How to Pair Plant Milk with Coffee?

Person pouring Califia Oat Milk in cold brew coffee drink | Coffee for Events London


Giving up dairy, or animal products entirely, doesn’t mean having to forgo our morning coffee. Even if we prefer frothed milk drinks like latte and cappuccino, there are still plenty of plant-based options that hit the spot both in terms of texture and flavour. Here we are going to go through what the best vegan milks are to add to coffee, as well as which plant-based milks froth and steam up the best for speciality coffee drinks.


Why Does Dairy Milk Go Well With Coffee?

Dairy milk goes well with coffee because of:

  • Its fat content: Milk’s 2% fat content means that just a splash is enough to give your coffee significantly more body.
  • Its protein content: The protein in dairy milk binds to the bitter-tasting tannins in coffee. This rounds out your coffee’s bitter notes. Coffee also stretches when steamed because of the protein in it.
  • Its high splitting temperature: Milk can handle temperatures close to 100 Celsius before it splits. This means that you can add it to a freshly brewed coffee without it developing an unpleasant graininess.
  • Its relatively neutral flavour: Milk’s neutral flavour means that you can add it to coffee without dulling your coffee’s complex flavour profile.

Below is a table showing how all the common plant-based milks compare to dairy in the criteria that I’ve outlined above. I’ve also included each milk’s sugar content as this is relevant to how well it steams – something I’ll talk about later.



What is the Best Plant Milk To Add to Filter Coffee?

The best plant milks to add to coffee are oat milk, cashew milk or pea milk.

Each milk has a slightly different fat and protein makeup to dairy, so behaves slightly differently to dairy milk when added to coffee.

I’ll quickly run through how these different milks behave when added to coffee:

  • Oat milk: Oat milk has significantly less fat in it than dairy so you’ll need to add a bit more of it to your coffee to achieve the same body as you would with dairy milk.
  • Cashew milk: Cashew milk has more fat in it than dairy, so you’ll want to add less of it to your coffee (unless you want a creamy drink, which can be nice sometimes).
  • Pea milk: Pea milk lacks the sweetness of dairy so you might want to add a small amount of sugar or sweetener if you are using this instead of dairy.

Soy milk can also be a good option to add to coffee but just beware of its low splitting temperature. You’ll want to wait until your coffee is at drinking temperature before you add soy milk to it because otherwise, it can go all grainy.



What is the Best Plant Milk For Steaming and Frothing?

milk being frothed at the expresso machine


To steam and froth well, a plant milk needs to:

Have a protein content of at least 2%: Milk increases in volume when steamed because its proteins stretch. If it has very little protein then it won’t stretch when steamed.

Have a fat content of under 2.5%: Fat impedes the ability of proteins to stretch when exposed to heat. This is why skimmed milk can foam up much more than semi-skimmed.

Handle temperatures over 60 Celsius without curdling: Baristas generally steam milk to 60 Celsius and you don’t want your milk to even approach splitting at this point.

Have some sugar in it: Steamed dairy milk is sweet because heat breaks down its lactose into sweeter sucrose. Sweeter plant milks will be closer to steamed dairy in flavour.

The milk that best ticks all these boxes, and is therefore best for frothing and steaming is oat milk. It’s not a coincidence that the majority of coffee shops use oat milk to make their lattes and cappuccinos. Coconut milk can also steam well, however, this has a very strong flavour. A coconut milk latte will taste very different from one made with dairy (or oat) milk. Some people love it, some people hate it.



What are Barista Milks?

If you’ve been drinking plant-based milk for a while you may have noticed that producers have started to make specialist “barista milks”. These are just plant milk (usually oat milk) with pea protein added to them so they can be stretched more. They foam up significantly better than plain oat milk and I’d recommend them if you have a latte machine at home and are going to be steaming milk regularly. Califia Farms makes an excellent barista oat milk that is perfect for steaming and frothing. If you are just going to be adding milk to coffee then you can just stick to regular plant milk as barista milks are significantly more expensive than regular plant milks.



Final Thoughts

The best plant milk to have with coffee is oat milk. Oat milk is great to add to filter coffee and to steam up for lattes.

If you are holding an event, be sure to keep a few cartons of oat milk at your coffee station for plant-based attendees and if you are planning an event and would like to have someone else handle all of the logistics feel free to call, email or fill out a contact form.