Struggle to know which plant-based milk alternative works best in your morning brew? Finally, the dairy-free answer for a delightfully frothy coffee is here.
Milk and coffee are a match made in heaven. From a glug of creamy milk in your americano to an airy foam on top of your latte – it’s a romance that we hope never dies.
But with our ever growing want for dairy-free alternatives, do plant based milks, or ‘mylks’, cut the mustard? With a huge variety of milk alternatives available – from soya, oat and rice milk to nut milks like almond and cashew – what works when it comes to the fancy latte art atop our freshly pulled barista shots?
Do alternative milks make the grade for the perfect coffee?
While a milky swirl might seem like a flourish of the hand, there’s actually quite a bit of science behind it. Essentially, milk is a suspension of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. That’s why it’s very good when we add steam into it. It makes a very airy, very creamy mix that holds it own and is perfect for latte art.
A higher fat content of milk leads to a more stable foam. The air molecules (bubbles) won’t expand too much and the accumulation of little bubbles makes for a creamy, even foam.
Milk alternatives are a little different. They don’t have the fats, protein, and carbohydrates that milk does. They’re basically a suspension of ground nuts, soy, oats, etc, in water. When you add them to coffee – a liquid that is very acidic – it causes them to curdle.
To counter this, you’ll find that most barista-specific nut or grain milk alternatives include an addition of natural suspension and stability regulators. So, really, in it’s natural state, non-dairy milk just doesn’t foam in a way that can be used for latte art.
The best plant-based alternative milk to use in coffee?
So, how do I do latte art?
The perfect latte art is a composition of four different parts: height, control, flow, and position.
From a height
To start with, you’ve got to begin your pour at least two inches above your coffee. You want the thin milk to come out first, so that later on your thick foam can skim the surface. This will make it easier to create the pattern you want.
When you’re ready to start your design, take your milk as close to the coffee cup as possible. You should see that the thick, white foam lies on top of your coffee.
Get in position
It sounds pretty obvious, but wherever you position your pouring jug when adding your milk is where you’re going to get your pattern. So if you’re after a classic central design, pour into the centre. If you’re feeling quirky, pour into the sides.
When starting out, place your coffee cup on a stable, straight surface and pour from above. Once you’ve mastered this, pick the cup up and tilt it slightly. Make sure you still aim for the centre, but you’ll get a better contrast between the brown and the white this way.
Go with the flow
To put it simply, start off slow and then increase the flow. Keep things controlled and slow when you’re pouring to begin with. The closer that your milk jug gets to your coffee cup, the faster you can pour.
The speed and the closeness will mean the the milky foam at the bottom of the jug will come out to lay atop your coffee.
And the best milks to use all round are…
If you’re after the best possible latte art, we’d recommend using whole milk with a high fat content, but for a dairy-free alternative, go for a barista-specific oat milk (such as Oatly’s Baritsa or Minor Figures) that will hold its own on top of your espresso.
And as with everything, practice makes perfect. So line up your coffee shots, get your jug of foamed milk and pour, pour, pour.
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This post was originally published in April 2018 and has since been updated.