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What’s the Best Plant-Based Milk for Coffee?

Ever wondered what is the best plant-based milk to have with your daily brew? 

November 26th 2021

By Savannah Coombe / 9 min read

Alpro, Soya, rude health and oatly milks with coffee bags

Ever wondered what is the best plant-based milk to have with your daily brew? There are many, MANY varieties of vegan plant milk in the world today. You have your standards: soya, oat, and almond. There are also some more out-there varieties cropping up like: macadamia, hemp and tiger nut.

New Kings Coffee founder, Jason, decided to go vegan last year and plant-based milks are a big part of his everyday life. We’ve always wondered, which is the best milk to pair with our delicious New Kings Coffee bags?

So we’ve decided to run a taste test to come up with the answer!

It makes sense to pick some of the more common varieties of plant milks. We identified these to be oat, soya and almond milk. Coconut milk was added as, although it’s fading in popularity, it is still prevalent in most supermarkets. The test was run with our Organic Guatemalan Medium Roast which is the most popular of our coffee bags and carries the most balanced flavour – perfect for taste testing! It’s a rich and full flavoured coffee with a fruity acidity and good body. We’ve also gone for several brands to allow for a fair judgement. 

Oatly with New Kings Coffee Bags

A little bit on each of these milks, their origins and sustainability before we begin

Oat Milk (Oatly Organic Oat Drink, £1.50):

Oat milk is made from oats and water. They are soaked together, and the excess water is then removed. An emulsification is left which is strained to create the final product. You get many versions of oat milk, including chocolate flavour, vanilla flavour, skimmed, sweetened, unsweetened and barista (which is made to be good for frothing).

In terms of sustainability, oat milk is doing a good job according to a 2018 University of Oxford study. Per each 200ml glass of oat milk, about 0.2kg of CO2 emissions are released. It uses about 0.1 square metres of land and around 10 litres of water. For comparison, producing the same amount of dairy milk produces 0.6kg of CO2, uses 1.6 square metres of land and needs 120 litres of water. Oat milk is hailed as one of the most sustainable plant milks on the market.

Coconut Milk (Alpro Coconut, £1.80):

Coconut milk is made from the pulp of coconuts but is most often also mixed with rice milk. It has a very rich taste due to its high fat content and the rice milk helps to cut through this. Coconut milk is often used for cooking. This version comes tinned and is used in dishes like curries and noodle dishes. The plant milk variety is usually a diluted version of the cooking coconut milk.

In terms of sustainability, coconut milk is on a different scale compared to the other plant milks. Coconut trees actually remove CO2 emissions from the air, minimising its environmental impact. A very small amount of water is also used to grow coconuts, only about 0.5 litres per 200ml glass. The issue lies in land usage: coconuts are grown in tropical environments and the need to take up farm space leads to significant deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction. It is also important to note that the transportation costs of coconut milk drive up its carbon footprint.

Almond Milk (Rude Health Organic Almond Drink, £1.25):

Almond milk is made by soaking and grinding almonds in water. After filtering, you are left with a white almond milk. It is often fortified with minerals and vitamins and, like oat milk, can be chocolate or vanilla flavoured. It is very commonly made at home by plant milk enthusiasts due to the simple method involved.

In terms of sustainability, it initially looks like a good choice. It produces the least CO2 emissions and uses the least land out of all the milks we are examining, only around 0.1kg of emissions and 0.05 square metres of land per 200ml glass. It uses significantly more water however, about 80 litres. This is still less than dairy milk which uses 120 litres of water per every 200ml of milk produced. The sustainability issue with almond milk comes from where almonds are produced. 80% of the world’s almonds come from California in the United States. Unfortunately, California has been in an on-and-off state of severe drought for several decades. The amount of water needed to produce almond milk is simply not feasible. In 2020, almond milk use was said to have increased by 52% in just one year. This has had a severe impact on California. It also places a large amount of pressure on bees, which are needed to pollinate the plants for almond production.

Soya Milk (by Sainsbury’s Unsweetened Soya Alternative to Dairy Milk, 85p):

Soya milk is made by soaking soya beans and water, boiling the mixture and then filtering it. It is also sometimes known as simply ‘soy milk’. It was originally created in China and is one of the original plant milks, appearing on menus long before oat milk was even created. It is also commonly used to create other vegan and lactose free drinks, such as cream, custard and soy cheese.

In terms of sustainability, soya milk has a pretty good reputation. It produces a little more CO2 emissions than oat and almond milk, about 0.22kg per 200ml glass. Its land use is extremely low at around 0.02 square metres and so is its water use, which is about 5 litres of water per 200ml glass. Along with oat, soya milk is said to be one of the best for the environment. 

Sainsbury's oat milk with New Kings Coffee Bags

Now for the categories by which we will be judging these milks. We’ve decided on four categories: taste, texture, heat retention and sustainability.

Taste is a very simple category. The core job of milk in coffee for most people is to add a silken creaminess and take the edge off some of the bitterness, allowing other flavours to shine through. If the milk itself has too strong a flavour it won’t bring out the notes in the beans and will instead overpower the coffee. You want something neutral that ADDS to the taste, not detracts. We’ve tried to be very neutral in our rating. If you’re a fan of the flavour of a specific plant milk you might like that your coffee ends up tasting like it. This is a personal preference however, so we have not accounted for it and instead have judged the flavour by how it cuts through the coffee.

Texture is the ‘mouthfeel’ of the coffee once the milk is added. This is based on how smooth the milk is. Does the coffee end up tasting gritty or grainy? Or does it create the silken creaminess that milk should bring to coffee?

Heat retention is how quickly the coffee cools down once the milk is added. All the milks will be added cold for this experiment.

Here is how to make a delicious cup of New Kings Coffee in case you have forgotten:
1. Add your coffee bag to a cup. 2. Add hot water and give it a quick stir.3. Leave it to brew for a few minutes (longer if you enjoy a stronger cup). We went for three minutes but this is a personal choice. 4. Stir again, squeeze and remove the bag. 5. Add any milk/sugar/cream/etc you might want and ENJOY! After this process and the initial taste test to determine taste and texture, we will leave each coffee for 15 minutes. When we return, we will judge which one has kept its heat the best. Lastly, we will provide a rating for the sustainability aspect of each plant milk, based on the information from before. All the above will be rated on a scale. 1 is the worst and 10 is the best. Using this system, we should be able to determine the best milk to pair with our coffees. Feel free to join us and conduct an experiment of your own. To ensure accuracy we made sure each cup of coffee has the same milk-to-coffee ratio. This is entirely dependent on your own tastes so adjust as you like. Let’s get down to it! 

Oat

The oat milk had a very slight taste when added to the coffee, but not too overpowering. It tastes a bit like when you drink the milk at the end of a bowl of cereal but not quite as strong. It also added a slight sweetness to the coffee, just like real dairy milk does. The texture was slightly grainy but overall good and it kept the most heat out of all the plant milks we tried.

Rating
Taste8/10
Texture6/10
Heat Retention10/10
Sustainablity8/10
Overall Score32/40

Coconut Milk

The first thing we noticed when we lifted the mug of coconut milk coffee to our mouths was the overwhelming smell! Before you even taste the coffee the smell of coconut is in your face. The coffee was unfortunately completely overpowered by the taste of coconut. The texture however was very silky! We were originally sceptical as, unlike the other milks which turned the coffee a beautiful light brown colour, the coconut milk coffee stayed very close to its original shade. The overall texture was very silken however (although slightly watery and not as creamy as you would hope). It went cold the second quickest.

Rating
Taste1/10
Texture8/10
Heat Retention5/10
Sustainablity9/10
Overall Score23/40

Almond Milk 

The almond milk coffee had an extremely neutral taste. The flavours really shone through, you could pick up the notes of almond and toffee in the coffee. The texture was slightly grainy but overall good. It retained heat second best out of all the milks

Rating
Taste9/10
Texture9/10
Heat Retention7.5/10
Sustainablity3/10
Overall Score25.5/40

Soya Milk 

The soya milk coffee had a strong taste that seemed to bring out even more bitterness in the coffee rather than neutralise it. It was also very grainy and left your mouth feeling like paper after drinking. On top of this, it went cold the fastest out of all the plant milks. 

Rating
Taste3/10
Texture3/10
Heat Retention2.5/10
Sustainablity8/10
Overall Score16.5/40
Plant based milks with New Kings Coffee bags

So, there you have it! Oat milk is the winner! The exact order they all ranked in was: oat, almond, coconut and soya. We are so happy to have finally answered this burning question, hopefully it will help you too.

OatAlmondSoyaCoconut
Taste8/10 Slight sweetness9/10 Extremely neutral taste3/10 Strong bitter taste1/10 Extremely strong taste
Texture8/10 Very slight graininess9/10 Slightly grainy but overall good3/10 Very grainy8/10 Silky and smooth
Heat Retention10/10 Hottest7.5/10 Second hottest2.5/10 Coldest5/10 Second coldest
Sustainablity8/10
0.2kg CO2
0.1m2 land
10L water
3/10
0.1kg CO2
0.05m2 land
80L water
8/10
0.22kg CO2
0.25m2 land
5L water
9/10
<0kg CO2
High land use
0.5L water
Overall Score32/4025.5/4016.5/4023/40

Products talked about in the blog post

Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees
Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees
Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees
Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees
Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees
Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees
Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees
Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees
New Kings Coffee - Coffee Selection
Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees
Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees

Selection of our Fairtrade and Organic Coffees

Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala
Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala
Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala
Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala
Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala
Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala
Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala
Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala
Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala
Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala

Medium Roast - Organic - Guatemala

Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia
Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia

Dark Roast - Organic - Sumatra, Indonesia

Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru
Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru
Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru
Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru
Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru
Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru
Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru
Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru
Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru
Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru
Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru

Decaf Roast - Organic - San Ignacio, Peru

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