Food, Healthy Eating

Top 3 Milk Alternatives: A Barista’s Guide


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:

Almond Milk Latte Art

A valiant attempt at almond milk latte art.

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!

kawaii coffee cute kitty latte art

Wake up and smell the cappuccino!

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; Gianmarco at; Kawaii coffee

Chase Bucklew

Chase Bucklew

Contributor at Peaceful Dumpling
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.
  • I loooove lattés 🙂 I’m bummed, however, that a lot of cafés only offer soy milk lattés with added sugar (in the soy milk – darn you, Starbucks!). I want so badly to like almond milk lattés, but I totally agree with your point re: coffee + almond milk = not so great combo. It’s always tasted kind of burnt to me. I have yet to try a hemp milk latté, but you’ve made me really eager to! I am also curious about coconut milk lattés since I love coconut milk in my coffee I make at home. Thank goodness there are so many vegan milk options 🙂

  • Bonnie Eyestone

    Chase! It’s Bonnie!! I was googling whether or not you could steam hemp milk for my home espresso machine, clicked on this article and was happily surprised that you were the author!!! Hope you’re doing well, my friend, and cheers to our old days at cupcake making delicious coffees. Thanks for tips on milk!

  • Jennifer Harper

    There is an vanilla almond milk they sell here in Germany that tastes pretty good after being frothed and is frothier than the plain almond milk. I don’t know why but I’m not questioning it since it tastes good. I think I will try hemp milk though.

    • Adam Taylor

      Hi Jennifer, what is that milk called? Thanks.

  • Cana Rochbell

    First attempt with hemp milk. 3 parts water, 1 part hemp seed.

  • Bri

    I use Coconut Milk for my skinny vanilla lattes and WOW does it taste good, I was pleasantly surprised.

  • Nathan

    Granted, I’ve only tried a few alternatives – plain unsweetened almond, unsweetened vanilla flavoured almond and coconut – but none turn out.

    The coconut milk in my latte tastes fantastic, but the milk curdles. If you swirl it around in the cup, it seems to meld together but you have to do it every couple sips. Tastes great, looks terrible.

    The almond that I’ve tried, while tasting amazing on their own, make the absolute worst latte I’ve ever had.

    I am not a fan of soy milk so I’d rather not buy that just for making coffee drinks, but is there something I should be looking for when buying almond milk? Should I go with a sweetened? A specific brand? Something other piece of information?

  • Barbs33139

    I have a dangerous milk allergy and soy (which I love) may contain milk. I have to agree with the Author that coffee and almond milk taste better independently than together, but they improve if the latte is iced. Coconut milk is too overbearing for my taste. I will try hemp though. Thanks for an interesting article.

  • Adriano Ciampoli

    So after reading this article, I went out and got hemp milk. It steamed well but I don’t understand how you can say it’s delicious because it’s just not, I took two sips and had dump it! I would not recommend this as an alternative to cows milk for lattes. I have also tried coconut and that wasn’t any better! I wanna get off dairy but cows milk is still my achilles heel for lattes.

  • gotbikes

    Thanks for the informative report Chase.
    I don’t use dairy – period – from all accounts it’s poison. I’ve been using soy (Barista Soy by So Nice) for my Cappuccini – it does respond beautifully to the frother and tastes just fine. However, when I drink soy milk I get very mucous-y – just like dairy! So I think my body’s telling me I have a sensitivity to it and I’d be smart to cut it out of my diet. I hope that’s not the case for EATING it, as in tofu, as we use it regularly in meals – I don’t get the same response when eating it.

    So, I’m looking forward to trying hemp milk – not all of your respondents have been positive about it but I’ll give it a whirl!

  • KT Thornton

    This piece is a bit strange, as they write at length about why almond milk doesn’t work, then make it the second best vegan milk for coffee?!

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