How to Steam and Froth Almond Milk, Soy Milk, Oat Milk, and Coconut Milk
One of the most common questions we get about espresso machines is “does this machine froth alternative milks?” When we say alternative milk, we mean oat milk, soy milk, almond milk, and other non-dairy milks. Pretty much all of these milks can be frothed to use for lattes, but they all behave a little differently when steamed. We’re here to help you determine if that machine you’re looking at will work!
Can My Machine Steam Alternative Milk?
For most espresso machines, the answer is yes. Where this can change is with machines that use siphons to pull milk into a steaming chamber. We generally do not recommend alternative milks for siphon steam systems found in superautomatic espresso machines. This is because these systems are specifically designed for dairy milk, and using alternatives could be harmful to the components. With that said, we recommend reaching out to the manufacturer themselves to determine if a siphon based system can steam your favorite milk alternative.
If you have a cappuccinatore or traditional steam wand, you’re in the clear. Just make sure that you use proper cleaning and purging of the wand after each use just like you would with dairy milk. You’ll also want to do your best to get and use alternative milks formulated specifically for use with steaming systems. These cafe/barista specific oat, soy, almond, and coconut milks have slightly different formulas to help them make better microfoam and hold up to heat. Non-steam specific milks might curdle or break up when they come in contact with the acids present in coffee.
What’s the Best Milk Alternative for Lattes?
If you’re just looking for the best alternative milk to use in your morning cup of coffee, go with what tastes best to you. Almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and oat milk all have different flavors. The best option to go in your drip coffee or for a splash in an americano is whatever tastes best to you.
If you’re looking for a milk alternative to use in lattes for microfoam, soy milk is the best candidate. Soy milk has a great consistency for creating microfoam, and it’s temperature resistant so you can work it more with your steam wand without scorching it, up to around 149 degrees fahrenheit. Almond milk is a bit too watery to create great microfoam. It won’t lead to a bad latte, but you’ll have a hard time pouring latte art with it. On top of this, it won’t work well at temperatures above 130 degrees fahrenheit. Oat milk and coconut milk are similar, as all are low in protein. This creates an issue as they need longer steaming time to build microfoam, but they will work at temperatures around 149 degrees fahrenheit, so they can be used. Keep in mind that coconut milk becomes thick above that temperature! If you’re not going for latte art then these milks can still be a good choice for your espresso drink if you like the flavor.
Technique is pretty similar from alternative milks to dairy milk. The only significant difference is you may want to incorporate more air into the milk early due to the difference in proteins. Also, you might want to use a thermometer to watch your temperature, as alternative milks have different curdling/scorching points from dairy milk.