Which is the best milk for coffee?

3 Mar 2022

Coffee

For irresistibly rich, creamy coffee, it’s all about the milk — which one produces the best results?

Even if you like a strong espresso or black Americano for the most part, sometimes you just can’t beat a smooth, creamy latte. But did you know that not all milk is created equal when it comes to getting the perfect coffee? A few different factors, including fat content and coffee acidity, can change the way your ingredients mix.

Let’s explore which is the best dairy milk for coffee and which is the best milk alternative for vegan coffee.

Three glass bottles of milk

The best milk for coffee with dairy

From refreshing iced lattes to decadent mochas, a generous drop of milk can add a subtle sweetness to coffee, balancing its acidity. It also makes for a satisfying drinking experience.

Whole, semi-skimmed, or skimmed?

For milk to thicken and foam into a glorious, velvety texture, it needs to have plenty of fat and protein. Whole milk, which tends to have 3-4% fat is usually the go-to for professional baristas. The more fat there is in the milk, the creamier the texture. Because of its high protein levels, it also creates excellent tiny bubbles or ‘microfoam’, for the ultimate cappuccino.

Semi-skimmed and skimmed milk varieties are far more difficult to steam into a cloudlike texture, as the fat content is too low.

Semi-skimmed milk, which has half the fat of whole milk, also loses some of the essential sugars that help create a delicious latte. Skimmed milk, which has just 0.5% fat, may still taste quite sweet, but tends to create a dry foam when steamed, rather than a rich, glossy texture. 

Barista pouring hot milk into coffee

What about cream?

On the other end of the scale, you might enjoy cream in your coffee. It’s worth noting that cream (which may range from 12% to 38% fat) adds a lot of body to coffee but too much can be sickly. It can also cover the nuanced flavour notes of the coffee, which would be a shame when you have top-quality coffee beans. Not to mention, heavy cream isn’t healthy in large quantities.

If you like the rich decadence of cream, stick to a dash in your Americano rather than using it to whip up a latte or flat white.

Choosing the best milk for your coffee

Deciding which dairy milk to use in your coffee really comes down to your personal preference. Think about the consistency you’d like, whether you want to limit your fat intake, and how sweet you like your drinks. Professional baristas suggest that whole milk is the best starting point, but you may decide to experiment with semi-skimmed or skimmed.

Some other tips for ensuring you get the best from your milk include:

  • Make sure it’s fresh – if you’re steaming milk for your coffee, you’ll notice that old or on-the-cusp milk creates lots of tiny bubbles that pop quickly, resulting in a thin, dull liquid.
  • Keep it cold – as well as making sure your milk is fresh, store it in the fridge between coffees.
  • Ensure your milk-heating equipment is clean – whether you heat your milk in a pan, in the Velvetiser, or using a steaming wand, it’s vital to have clean equipment. The lactose and other sugars in cow’s milk make it notorious for clinging onto surfaces when heated. Old, burnt-on milk may impact both the performance of your equipment and the taste of your coffee milk.

What’s the best milk alternative for vegan coffee?

Whole may be the best form of cow’s milk for coffee, but what about dairy-free options? Long gone are the days when vegans had to stick to black coffee. Nowadays, there are many plant milks on the market and most cafes and coffee shops offer a vegan option.

Usually, this will be one of the following:

  • Soya milk
  • Oat milk
  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk

But which is the best milk alternative for coffee? 

Almonds dropping into milk

Why does some plant milk curdle?

Have you ever excitedly brewed up a delicious, aromatic coffee, only to face the sudden disappointment of lumpy, curdled plant milk?

Unfortunately, some types of non-dairy milk don’t react well to the heat and acidity of coffee. This is particularly the case if you add a small amount of cold plant milk to a freshly prepared coffee. As the cold milk goes in, the protein in it separates from the coffee, creating a beige, coagulated mess.

Almond milk and soya milk can make excellent coffee companions but they need to be handled with care to prevent curdling. You may find that heating the milk then adding it slowly to the coffee helps, as there’s less of a jump in temperature. Many baristas steam milk and coffee together in a jug to help them combine.

Another handy tip for adding plant milk to coffee is to use a large volume and a higher milk-to-coffee ratio. Lattes are less likely to curdle than macchiatos, flat whites, or Americanos with a drop of vegan milk.

Oat milk is the least likely plant milk to curdle, making it a more reliable choice for coffee.

Great milk alternatives for smooth lattes

Another issue you may face with plant milk options is that they naturally have a higher water content than cow’s milk, making them trickier to heat and more likely to split. However, as the demand for plant milk in coffee has increased, dairy-free milk brands have developed special ‘barista blends’ of curdle-prone milk. These speciality blends include emulsifiers and stabilisers to prevent your coffee drinks from splitting. The added ingredients also help the heated milk retain its bubbles, for volume and a satisfying, rich texture.

Oat milk

As previously mentioned, oat milk is less likely to split than other types of plant milk. The barista oat milk blends also have a delectably creamy texture, which many people find comparable to whole milk.

Oat milk also has a relatively neutral taste, which is ideal for letting your favourite coffee blend shine through. Oat milk is probably the best milk alternative for hot coffee drinks, such as lattes and flat whites, but it also works well in white Americanos and macchiatos.

Soya milk

Despite its risk of curdling, soya milk is actually one of the best choices for vegan lattes. When managed properly to prevent splitting, soya is a great option as it has a high fat and protein content, leading to a smooth, creamy drink. It also has a relatively neutral flavour that won’t mask the coffee itself.

Coconut milk

If you prefer something with more flavour, coconut milk is a good choice. Its natural sweetness and distinct taste come through — ideal for those who enjoy tropical notes without adding artificial flavours or extra sugar.

As it’s rich in healthy fats, coconut milk also tends to thicken and foam successfully.

Three half-coconuts

How to get beautifully smooth milk with the Velvetiser

Whether you enjoy the richness of whole cow’s milk or prefer a dairy-free drink, The Velvetiser can ensure you get irresistibly smooth latte milk every time. Though it was initially designed for whipping up decadent hot chocolate, it works just as well for coffee milk, too.
Our revolutionary machine heats, mixes, and foams milk into a heavenly cloud-like texture that pairs beautifully with a freshly-brewed espresso. Why not give it a go? And for a true game-changer, try uniting The Velvetiser with our Podster coffee machine — you’ll have the ultimate home barista setup.