Top 3 Milk Alternatives: A Barista's Guide

June 9, 2014

As a barista in Seattle, presentation is very important. Baristas prefer to use cow’s milk or soy milk because it is easier to work with, and it can look like this:

Soy Milk Latte Art

A soy latte poured by yours truly!

We prefer not to hand someone a latte that looks like this:

But don’t feel bad for us! We know that there are milks that are easier to work with, and milks that are nearly impossible. As the person drinking the latte, you probably don’t care about the presentation as much as you may be concerned with how it tastes and how it fits within your dietary restrictions. You are the one drinking it, after all.

They may not look as pretty, but with all the options out there, vegan lattes can be delicious. There are many different types of milk alternatives out there today with more and more coffee shops and the like offering a diverse selection.

First, let us celebrate all of these non-dairy choices! Coffee culture and the dairy alternative market have come so far!

Now that we have expressed our gratitude, let us compare the options. Here, I have outlined the pros and cons of the three most popular alternatives, just for you!


I remember the first time I heard of a soy milk latte. I was with my friend at cafe Vivace (the cafe in Seattle that popularized and created the standard for latte art nationwide) and she ordered a very tiny soy latte. I remember being surprised by how good it was!

Soy is the first non-dairy choice of baristas for many reasons. Soy milk creates the best foam. One can steam soy milk to a consistency that is very comparable to cow’s milk. Therefore, soy milk can be used to make any espresso drink, and it will come out not far from the texture and consistency of a standard milk latte.

Soy milk is also extremely forgiving and complimentary to many different types of coffee. The nutty, creamy flavor lends to the flavor profile of coffee and enhances the flavor of many varieties of beans and blends.

This is all great, but soy often has added sugars. Starbucks uses a vanilla-flavored (aka sweetened) barista series soy milk, for example. Soy has also been highly criticized as a product that is overused; it may not be so great for humans in the large quantities with which we are frequently exposed. Soy is also a popular allergen, and I have met many a customer that can neither drink dairy milk nor soy.


Not quite as forgiving, but arguably healthier, we have almond milk.

Almond milk tastes great by itself. Coffee can taste really great by itself too. When put together, coffee and almond milk don’t taste quite as good as they did apart. An almond milk latte is still a very good thing, but it doesn’t work quite as well as some other dairy milk alternatives due to the not so complimentary flavors (or maybe it has something to do with the chemistry? If you know, or if you disagree, please tell me in the comments below!).

Almond milk also does not steam like cow’s milk or soy milk does. It is very hard to make a latte with it and nearly impossible to get enough foam out of it to make a cappuccino. Almond milk also curdles at certain temperatures, which just looks creepy, but tastes the same.

As for the health benefits, almond milk has good proteins, calcium and Vitamin D, low sugar (as long as it is unsweetened), and is full of good healthy fats. Hurray for almond milk!


The jury is in on hemp milk: it’s awesome! Up and coming as one of the more popular options for baristas, hemp milk steams similarly to soy. It’s not as easy to steam as cow’s milk, but lattes and cappuccinos are definitely still a delicious option. Legend has it, you can even make latte art with the stuff!

Hemp milk also complements coffee flavors like soy, but is slightly thicker due to the fat content. The result is a slightly creamier version of your soy latte with a flavor similar to that of almond milk. Does it get any better?

Why yes, yes it does. Hemp milk is also high in those coveted “good” fats, omega-3s and omega-6s. An 8 oz serving of hemp milk gives you 900 mg of omega-3, 4 grams of complete protein, and 46% of your daily recommended calcium. We all know those are harder to come by for vegans and vegetarians, so drink up!

Hemp milk is actually pretty simple to make at home too. Blend about 1/2 cup raw, shelled, organic hemp seeds and 3 cups filtered water, then strain through a cheesecloth. You may also add a bit of natural sweetener and cinnamon to taste.

And there you have it, the three best dairy milk alternatives for your latte. Tell me about your favorite dairy alternatives for coffee in the comments! Until next time, happy caffeinating!

Also by Chase: Self-Love – How to Feel Confident in Your Body

Related: 8 Raw and Gluten-free Flour Alternatives

Alternative Ways to Get Your Fats

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Photo: Chase Bucklew

Chase graduated from the University of Washington where she studied comparative literature, comparative history of ideas and art history. She is a flight attendant based in Seattle, WA.


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