August 24, 2018 4 min read
Plant-based beverages for coffee brewing are more popular than ever and there’s a lot to choose from. It can be taste, preference, or necessity to switch to plant-based beverages. With so much to choose from in the marketplace, it can be hard to decide which to choose for the best coffee.
We were contacted by the team from L’épicerie and carried out a trial run where we tested about 30 plant-based drinks, so we will sort it all out for you right here!
The fat content and quantity of protein in milk are important for making espresso and milk-based beverages. Fat and protein give the milk a stable density, so the barista can use less air when making microfoam, or denser foam for cappuccinos.
The lipids (fats) and proteins give a thick and creamy but not bubbly texture. A nice micro-foam texture is what you need for latte art worthy of international competitions! In addition, full fat and protein milks contain natural sugars, which are crucial to the flavour of caffeinated beverages made with milk, for a nice flavour balance. Milk that’s too fatty separates when mixed with coffee.
Without a doubt, cow's milk is the most highly recommended for baristas. If you choose this traditional milk, use high-fat versions for optimal texture: at least 2% and ideally 3.25% or even 3.8%. You can still foam your milk with products with 0 or 1% fat; it just won't work as well.
The freshness of cow's milk is particularly important: if the expiration date on your carton is imminent, you may not get the right foam texture. Always keep your milk fresh and be sure to use it quickly. While cow's milk is the most popular choice, there are plenty of plant-based beverages out there that can make it work. Here’s an overview of the main options.
There’s an impressive variety of plant-based beverages out there, and you can easily find online recipes for making them at home, tailored exactly to your taste.
You can also find specialized barista blends in grocery stores. As experts, we assure you that while many plant-based options could compete with cow's milk, the barista label doesn't guarantee quality and success. Our tests showed that Barista-identified soy beverages actually produce better microfoam for lattes than non-Barista drinks. In contrast, the Barista oat milk beverages we tested didn’t perform as well as their unlabeled counterparts. So, keep in mind that the Barista label doesn’t necessarily mean quality.
Plant-based beverages are also appealing because they add a little flavour to caffeinated beverages. It may not be for everyone, but the nutty or grainy taste of plant-based beverages can add a nice touch to a latte or cappuccino, depending on your taste.
Finally, most plant-based drinks are less environmentally harmful than cow's milk, which explains its growing popularity in recent years. Another good reason to try these vegan alternatives!
Soy beverage is one of the most popular alternatives to cow's milk, since it was the first to come to market. It’s also inexpensive to produce and purchase, has a healthy protein content, and the lowest environmental impact in terms of water use, CO2 emissions, and the amount of land required for production.
Its Barista versions are highly effective for making foam. With a little tweaking (use less air when frothing with the nozzle), you can make latte art as if you were using cow's milk. Taste-wise, soy beverage is sweeter than traditional cow's milk, but not as sweet as almond beverage. At Barista, we have a soft spot for the Barista Blends from So Nice and Pacific Foods.
Oat beverages were slow to enter the market but are now a common option in most coffee shops. Along with soy beverages, oat beverages are one of our favourites for coffee and lattes. Oat beverage has a good environmental profile and its taste is the closest to cow's milk. Their nutritional value is also appealing: oat beverages are very rich in fiber, calcium, magnesium, and iron.
You'll get a beautiful microfoam for your latte art, as it has a nice density when foamed. Our team has a penchant for oat drinks from Figures, Oatly, and Pacific Foods.
Almond beverages tend to be a little sweeter than other plant-based beverages and have fewer nutrients. Almond beverages are also very popular with shoppers, with a wide variety, both regular and Barista brand, available at the grocery store. When it comes to environmental impact, almond beverages are most efficient in terms of land use and CO2 emissions. However, it is last in terms of water requirements.
While very popular, they were rather disappointing for coffee-making. In our tests, in terms of taste and microfoam quality, with all brands included, almond was the least appealing. We tend to prefer soya and oat beverages.
While it doesn’t have the highest environmental rating or nutritional value (more carbohydrates, less protein), rice beverage has a subtle flavour that may appeal to those who don't like a grainy or nutty taste in their coffee. On the other hand, it doesn't have much in the way of texture, so it isn't ideal, especially for lattes, cortados, or cappuccinos…
During our tests these drinks, which are low in protein, were not successful in terms of texture or microfoam. We found it nearly impossible to get a nice smooth microfoam and do latte art with these options.
Pea-based beverage, such as chickpea beverage, did well texture-wise, but tasted very bitter when mixed with coffee. It’s not a good option if you want to enjoy the delicious taste of your coffee.
If you’re looking for the perfect plant-based beverage, we recommend soy and oat beverages. Both have some great options for making delicious coffees!
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