Milk In Coffee

The "wrong" milk will easily spoil any espresso-and-milk-based drink, plus your mood.

To avoid disappointment, it is important to consider several factors when choosing milk for your coffee: its taste in combination with coffee, how well it froths, and safety.

All the quality indicators of milk depend on how a cow is treated: what it eats, where it's kept, and how it's milked.

Keep scrolling to learn more about using milk in coffee.

Lactose: How Sweet Will the Foamed Milk Be?

Lactose, also known as milk sugar, is the main carbohydrate in milk. Lactose is best absorbed by residents of countries where cattle breeding has a long history, but with age, even residents of these countries may develop lactose intolerance. Fortunately, manufacturers produce low-lactose milk, in which lactose is split into galactose and glucose by the action of the lactase enzyme.

Low-lactose milk tastes even sweeter than regular milk. This is because lactose is only 16% as sweet as regular table sugar (sucrose), while glucose is 75% as sweet. Many coffee shops use low-lactose milk so their guests will find their coffee sweet even without added sugar.

Low-lactose milk is easily digested and does not cause any digestive problems. It also retains all the beneficial properties of regular fresh cow's milk.

Fat: How Does It Affect Taste and Texture?

Milk fat gives the drink texture: the more fat there is, the fuller and creamier the texture of the drink.

The aroma of coffee is composed of volatile components, and fat affects how these components are released in the mouth and how the aroma is perceived. So if there's too much fat in milk, the coffee can actually taste worse to us. When brewing aromatic coffee beans with a dense body, use milk with more fat. For softer Arabica beans, it’s best to use nonfat milk.

It is important to find your perfect milk foam. When steaming and frothing milk, skim milk is lighter in texture, while fat milk is denser

Protein: How Stable Will Milk Foam Be?

The most valuable component of milk is protein. It plays an important role in frothing: Casein protein gives the milk its white color and gives density to the drink, while whey proteins are responsible for how milk foams when it's frothed.

When milk is frothed and heated to 104°F (40°C), its foam is unstable: Small air bubbles quickly merge into large ones and burst. Raising the temperature to 140–150°F (60–65°C) results in more stable foam and improved texture and density. If the milk is heated to more than 160°F (70°C), the protein molecules will break down and the milk won't froth properly.

Typically, milk contains about 3% protein, but most dairy manufacturers add more protein. This helps to achieve a more durable and stable milk foam.

All these components affect the taste and quality of the foam and determine how suitable it is for coffee.

By the way, people with lactose intolerance or allergies to milk proteins, as well as vegetarians and vegans, can also enjoy their favorite cappuccino or latte.

Which Plant-Based Milk Is Best for Coffee Drinks?

Some people choose plant milk for ethical reasons, others because of a dairy allergy or intolerance.

Here are the most popular plant milks:

Soy milk

Soy milk is affordable and can be frothed in the same way as cow's milk. It has a pleasant neutral taste, with a touch of soybean flavor. Soy milk may curdle when heated (up to 140°F/60°C ) or when interacting with highly acidic coffee. Therefore, baristas in coffee shops often first mix espresso with cold milk and only then froth the mixture.

Almond milk

Almond milk has an unobtrusive nutty taste with a slightly bitter aftertaste. .

Almond milk is difficult to thicken and use for latte art, and this is because of its lower protein content.

The low percentage of almonds within many almond milk brands means that quite often you’re trying to foam a milk that’s largely made up of water.

When steaming almond milk at home for coffee, it’s best to begin with cold, fresh milk.

Almond milk is at its best at 150ºF (65ºC), just like cow’s milk.

Oat milk

This milk became so popular that in 2018, all US coffee shops suffered a shortage of oat milk from the Swedish brand Oatly. The manufacturer could not keep up with demand.

It is easy to work with oat milk in comparison with other plant milks because it's easy to froth. But it contains less protein than cow's milk, so the foam is unstable and settles quickly.

Coconut milk

This milk has a high fat content (15-20%) and is mostly a substitute for cream. Coconut milk should not be heated to high temperatures due to the risk of its proteins folding. A rich coconut flavor is also not popular with everyone. But coconut lovers are happy to add it to slightly cooled coffee for a creamy texture and recognizable taste.

Rice milk

Among the less popular plant milks is rice milk, which is easily absorbed and suitable for everyone who is allergic to gluten.

Brown rice milk contains an optimal ratio of proteins, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. It is sweeter than cow's milk when added to coffee.

Cashew milk

Cashew milk has a light, creamy texture and a delicate nutty flavor. It is the perfect addition to a morning cup of coffee.

Unlike almond milk, cashew milk does not have such a pronounced nutty taste and can be used more universally: It will not interrupt the basic taste of coffee, but only complement it.

Hemp milk

Hemp milk is very common in the world of healthy nutrition due to its large number of minerals—phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc.

It also has more plant protein compared to coconut and almond drinks, so many experienced athletes prefer it.

There are also other types of plant milk—hazelnut, pea, macadamia, etc.—but they are less popular and less common in coffee houses.

Obviously, plant milk has many health benefits, as well as many environmental benefits, so large coffee chains include it on their menu.

Coffee With Cream

Cream softens the bitter taste of coffee and makes the drink thicker than does regular milk. Coffee creams often have a lower fat content than regular creams and thicken less, making them ideal for coffee.

Varieties of coffee cream:

  • Half and Half is the most popular cream among Americans. It consists of half light cream and half whole milk. It contains about 12 percent fat, which makes it denser and sweeter than whole milk.
  • Light Cream contains about 20 percent fat, which means more calories.
  • Whipping Cream contains about 35 percent fat, is much thicker than half and half, and gives your coffee a denser consistency.
  • Heavy Cream is the thickest and densest option you can choose. As a rule, heavy cream contains about 38 percent (and sometimes more) fat, which is not the most suitable solution for coffee.

Milk Pasteurization

When choosing milk for coffee, pasteurization is equally important. Pasteurization is a one-time process of heating milk; it is used to disinfect milk and extend its shelf life. Milk is heated to a temperature of 145 to 208°F (63 to 98°C) for anywhere from 2 seconds to 60 minutes.

During pasteurization, vegetative forms of microorganisms die, but spores remain viable and can develop under favorable conditions. Therefore, pasteurized milk must be stored in a refrigerator and used within about 5 days of purchase.

Ultra Pasteurization

Ultra-pasteurization is the process of intensive short-term heating of milk to 284°F (140°C) for 2 seconds.

In this case, microorganisms are completely destroyed. Such milk can be stored for 6 weeks and longer at room temperature. It's packaged in a Tetra Pak, which is airtight and properly stores milk.

Pasteurization has little effect on the frothing capability of milk and the stability of milk foam. But it is very important in terms of product quality and safety.

Ultra-pasteurized milk is popularly used in cappuccinos and lattes.

Conclusion: What  Milk Should You Choose for Your Coffee?

Each component of milk is very important:

  • Lactose gives milk its sweetness
  • Protein is responsible for the stability and texture of the foam;
  • Fats affect the tactility and elasticity of the foam.

The most important thing is to choose milk with the amounts of fat and protein. For cappuccinos, milk with a fat content of 3.2 to 4% and a protein content of 3–3.5% is suitable. Milk with less fat or protein will result in unstable, watery milk foam. Milk with a higher fat content will interrupt the taste of the coffee.

Lactose content is not such a critical element. The more carbohydrates are found in milk, the sweeter it is. For cappuccinos, it is best to choose low-lactose milk.

The most popular types of plant milk for cappuccinos are soy, almond, and oat milk. Soy and almond milk form a rather poor foam, so it’s best to froth them with espresso. Oat milk is easier to froth, so it's good for latte art.