Plant Based Milk: Stokes road-tests plant-based milks

Let’s celebrate Veganuary by exploring the ever-growing popularity of plant-based milks. We’ve taken a range of readily available products and put them to the test.

Cow’s milk has always been considered the champion to coffee. It can enhance the sweetness of a blend, play down bitterness, and add a creamy richness to the cup. Due to its high protein levels, cow’s milk can be foamed and textured, adding new dimensions to the coffee drinking experience.

Alternative milk options are growing in popularity, with 1 in 3 Brits opting for plant-based milk. Whether you’re cutting out dairy for environmental reasons, health, intolerances, veganism, or just to broaden your taste buds, there are many companies jumping on the ever-increasing popularity of alternative milks for you to try. But, how well do they work with coffee?

To celebrate Veganuary, we decided to pitch a range of milk alternatives against each other to see which substitute best accompanies our coffee. Judging each milk against two important factors: how well does it compliment the taste of our coffee and how well does it foam?

We gathered a range of milk alternatives that are available on the high street and put them to the test at our barista training academy. To judge the taste of each alternative we checked whether the product masked the flavour of coffee or enhanced it. We used our most popular espresso for the experiment ‘Full of Beans’, with an extraction that works well with milk – 14g of coffee for – 40ml espresso (our usual extraction for flat whites).

To test the foaming qualities of each alternative, 8oz of each milk was aerated in a jug until the temp was resting at 65 degrees centigrade. The milk was then poured out on top of our espresso. Leaving the milk to settle, we were then able to observe how it responded to being heated and take measurements of the foam.

Lowest Performers…Let’s start with the lowest ranking plant-based options. Barista Edition- Surprisingly, the barista version of scored lower than the original - attempts to mimic the foaming qualities and texture of cow’s milk degraded the flavour, with a bitter and artificial plasticine-like taste.

Mylk- The Mylk option that we tested was the ‘whole Mylk’ variety rather than a barista edition. Despite this, it held its foam relatively well but once again missed out on taste. A plasticine-like after taste that is usually associated with soya was overly present making it one of the least pleasant tastings.

Hemp – However, the lowest ranking milk that we tried was Hemp. We found it to be unfoamable and almost undrinkable. A strong bitterness and watery texture means that this alternative didn’t compete with any of the others.

The highest ranking, and notable mentions…

Soya and original - Both of these options aerated well, despite a strange oiliness. The oily quality is perhaps what creates the glossy milk that you might associate with a soy latte, but it seemed a little less natural to some of the other options.

Nut milks – The nuttier milks that we tested had too much influence over the flavour of coffee. Coconut, almond and hazelnut were all interesting flavours and if you’re a fan of strong nutty tasting coffee then you could argue that they compliment it, but we wanted to find a milk that championed our coffee rather than mask it.

Rice Milk - Coffee should be the star of the show, so if you’re ok with giving way to texture for flavour, then Rice milk might be the way to go. From a barista’s point of view however, we feel Rice milk doesn’t stand up, there’s no way you could mimic a cappuccino, and you definitely couldn’t attempt latte art with it, but if it’s taste you’re looking for, then give Rice a go! 

The champion of plant-based milks is Oatley barista, a classic and one that we use in our cafes, and with good reason. Oat milk came out on top for flavour and foam. It has a mild natural taste that compliments coffee well and creates a smooth long-lasting foam - making it a top choice for many baristas.

So whether you’re looking to add a splash of plant-based goodness to your cafetière coffee, or wondering which milk to opt for when you next visit us at the High Bridge or The Lawn Cafe, we recommend giving oat milk a go! It has similar foaming qualities to cow’s milk, and a natural taste that effortlessly champions coffee!



Note: The opinions and assessments covered in this blog are based solely on the experience from trials undertaken by Stokes Tea & Coffee's Barista Academy Training Manager and are not intended to influence consumer or market purchasing decisions.