The majority of us take our tea and coffee with milk. But in the last decade, the variety of dairy milk alternatives on offer has exploded. So, what are the options – and when it comes to tea and coffee, which milk works best?
Whether to add milk to tea first or last when making a brew has long been debated amongst Brits. Less controversial is whether to take milk at all, with 80% of UK tea drinkers preferring milk in their cuppa, continuing a tradition that goes back centuries. Milk and coffee also have a long-lasting romance, dating all the way back to the 17th century.
While there is speculation about why we started adding milk to tea and coffee, it is likely that it had something to do with taste. Bad quality tea and coffee would have been bitter and acidic – the sweetness of milk would have made it much more palatable. As well as being easier on the tongue, a milky brew may also have carried certain health benefits. Caffeine negatively affects calcium absorption; adding cow’s milk, which is naturally rich in calcium, has the potential to balance this out.
The assumption that cow’s milk is the natural companion to your hot drink is fading fast. The rise of veganism, combined with a more health and eco-conscious consumer, has led to many replacing the animal milk in their fridge with dairy-free milk alternatives. The public is now reaching for milk produced from nuts, pulses and seeds. Indeed, plant milk sales in the UK have grown by 30% since 2015.
This growing demand has led to an unprecedented range of dairy substitutes on offer. While semi-skimmed is still the UK’s most popular milk, almond milk has overtaken soy milk as the go-to dairy milk alternative in recent years, now making up two out of every three pints of plant milk sold. Other popular alternatives to cow’s milk include oat milk, almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk and rice milk. But faced with such a wide-ranging and ever-expanding market, how do you choose the best milk for you – and your drink?
When it comes to using non-dairy milk in tea and coffee, the first challenge is plant-based milk’s tendency to curdle when added to hot drinks. The high acidity content of tea and coffee, as well as the hot temperature, means that milk’s such as soy, oat and almond can curdle when stirred in. While still drinkable, this certainly isn’t conducive to the most appealing cuppa.
In this regard, cow’s milk may sometimes be the most hassle-free addition to a hot-drink. However, this needn’t necessarily be the case. Techniques such as heating plant milk before adding it can help reduce the likelihood of curdling. But the right choice of milk is also important. Fortunately, many brands now produce plant milk’s specifically designed for hot drinks. Soy milk and oat milk are both available in ‘barista’ versions, which resist curdling and are formulated to create the perfect foaming texture – ideal for cappuccinos, macchiatos and whatever else takes your fancy. So, with the right choice, there’s no need to cry over spilt milk!
When it comes to health, the last few years has seen dairy products at the end of some bad press. Cow’s milk is naturally high in protein and calcium. However, concerns over its sugar and saturated fat content, as well as the presence of hormones and antibiotics, have led to people seeking healthier choices. This has been a big driver in the rise of plant milk popularity – hailed for being high in fibre while low in sugar and saturated fat.
While generally considered healthier, plant milk’s differ from each other in nutritional content. Which product is healthiest depends on what best supplements your dietary needs, and the rest of your diet.
Overall, soy milk is probably the best all-rounder, with a similar protein level to cow’s milk and high calcium content, it is also low in fat and contains vitamin D, vitamin B12 and riboflavin. However, as always, the biggest contributor to health is a varied and balanced diet – something which any kind of milk can be a part of.
Taste will always be a matter of, well, taste. For some people, their tea or coffee will never be complete without a splash of cow’s milk and anything else will just taste ‘wrong’. However, many are embracing and often preferring the different flavours available from alternatives. Almond milk offers a mild nutty taste, oat milk a rich creaminess and coconut milk a tropical twist.
With huge high street chains now offering a wide variety of non-dairy milks, you can choose your favourite even when you’re out and about. Sometimes, there is a small surcharge, but if you’re keen on making an eco-conscious choice, don’t let that deter you! If you’d like to try non-dairy milks, but don’t fancy spending the extra pennies at a high-street chain, why not buy a dairy milk alternative to keep at work. Next time you make a coffee in the office, use your Billi tap, as usual, but try it with coconut milk instead. If you pre-heat it in the microwave, it’ll reduce the chance of it curdling too.
The perfect tasting milk will depend largely on preference but also depends on what you add it to. The delicate fragrant taste of tea works better with thinner milks that are less powerful on the palette, such as hemp, rice or soya milk. Meanwhile, the richer, and often sharper taste of coffee can be complemented beautifully with a stronger, sweeter tasting milk like coconut. Oat milk, in particular, is favoured by coffee drinkers for its creamy flavour and velvety texture.
The truth is, the best milk for hot beverages depends on the drink, but most of all, the drinker. The good news is, with more products to choose from than ever before, you can experiment with different milks until the cows come home – and discover the perfect accompaniment for your cuppa!