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I used to drink lattes every day and realized the milk (lactose) was making me feel bad. I'm looking for a good substitute that will steam well, taste good, and be nice for making latte art. What will get me closest? Soy milk? Lactaid? Unsweetened almond milk?

  • 1
    Have you tried lactose free milk? I am not sure how well it will froth. – JavaCake Mar 22 '15 at 0:02
  • Is this what happens when the most frequent voters all answer the same question? 3 answers, 0 votes – Justin C Mar 27 '15 at 21:48
  • Just a note, I tried steaming canned coconut milk a while back.. it tasted alright, but I couldn't get any froth whatsoever. – Nate M. Jul 24 '17 at 16:32
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Here's another take, but going in the direction more of performance for foam (i.e., more for cappuccino than latte), mostly because I found links about that :) and because steamed milk should foam. If you're not looking for much foam, the differences are probably less profound.

There's a few other plant-based milks out there also; coconut and rice weren't mentioned in the other answers. In sum, I know of 5 common plant milks: almond, coconut, hemp, rice, soy. But there are probably others as well.

Here's some comparisons, summarized from the linked articles:

  • YouTube video - milk froth-off. They compare rice, coconut, and almond. They got the best performance with almond milk, coconut did almost as well, and rice milk did not perform well.
  • MarkBittman dot com has an article on the search for a vegan cappuccino. It suggests that soy is the best alternative for foam, followed by almond. The text and comments suggest (but doesn't outright state) that hemp works well also.
  • The Peaceful Dumpling article (linked previously in @PythonMaster's answer; summarizing the original article's conclusions here) concludes that soy is best, followed closely by hemp, and that almond doesn't work as well.

The conclusions tend to be suggest that cow milk will perform better than plant-based "milks." This probably suggests that lactose-free milks (i.e., with lactase, like Lactaid and others) will be your best bet. Of course, you could always take a lactase pill and enjoy your cup with conventional milk. Various articles suggest that certain soy milks are best, and that coconut, hemp, and almond will also work.

There's a ton of other factors, but these probably reduce to preference: some milks will be sweetened, or import their own taste (e.g., almond, coconut). Others might have emulsifiers or other additives (such as carrageenan), which impact the steaming (maybe helping or hurting).

Another take would be to look at the "science" of what happens during steaming: it's a combination of fats and proteins that are being agitated and changed in the right way to make foam. This CoffeeGeek article discusses frothing and what's at work; this was interesting for me, and might help you pick a milk based on protein and fat content among the various milk options.

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I'd give oat milk a try. I had an oat milk latte on the weekend and it was surprisingly good. The milk texture was the closest to normal milk I've had. I did not steam the milk myself (had it at Talkhouse Coffee in London), but judging by the latte art, oat milk would definitely appear superior to soy and almond milk (microfoam-wise). Oat milk is also high in protein and fiber content and has cholesterol reducing abilities, so it seems you can't go wrong :-)

Having said that, if I were you, I would consider significantly reducing the amount of milk I consume instead of substituting/completely cutting it out. Having piccolos keeps your milk intake to around only 3oz per serving, while you still get the full velvety flavour of normal milk (and you can pour some pretty decent latte art too ;-))

Hope this helps. Enjoy!

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Just for fun, I will name 3 alternates: Almond, Soy, and Hemp.

Almond

Not that good as a milk substitute on taste (better alone), yet a great way to make healthier coffee. As for the health benefits, almond milk has good proteins, calcium and Vitamin D, low sugar as long it is unsweetened. It is rather hard to make latte art or steam as well for a perfect cup. Also it is hard to make a good cappuccino with this type of milk. If going for health, not taste or looks, go for almond milk.

Soy

An excellent substitute for your lactose milk. It compliments coffee very well and is very delicious when put in coffee. It creates a great foam and is easier to have be steamed. It has been criticized though for many different reasons. If you are allergic to diary, never use soy milk or any milk at all really. Soy milk can match the consistency and texture of a good cup of coffee. Soy milk is a forgiving milk that goes with many types of coffee. But it does have a lot of sugar though.

Hemp

It is similar to soy milk when it comes to steaming and being a favorite substitute for regular milk. Given that it is very easy to make at home, it provides lots of minerals you need such as 46 percent of your daily calcium and about 900 mg of Omega-3. These "resources" are to come by for vegans and vegetarians, so drink up! It has a creamier taste like soy milk and a flavor similar to almond milk, the best combo! Legend says that you can do excellent latte art with this type of milk.

These are the three most popular and favorite milk substitute according to this website. I hope this helps you!

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Tried oatmilk yesterday at home as a milk substitute in my lattés and it was delicious. I used an organic brand with zero other things in it and it frothed up almost identically to normal milk (i use the nespresso latte frother). I used it with decaf and it tasted great - i actually prefered it to milk and my usual latte (the milk slime that coats the glass afterwards, anyone? - gone!) I am definitely hooked. :-)

  • Interesting! Will try for fun. Welcome to Coffee SE! – Ivan Kapitonov Nov 10 '15 at 8:31
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All of your stated options can work well and @PythonMaster covered the pros and cons pretty well.

You stated that latte art and steaming well were important and I didn't see you mention wanting healthy options. In that case I would not recommend almond. It will work ok, but not as good as soy. Hemp is comparable to soy based on your needs but might be harder to find depending on where you live.

Lactaid I think is a good option to try. It will steam well and you can do latte art. It will have a sweeter flavor because of the process that removes the lactose. Soy can be purchased sweetened but can also be found mostly unsweetened.

So I would say either Soy or Lactaid based on your flavor preferences.

  • Hemp milk can be made at home though – Anthony Pham Mar 23 '15 at 15:43
  • that's fine, if the OP is looking for easy solutions than creating your own hemp milk at home doesn't fit the bill. I'm not dismissing it as an option, but it would not be my recommendation given the parameters of the question – Justin C Mar 23 '15 at 15:57
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Oat milk is a lactose free alternative. You can make it yourself or buy it in the store.

Oatly is good although it does have a bit more sugar etc than the regular oat milk.

http://www.oatly.com/products/international/oatdrinkbaristaedition/

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Lactose free milk is milk. I'm lactose intolerant and I know it won't cause you problems if you are just lactose intolerant. Some people are determined to avoid dairy, but if that's not your goal, go lactose free. You can get it in all the normal fat percentages from skim to whole. I forget which fat percent is recommended for frothing but it exists.

0

Try other milk options. Lactose free, Goats and Sheeps milk often work for people who cannot tolerate regular milk.

Soy is the best real milk alternative.

See the reviews on this page which covers most of the options. Soy does pretty well on that review.

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