The Best Plant-Based Milk for Coffee: A Guide to Choosing the Perfect Alternative

We’re all aware of the climate crisis and the importance of reducing our carbon footprint. One simple way to make a positive impact is by incorporating plant-based foods into our diet, starting with our morning cup of coffee. Swapping out dairy milk or cream for a plant-based alternative is an easy and effective way to make a difference. But with so many options available, navigating the non-dairy aisle can be overwhelming. Each milk alternative has its own taste and characteristics, and not all of them blend well with coffee. So, how do you choose the best plant-based milk for your daily brew? Let’s explore the options!

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How do plant-based milk substitutes compare to cow’s milk nutritionally?

When considering a milk alternative, it’s important to pay attention to key nutrients such as protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Cow’s milk is known for its high protein content (about 9g per cup) and its contribution to daily calcium and vitamin D requirements. Many plant-based alternatives fall short in these areas. While some brands fortify their products with calcium and vitamin D, the levels may not match those found in cow’s milk. To make an informed choice, always read the labels and consider your overall dietary protein intake.

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How do non-dairy milks compare to dairy milk environmentally?

Concerned about the environmental impact of your milk choice? You’re not alone. According to a study from the University of Oxford, dairy production generates almost three times more greenhouse gas emissions than vegan milk alternatives. Although some plant-based options have a greater environmental impact than others, any plant-based choice is still better for the planet than dairy. Even water-intensive choices like almond milk have a lower carbon footprint compared to dairy milk.

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What do milk alternatives taste like?

Taste is the ultimate factor when it comes to enjoying your coffee. Luckily, there are numerous plant-based milk options available, ranging from traditional milks to creamers and barista editions designed for lattes and cappuccinos. To help you make the best choice, we’ve tried and tested some popular plant-based milks:

Almond Milk

  • Taste: Malk’s almond milk didn’t blend well with coffee and had a bitter aftertaste. However, Silk’s vanilla almond creamer added a pleasant sweetness, reminiscent of flavoured coffees from the ’90s.
  • Climate: Almond milk requires a significant amount of water to produce, but it still has a lower carbon footprint compared to other alternatives like soy, oat, and rice milk.
  • Nutrition: Almond milk is low in protein but contains vitamin A and E. Consider combining it with other protein-rich ingredients in your diet.

Cashew Milk

  • Taste: Earth’s Own cashew milk mixed well with coffee and had a nutty flavor without the bitterness. However, it’s a more watery option, so if you prefer creamier coffee, this might not be your top choice.
  • Climate: Cashews have a lighter environmental impact and help prevent soil erosion. However, processing cashews for exportation can result in high emissions and labor-intensive farming practices.
  • Nutrition: Cashew milk is low in protein but free of cholesterol and saturated fat. It can be a heart-healthy choice when combined with a balanced diet.

Coconut Milk

  • Taste: Silk’s coconut creamer blended well with coffee, adding a hint of sweetness. It had a good consistency and, as expected, a coconut flavor.
  • Climate: Coconuts have a relatively low environmental impact and require fewer inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. Look for certified Fair Trade coconut products to support sustainable practices.
  • Nutrition: Coconut milk is high in saturated fat, so it’s not the best choice for those concerned about heart health. However, it’s a good source of vitamins A, B12, and E.
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Hazelnut Milk

  • Taste: Hazelnut milk contributes a nutty flavor to your coffee but can leave a slightly bitter aftertaste and curdle easily. Consider the barista blend if you enjoy a nutty twist.
  • Climate: Hazelnuts have a positive impact on the environment, with fewer inputs required for their growth. However, concerns regarding child labor in hazelnut farming exist.
  • Nutrition: Hazelnut milk is low in calories and cholesterol-free. It provides B vitamins, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids. As with other milk alternatives, it’s not a significant protein source.

Hemp Milk

  • Taste: Elmhurst’s hemp milk creamer blended well with coffee but had a bitter taste and an off-putting smell. It didn’t provide a particularly creamy texture.
  • Climate: Hemp has excellent sustainability credentials, promoting soil health and requiring minimal inputs. However, it does use more water than some other alternatives.
  • Nutrition: Hemp milk is a unique option, rich in healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids and a good source of protein. It also contains iron and magnesium. Consider making your own hemp milk for a truly organic choice.

Macadamia Milk

  • Taste: Milkadamia’s barista formula macadamia milk had a perfect balance of creaminess and sweetness, creating a delightful flavor profile. The unsweetened creamer required more stirring but was still enjoyable.
  • Climate: Macadamia nuts have specific soil and water requirements, posing potential challenges in regions with water shortages. However, they offer environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration.
  • Nutrition: Macadamia milk is high in monounsaturated fats and a good source of vitamins A and E. It’s not a significant protein or fiber source but is moderate in calories.

Oat Milk

  • Taste: Oat milk emerged as a favorite among testers, with its richness and creaminess making it an ideal choice for coffee and lattes. The barista edition offers an even richer and creamier alternative, although it’s more expensive.
  • Climate: Oat milk has a lower environmental impact compared to other alternatives, requiring less water than almonds and having lower carbon emissions.
  • Nutrition: Oat milk is high in fiber, particularly beta glucan, which may help lower cholesterol levels. It also offers a moderate amount of protein and is naturally a source of carbohydrates.
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Pea Milk

  • Taste: Ripple, made from pea protein, didn’t mix well with coffee and separated into oily strands. Sproud’s barista-style pea milk fared better, offering a neutral taste and good compatibility with coffee.
  • Climate: Pea milk presents similarities to soybeans in terms of environmental benefits, including reduced water usage and nitrogen fixation. It is a promising alternative to explore.
  • Nutrition: Pea milk is the highest in protein among plant-based milks, providing 8 grams per cup. It’s also fortified with vitamin B12 and contains heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

Rice Milk

  • Taste: Rice milk mixed well with coffee but didn’t contribute significantly to the flavor. It provided a lightening effect without altering the taste profile. Natura’s organic fortified rice beverage was used for testing.
  • Climate: Rice milk requires a significant amount of water to produce and has higher carbon emissions compared to other alternatives. Rice paddies can also contribute to methane emissions.
  • Nutrition: Rice milk is a suitable option for those with food allergies, as it is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. However, it lacks protein and can be sweetened with brown rice syrup, so be mindful of added sugars.

Soy Milk

  • Taste: Soy milk offers a natural sweetness similar to dairy milk but can make coffee grainy or curdle. Soy creamer versions mix fairly well, but they may not have the same smoothness as dairy milk.
  • Climate: Soy milk has a lower environmental impact compared to dairy milk, but large-scale soybean production has contributed to deforestation in certain regions. Look for organic soybeans from sustainable sources.
  • Nutrition: Soy milk closely resembles the nutritional profile of cow’s milk. It is high in protein, provides potassium and isoflavones, and contains healthier fats. Vitamin A and vitamin B12 are added for extra nutrition.

Now that you have a better understanding of the different plant-based milk options available, you can choose the perfect alternative to enjoy with your coffee. Experiment with different brands and find the one that suits your taste preferences. Remember, every small step towards a more sustainable lifestyle makes a difference.

Visit Marmalade Cafe for more delicious options and eco-friendly choices.