find on most supermarket coffees. Most of what you see out there are blends of coffee beans, while there are some great blends out there from specialty roasters, the supermarket brands use this method to mix low quality beans with average quality beans to give you average tasting coffee. If you find a great local roaster that has both single-origin and blends, I’d say those blends are better than any supermarket blends.

It doesn’t really matter if you buy organic coffee. Many of these small producers are already using organic methods, however to get the organic certification will cost them thousands of dollars, which oftentimes is out of reach or money better spent elsewhere. If you are buying responsibly sourced single-origin coffee I wouldn’t worry if it is labeled organic or not.

Avoid coffee with flavors and additives. Coffee can have some amazing notes, but when you see flavored coffee, that means artificial flavors have been added during the roasting process. Flavors like french vanilla or hazelnut are artificially added, even by some very popular and successful coffee shops (*cough* Philz *cough*).

Explore light and medium roasts. We have been conditioned over the years to think that dark roasted and bitter coffee is “strong” or “bold” (thanks Starbucks) when in reality this is the way the big producers ensure uniformity. Not to say there aren’t some great specialty dark roasts out there, but usually the more you roast a coffee bean the more uniform and bitter it tastes, which means you can use lower quality beans to achieve this. A lot more of the tones and flavor comes out in light and medium roasts, try it without milk or sugar first and see if you can taste them. Also light roast coffee has more caffeine than dark roasted coffee, contrary to popular belief than darker is stronger. Vienna, French and Italian are all dark or darker than dark roasts.

When you find that great local roaster, try the light and medium stuff first and give them feedback and see what they recommend. Usually when I asked people what kind of coffee they like, they answer with medium or dark roast, but coffee is so much more complex than that. Country of origin, geographic region, bean type, growth elevation, processing method and so much more.

Buy from local coffee roasters. Not only are you supporting your local economy this is one of the best ways to ensure you’re getting fresh roasted coffee. They should be able to tell you when a coffee was roasted and offer different types of single-origin and roast levels. There are also many small and independent roasters all over the U.S. that will ship you coffee that is roasted to order or roasted in the past few days.

Or…. Roast your own coffee. Learn how here.