Unless you’re a fan of black coffee, you probably have some preferred type of dairy that you add to your cup. For some people, it’s milk or cream. For vegans, it’s often almond milk or soy milk. For others, it's a non-dairy creamer.
But what you put into your latte or cappuccino or cold brew can totally change the taste of the entire drink. Whether you drink real dairy or a vegan version, it may be time to rethink what you’re adding to your cup.
Here’s how to pick the right dairy (real or vegan) for your coffee.
Your Dairy Makes a Difference
When it comes to drinking coffee with dairy, albeit real or vegan, there are more than a dozen options to choose from. For those who eat dairy, there’s the choice between whole milk, skim milk, half and half, creamer, and even butter (yes, butter).
For vegans, there are non-dairy creamers:
- soy milk
- oat milk
- almond milk
- rice milk
- coconut milk
- hemp milk
- cashew milk
… and more.
Each option has a different fat content, a different flavor, and a different texture. Whether you like a café latte with brunch or a mocha with a scoop of ice cream after dinner, what you add to your cup of coffee can drastically change the taste.
But there’s more to it than just the way it affects the coffee’s flavor.
Certain types of dairy and non-dairy products can make or break the drink. Some can make your cup of coffee taste better, while others can curdle in a hot cup.
If you want to make sure you’re drinking a delicious cup every time, it’s best to know what your dairy or non-dairy can do before you pour it in.
Here's a rundown of how various dairy and non-dairy products react and taste in different coffee drinks.
Did you know adding a splash of calcium-rich milk can neutralize the acidity of your cup of joe?
Real Dairy Options
If you consume real dairy products you’ll be happy to know that this option usually adds the best texture and taste to your cup.
Here’s a recap of the most popular types of real dairy products for coffee:
Whole milk is the classic go-to for most coffee drinkers, especially those that like their coffee with steamed milk or foam. If you walk into a coffee shop and order something with milk, your barista will likely use whole milk as the default.
And there’s a good reason why …
Whole milk contains sugar, fat, and proteins such as caseins and whey, all of which make it ideal for foaming and steaming. The more protein, the better your foam will be. That makes whole milk the best option for cappuccinos and lattes.
Whole milk has about 3-4% fat content. And, as bad as fat might be for our bodies, it tastes really good in our drinks. It adds just the right amount of sweetness and has a smooth, creamy texture. If you’re only adding a splash of milk to your morning coffee, go for the whole milk — it’s almost always the best option.
Skim milk, which contains almost no fat, is not suitable for steaming, so don't ask for skim with your latte, cappuccino, or café au lait. It's just too thin to steam well, and it doesn't create that rich, silky texture that whole milk does.
Don’t want to drink the fat in whole milk? Don’t like the thin, watery texture of skim?
Reduced-fat milk is another option.
Reduced-fat milk usually has about 1-2% fat, so it's an excellent way to cut back on fat and calories. But if it's the foam you're looking for, you won't be happy. It does not steam or froth the way whole milk does.
If you’re going strictly for flavor and decadence, by all means, add some heavy cream to your cup! Cream produces a much smoother taste and, as the name suggests, a creamier texture. But it’s considerably higher in fat content than whole milk.
Cream is about 38% fat, which helps to counteract the bitterness of standard drip coffees. That’s why you usually see cream in diners and casual restaurants that don’t pay a ton of attention to the type of coffee they're brewing up.
Cream will give any cup of coffee a nice, rich flavor, but it's so high in fat that it's best only to use a splash or two.
Half and Half
If you like the texture of cream but don’t want all that fat, half and half is a good option. It contains equal parts milk and cream with about 12% fat content. It contains all the fat and proteins that cream and milk have — it's just not as heavy as adding straight cream.
And if you want to froth or steam half and half for a cappuccino or another espresso-based drink, you can. It just takes a bit more patience and time than it does to steam or froth regular milk.
Despite the way it sounds, buttermilk is neither sweet nor creamy — it actually tends to be quite bitter. It has a slightly thick consistency, similar to eggnog, and we do not recommend adding it to coffee of any sort.
Buttermilk is much better for baking rather than drinking. Instead of putting buttermilk in your coffee cup, you might want to try using it to make coffee cake instead.
Just Google “buttermilk coffee cake," and you’ll find dozens of recipes from different food bloggers. You deserve a tasty treat.
Comparing butter to buttermilk is sort of like comparing baking powder to baking soda. They sound like they're similar, but you use them for totally different purposes.
Buttermilk in coffee is a no-no. But BUTTER in coffee is quite delicious.
If you’re trying to maintain a Keto diet and take in more fat than carbohydrates, butter is a crucial component to Keto bulletproof coffee.
Bulletproof coffee includes butter and either MCT oil or coconut oil. It’s high enough in calories to take the place of a full breakfast, so drink it sparingly!
If this section got you hungry, we’re with you! Maybe you need to know about these 5 Delicious Ways to Eat Coffee [Bonus Chocolate Espresso Beans Recipe].
Vegan Non-Dairy Options
If you’d rather starve than drink dairy made from an animal, there are plenty of great non-dairy vegan options to choose from. But, just like real dairy, some are well-suited for certain drinks, while others can easily overpower the entire flavor of your beverage.
Here’s a rundown of the most popular types of non-dairy products for coffee:
We love soy milk, and if you’re on a vegan diet, you probably do too. Fortunately, soy milk can create a good foam, so it’s perfect for a latte or a macchiato. It does tend to curdle at high temperatures, but most well-trained baristas know precisely how to get it right.
Almond milk can sometimes taste a bit bitter, and it can separate when heated, so it’s not great for making foam. It can also curdle at high temperatures, so be sure not to pour ice-cold almond milk into steaming hot coffee.
Oat milk is perhaps our favorite non-dairy alternative to whole milk. It has a similar taste to full-fat milk, and it contains similar proteins, so it has that smooth, creamy texture.
In comparison to regular milk, oat milk produces bigger bubbles when foamed, but it’s still great for topping a latte. It also has fiber in it, so it’s perfect if you’re looking for ways to improve digestion and gut health.
On its own, coconut milk is quite tasty. But its strong flavor can easily overpower the taste of your coffee. It’s also not great at creating froth — soy milk and oat milk are better for that.
Hemp milk is a bit watery. It has a high protein content, so it can produce foam, but with its thin texture, you can expect your foam to disappear pretty quickly.
If you opt for rice milk, you can just forget about foam. Rice milk is a good alternative for vegans with nut allergies, but it’s quite watery and has a thin texture. To put it simply, it just doesn’t have much oomph.
But if nut milk or dairy milk isn’t in your diet, it is a decent option with a mild flavor that mixes well in most coffee drinks.
Cashew milk tends to be a bit sweeter than some other nut milks, so some people love it, and some people don't. It can handle steaming and foaming, though it produces a much thinner foam than dairy milk.
If your barista doesn't know what they're doing, steamed cashew milk can look and feel like soap bubbles in your cup.
Like cashew milk, banana milk is something you either love or hate. It’s made simply from pureed bananas and water, so it has the creamy texture of whole milk, but it isn’t milk at all. It actually tastes like bananas.
It probably won’t replace your day-to-day vegan dairy alternative, but it does add some nice flavor to a classic cup of drip coffee or a cold brew over ice.
Before we get into the pros and cons of non-dairy creamer, let’s make one thing clear:
Not all non-dairy creamers (NDCs) are vegan. Yes, they come from plant milk, but they sometimes also contain "milk derivatives," such as the milk protein casein. If you're living a 100% vegan lifestyle, be sure to read all the ingredients before adding an NDC to your cup!
In general, non-dairy creamers are an excellent substitute for real milk or half and half. They tend to be creamy, and they come in so many varieties and flavors that's it easy to find one you enjoy.
Stick with a simple almond milk or soy milk-based NDC so that most of the flavor comes from your coffee beans.
Speaking of vegan, do you know what a coffee bean actually is? Find out by reading our article: Is Coffee a Vegetable?
Skip the Dairy Altogether
Still not sure which type of dairy is best to put in your cup?
Besides all the varieties listed above, there is one more option to consider:
Skipping the dairy altogether.
If your preferred coffee drink is a shot of espresso, then you’re already skipping the milk. And cutting the dairy is the best way to get the full flavor of your beans.
Whether it be real or vegan, adding dairy will change the taste and texture of your brew. So we suggest passing on the NDC, soy milk, or half and half from time to time.
The next time you order a cup of coffee from your favorite coffee shop, try drinking it straight without any dairy at all. Coffee has many health benefits, so try enjoying it in its natural state rather than adding all sorts of extras to your cup.
And while we’re not here to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be drinking, we will just say this:
Do yourself a favor and skip the sugar too. That includes granulated sugar, sugar in the raw, brown sugar, and sugar substitutes. Like dairy additives, sugar will also change the taste of your coffee. Plus, so many foods contain natural sugars that there’s no need to drink sugar as well!
Make great-tasting coffee at home using one of our detailed Brew Guides: How to Use a Pour Over Coffee Maker or How to Use a Moka Pot for Stovetop Espresso.
As people who really like coffee, we're more into the beans, the roast, and the brewing process than the cream and non-dairy vegan milk options.
If you’re ever around Sonoma County, stop by Taylor Lane, and we’ll pour you a fresh, organic cup of coffee. So smooth that maybe you won’t even dream of adding cream to your mug!
But we understand that a lot of people don’t like their coffee black.
Whatever you choose to add to your coffee is entirely up to you. You should drink it how you like it!
Just know this:
The more you add to your coffee, the less you’re going to actually taste the beans.