For a large proportion of my life, coffee has played a pretty significant part. Whether it be drinking it, making it, or simply breathing in the smells of freshly roasted beans, coffee is one of life’s simple pleasures for me. However, over the years that I have worked as a barista, I have noticed a shift in the way we drink our daily brew. Where once it was a choice between milk or no milk, we now have a multitude of milk alternatives filling the shelves, which can start making a simple coffee order fairly complicated. The array of choices we have can be exciting for some of us – new flavours and textures open up room for new favourites to be discovered. However, if the choices available are leaving you feeling overwhelmed, you may want to pause and consider what each milk has to offer – it could help for the next time you find yourself staring blankly at the coffee menu!
An old favourite that continues to be enjoyed by many. We have full fat and reduced fat options to choose from, both being high in protein, calcium, vitamins A + E + B12.
Did you know: Cow’s milk can be heated to a higher temperature than other milk alternatives, typically to 60-65degrees, or up to 70degrees if you like it extra hot. The fats in full cream milk undergo a physical change in chemical composition when heated well past 70degrees, giving your coffee a strange, burnt or bitter flavour.
Drink of choice: hard to go past a simple flat white here– as New Zealanders, we are world famous for our flat white drinking culture.
Readily available on most café menus, soy milk remains a popular choice amongst many. It is dairy free, so suitable for those who are lactose intolerant or have a cow’s milk allergy. It has a creamy taste and texture, and most soy milks are fortified with calcium – our bone friendly mineral.
Did you know: Vitasoy have put out a ‘Café for Baristas’ range, which now includes both soy and almond milk. The products have been specially formulated to help with texturing and pouring, working particularly well under the daily pressures of a busy café.
Drink of choice: Delicious enjoyed as a soy latte, a firm favourite of my own for many years.
Gone are the days where coconut milk is only enjoyed in your midweek curry, coconut milk seems to appear on most café menus these days. It has a similar texture to cow’s milk but with a distinctive tropical flavour, making it a good option if you enjoy the creamy texture that dairy milk provides.
Did you know: coconut milk can have up to a whopping 630mg of potassium in just one cup, almost double the amount you would find in a banana!
Drink of choice: an iced coffee – a refreshing option which really highlights the coconut taste.
RAn ideal option for those who have lactose, dairy and nut allergies, rice milk is usually made from brown rice, brown rice syrup and brown rice starch. It is high in vitamin B, essential for many body and cellular functions, as well as both manganese and selenium, which have significant antioxidant properties. However, given it is made from a grain, it is naturally higher in carbohydrate and lower in protein and calcium than other milks. It has a very thin texture and a sweet taste – much like that of rice pudding.
Did you know: rice milk, like other milk alternatives, burns at a lower temperature than cow’s milk when heated. So, if you are finding your drink is not as hot as you would expect, your barista is doing their job well.
Drink of choice: rice milk chai latte – the sweetness of the milk balances the spicy chai flavours perfectly.
Although less frequently ordered, oat milk makes a surprisingly good alternative to conventional milk with its similar creamy texture and taste. Although dairy free, it does contain gluten though so if you are coeliac or gluten intolerant, this isn’t a good option.
Did you know: oat milk is super easy to make yourself at home – simply soak oats in water for at least 30 minutes, drain and rinse, then place into a blender with water and a pinch of salt before straining in a cheesecloth or nut milk bag to remove the pulp.
Drink of choice: oat milk hot chocolate – a proven hangover cure by one of my dear colleagues.
Much like coconut milk, this has become a popular choice for many people as the go-to soy-alternative. Made from almonds, it is contains some protein and fibre but contains less calcium than cow’s milk. It has a distinctive nutty flavour and like rice milk, it has a thin, watery texture.
Did you know: despite being thought of as a new trend, almond milk has in fact been around since the middle ages. In medieval times, almond milk was regarded as a delicacy and incorporated it into their finest dishes. Their most prized dish back then was called “blancmanger,” – chicken stewed with sugar and almond milk.
Drink of choice: it doesn’t hold well to being heated so I like to enjoy it added cold to a long black.
Lactose Free Cow’s Milk
Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar found in cow’s milk and other dairy products to varying degrees. However, some of us have a hard time digesting lactose if the body is not producing enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down the lactose for absorption. Lactose-free milk has lactase added to it during the production process, which breaks down the lactose into two naturally occurring sugars, glucose and galactose, which the body is able to use. It can be a useful alternative providing the same flavour and nutrition as regular cow’s milk, without the tummy upset.
Did you know: Lactose intolerance is different to having a cow’s milk allergy. An allergy is generally related to the protein in cow’s milk rather than the lactose, meaning all foods containing cows milk need to be avoided.
Drink of choice: Anything where you would usually choose cow’s milk for the flavour.
So as you can see, there are so many options when it comes to milk, and like ALL foods, there is no one size fits all when it comes down to what choice is best. A favourite saying my Dad likes to remind me is ‘you do you’. So I am telling you – you do you! Choose what’s right for you in the moment. Sometimes that might look like a rice milk hot chocolate enjoyed snuggled on the sofa with your children before bed, and other times it might look like a trim latte enjoyed in the morning sunshine with a good friend.
While nutrition is one factor, it is not the only factor in making food choices. Sometimes the value we place on the importance of choosing the ‘right food’ can take away from the whole eating experience. Explore the options with curiosity rather than judgement and have some fun. You won’t always make the right choice – I once ordered a coconut milk beetroot latte which I did not enjoy at all!