Jori Korhonen //
// 12.3.2018

Plant Based Milks and Coffee: Barista's Pros and Cons

Barista's struggle with plant based milks is real. How to master all of them when the fact is that all plant based milks behave differently with coffee, especially when used in espresso based drinks? The only way is to try: test them and taste them. And that is exactly what I did! Here are my notes, I hope you will find them useful.

When I started as a barista in 2011, the only plant based milk available was soy milk. Today the situation is totally different. Oat, almond and coconut milks (and many more) have entered the market and have brought options for our non-dairy coffee enthusiasts. I’m not a big fan of any sorts of milk in my coffee but that’s even more reason to test these vegan bad boys and see which one of the plant based milk is the king for a barista. I know nothing (insert Game of Thrones joke here) about chemistry so I took our New Product Development Manager Mari with me who is expert with chemical compounds. I tested the plant based “milks” as a barista and Mari explained me why and how something was happening.

Disclaimer before you read: we are only humans and we didn’t do a scientific study when we tested these milks. So take the flavour notes as guidelines and test the milks yourself before stating any claims about them. These milks were provided to us by the producers but we have no financial interest in them.



Alpro Soy for Professionals

Soy was the first one in the market and Mari told me that you can notice that from the product (Alpro Soy for Professionals) in a good and bad way. From my barista perspective it foamed really fast, almost twice as fast as regular cow’s milk. I tried also two temperatures with the steaming; 55 and 65 degrees and it didn’t affect the texture or taste of the milk at all. Mari explained to me that there are quite a lot of food additives such as acidity regulators and stabilizers used in the soy milk which has to do with both “easy” foaming and temperature resistance. The soy milk has also as much protein as regular cow’s milk which enables microfoaming. The microfoam was also really long lasting which is due to stabilizers and high amounts of protein and fat. Making latte art with the soy milk was easy and the milk behaved almost like cow’s milk.

Taste wise you could quite easily notice that the soy milk has been developed with the focus in usability. There was a lot of grain, bean and kind of cardboard flavours that we experienced from the cappuccino that we tasted. We felt that the taste was quite artificial and it was lacking natural flavours. On the plus side the mouthfeel was very creamy and the after taste was long lasting. We would recommend that the soy milk wouldn’t be used with the most delicate Arabica espressos but rather in espresso blends that have some Robusta in them. That way the creaminess wouldn’t overpower the espresso.

+ easy to use
+ good for starting baristas
+ / - quite a lot of food additives
-  taste quite artificial and overpowering

Soy "milk" in action: 55°C vs 65°C


Oat has been THE plant based milk during last few years. It’s no wonder because oat’s flavor is quite neutral and mild which is perfect for espresso based drinks. We tested three oat milks; Kaslink’s, Planti’s and Oatly’s. From barista’s perspective all oat milks were quite the opposite of the soy milk that we tested first. They foamed really slowly and I had to foam them almost twice as long as cow’s milk. After foaming and steaming the milks started to fizz right away which was strange. Again I tried two temperatures, 55 and 65 and the milks were able to handle both of them. Latte art wise the results was quite ok and the only problem was that I needed to pour a bit harder to make the patterns. Mari explained that the oat milks do have quite a little protein in them which causes problems with microfoam. Protein is one the things that holds the small bubbles (so small that we aren’t able to see them) together and that way we get perfect microfoam. With the lack of protein the small bubbles start to combine with each other creating bigger bubbles which we can see with bare eyes.



We liked a lot of the Kaslink’s flavour. There was some sweetness (as is in cow’s milk) and the flavour was really honest; it tasted to oat but the flavour was mild. The taste of oat didn’t overpower the espresso completely but it was the dominating flavour. On the downside the mouthfeel was quite watery so there wasn’t much body. Mari pointed out that the lack of body can be explained with lack in protein and fat which both have a big effect on the mouthfeel.  When we tested these milks, the first carton that we opened didn’t steam or foam at all. We are not sure if it was only that carton or if it’s a bigger problem.

+ honest and quite natural taste
+ temperature resistance
- watery mouthfeel and taste
- creating microfoam might be difficult



As I said earlier Oatly’s iKaffe has been booming lately and for many baristas it’s THE plant based milk. iKaffe turned out be the “strange kid” in terms of flavour in our test. Its flavour was really oatly (touché) and you are not able to miss it. There was also some sweetness and the mouthfeel was quite creamy, much more creamy than with Kaslink’s. Aftertaste was neutral. In overall, the milk dominated the espresso a bit but it left some room for the flavour of coffee.


+ creamy mouthfeel
+ taste of oat (if you like it)
+ temperature resistance
- dominates espresso a bit
- creating microfoam might be difficult



Planti is the new kid on the block and in our opinion it’s the winner of this test in terms of flavour. In our opinion you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference to cow’s milk if you wouldn’t be told its oat milk. There is no artificial or oat flavour and the overall flavour is really neutral. The only difference to cow’s milk is in mouthfeel which isn’t as creamy as in cow’s milk. That was actually a bit of a surprise because the milk looks like vanilla sauce (the one you put on top of apple pie) when you pour it into your pitcher. The milk’s flavour doesn’t dominate the espresso at all and they have a nice symbiosis. Good work Planti!

+ nice and neutral flavour
+ temperature resistance
- creating microfoam might be difficult

Oat "milk" in action: 55°C vs 65°C



Next up; Alpro Coconut for Professional. Despite of the name, the product is mix of coconut and soy milk. They don’t tell the ratio of those two but we won’t let that disturb us. Mari noticed from the ingredients list that the coconut milk is clearly a hybrid. They have taken good sides from both coconut and soy and combined them in here. From barista perspective this coconut milk is really good; it is easy to steam and you can get good latte art with it. You are also able to get that finishing gloss touch in your espresso based beverage which makes latte art look extra good. Again I went to two temperatures with it but the "milk" wasn’t able to handle the hotter one which was 65 degrees. In that temperature the milk became stiff/clumsy. Mari explained me that seems as the proteins in the "milk" started to denaturise in temperatures above 60 which breaks the milk and foam combination. The protein loses its biological function (=denaturisation) when heated too much and given physical stress (your steam wand in this case). So take care of your proteins because they are one of the reasons behind that silky steamed milk that you can see in Instagram latte art videos.

Flavour wise we weren’t impressed. We both like our coffee black and without any sweetener which might be the reason. Cappuccino I made with the coconut milk tasted like normal cappuccino with coconut syrup. It was so sweet and there wasn’t much of body in the mouthfeel. Though if you like you espresso based drink with some sweetener, coconut might be your healthy solution as it doesn’t have as much sugar. I’d be sure that my customer understands what kind of flavour to expect when ordering coconut milk.

+ best for latte art
- non heat resistant

Coconut "milk" in action: 55°C vs 65°C



I think this was the first time when I used almond milk as a barista so I was excited see how it reacts and tastes. From barista perspective it was quite similar to coconut milk as it created nice latte art but couldn’t handle higher temperatures. The reasons behind that were the same as with coconut milk. Mari pointed out that again Alpro has processed the almond milk quite a lot which could be seen in the ingredients list. It had normal amount of fat but a bit less protein which is replaced with stabilizers to create nice texture when steamed. Also the stabilizers affected to the foam so that it was easy to get good microfoam.

The almond milk had the exactly same problem as coconut milk; you will create flavoured drink when using it. Our cappuccinos tasted like they would have been flavoured with bitter almond syrup. Again I’d inform my customers when they are ordering the almond milk.

+ good for latte art
+ easy to use if you handle your temperature
- too much sweetness and doesn’t compliment the coffee
- doesn’t handle the heat

Almond "milk" in action: 55°C vs 65°C

Remember that these milks are just some of the options in the market and these were tested in Finland. Mari also gave me some general tips when choosing the milk to use in espresso based drinks:

  • less fat and protein --> less body
  • protein --> better foam (this can be also created with stabilizers)
  • gloss is a sign of well steamed milk --> the circumstances (turbulence & temperature) have been correct
  • matte in milk usually means that you have overheated
  • don't stick to same coffee as with dairy milk - try new combinations and find your favourite