With so many people deciding to ditch dairy and pivot over to alternative milk for health, ethical and environmental reasons, plant-based milk has seen increasing demand from coffee lovers around the world. In the UK alone in 2020, we saw a £100 million increase in alternative milk purchases, making alternative milk into a £400 million per year market.
The reasons for the high demand lie in a steadily increasing awareness of nutrition and the environment, two inevitably interconnected areas of life. Furthermore, it is often about one's own well-being, because lactose intolerance continues to spread around the world. Increasingly, cow's milk is also perceived as difficult to digest, although there is no lactose intolerance at all.
Plant drink consumers report various positive effects, such as better body awareness, easier digestion or increased productivity. The good conscience is also calmed when enjoyed: The CO2 footprint of cow's milk is three to four times higher than that of vegetable variations. The animals require more than ten times the space, and the water consumption in the production of cow's milk is much higher – in direct comparison to soy drinks a hundred times!
In addition to water, plant drinks basically consist of ground plant parts. The basic substance is usually filtered and then mixed with other substances such as oils and vitamins, homogenized and heat-treated. The plant drink varieties can be divided into five categories: vegetable-based, grain-based, pseudo-grain-based (e.g. quinoa), nut-based or seed-based. We present the five most popular alternatives on the following pages.
The result is clear: The oat drink is the most popular plant drink in Germany, according to a recent survey. Three-quarters of the people surveyed favoured the oat alternative. It is naturally slightly sweet due to its high carbohydrate content and contains a lot of fibre, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Baristas swear by the oat variant due to the very milk-like consistency and the relatively low taste reminiscent of grain coffee. In addition to the particularly good environmental balance, it is also good for the human body and can significantly reduce cholesterol levels, help with digestive problems and have an anticarcinogenic effect.
This is not surprising either: After the oat alternative, the almond drink is the most popular substitute for milk from the pasture in Germany. With few calories and free of potentially allergenic substances, such as gluten, this plant-based drink is especially popular in nutrition-conscious circles. It has long been used in Spanish and Sicilian cuisine and is an excellent milk substitute for baking. Likewise, children with a cow's milk allergy love the almond variant and thus cover their need for valuable ingredients such as vitamin E in a delicious way. With its nutty taste and depending on the manufacturer sometimes more, sometimes less intense, it is mainly used in English-speaking countries in cafes.
Milk alternatives are just a hip, new-fangled food trend? Quite the opposite: soy drinks have been produced in China since the 14th century and are therefore the plant drink with the longest tradition! Nowadays, the soy variant is appreciated by baristas because it can be foamed like cow's milk and harmonizes with any coffee due to its minimal taste. Otherwise, soy drinks with a fat content of about 3% and often enriched with calcium, B, D and A vitamins are very close to their animal competitors and are considered a full-fledged cow's milk substitute. Another plus: Soy drinks can help reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and some forms of cancer.
Probably the alternative that "splits" the most in terms of taste, from super-delicious to gagging: coconut! Some love it, while others can't do anything with it. Especially in Asian cuisine, it is indispensable. Despite the high-fat content, coconut milk is still low in calories and is suitable for special coffee enjoyment. Easily foam-able like cow's milk, new coffee variations can be created thanks to the intense taste of coconut. This creamy plant drink is considered anti-bacterial, and anticarcinogenic and is said to strengthen the immune system. For use as a milk substitute, particularly high-fat milk is diluted with water and often enriched with vitamins.
They are finding more and more followers: rice drinks are particularly suitable for people who suffer from allergies and other intolerances and there are known to be quite a few of them. This alternative thus enables special coffee offers, especially for allergy sufferers. Due to its neutral taste, the rice drink discreetly stays out of the aromas of the beans and allows full coffee enjoyment. The nutrient-rich milk alternative transports a high carbohydrate content – of course, rice – a natural sweetness and is therefore particularly suitable as a milk substitute for desserts. In turn, it contains little fat and no saturated fatty acids.
The small green legume has it all. Pea drinks are ideal for coffee specialities. The high-fat content contributes to a particularly creamy and velvety consistency of the drinks. In terms of taste, the pea drink presents itself with a slightly grainy, nutty aroma and brings a slight sweetness. Pea drinks have a high protein content compared to soy drinks. With their high protein content, they are particularly easy to foam, which pleases the barista. At a temperature of around 65 °C, a firm and creamy foam consistency is achieved. Thus, the pea drink complements coffee very well in all respects and at the same time leaves the coffee plenty of room to develop its individual aroma.