How Various Types of Milk Can Change The Taste of Your Coffee

13 March 2019

Good coffee isn’t just about the beans. Using the right type of milk makes a difference too.

Do you prefer a good, strong latte, a low-fat option, or a non-dairy one? Read on to see how different types of milk and its substitutes can cause a major shift in taste and composition.

The Science of Milk

Before we begin, we must understand that no milk cartons are created equal, even if they are under the same brand. Here’s why.

There are four essential components in milk that make its molecular composition – water, fat, carbohydrates and protein.

Fat in milk exists in the form of globules which stabilise the foam formation. A higher fat content means stable foam below room temperature; a lower fat count leads to stable foam at higher temperatures.

On the other hand, protein is the element that determines how well the froth holds up.

The composition differs between various types of dairy milk because it depends on the type of cows that are being milked and what they have been feeding on. That’s why each carton can taste drastically different.

Whole Milk

a barista pouring steamed milk to a cup of coffee to create latte art
Whole milk is known to be a barista’s best friend. Photo from Stocksnap

When it comes to steaming, frothing and making perfect latte art, baristas love whole milk.

Typically, its molecular composition has the right balance to create a smooth, creamy layer on the surface without drying it.

The high-fat content also makes the foam even more flavourful than milk itself. Let’s not lie to ourselves: fat tastes fabulous (add butter to your homecooked meal and you’ll see what we mean).

If you don’t have a frothing machine at home, try adding whole milk to your coffee for a creamier finish. Here’s some ways to froth milk at home, including using a microwave.

For the health-conscious, however, whole milk carries 4% fat, which is almost sinful.

Reduced-Fat Milk

a pink fruit smoothie
Some choose reduced-fat milk for protein shakes due to its lower saturated fat content than whole milk. Photo from Element5 Digital

Reduced-fat milk has 1-2% of fat content – a good balance between whole and skim milk.

Compared to whole milk, there will be a minute loss in flavour and texture. To some, what it lacks in robusticity, it makes up for in the lower fat content and guilt-free consumption.

If you are conscious about the fat content in dairy milk, here’s some dairy-free alternatives you can make at home.

Skim or Fat-Free Milk

a person lifting weights at the gym
Fat-free milk is a popular option among the health and weight-conscious. Photo from Victor Freitas

Some cafes refuse to serve skim milk… and for good reason.

Fat is what makes dairy products creamy and tasty. So skim milk, which has virtually zero fat, dilutes the coffee instead of adding flavour. Worse still, the foam isn’t able to retain its structure.

If you’re conscious about high-fat consumption, you don’t have to resort to diluted coffee.

There’s been sufficient research to indicate that your daily cup of coffee gives you a boost during your workout, intensifying your metabolism rate. Milk also boasts the ideal ratio of carbohydrates to protein, making it the perfect drink for recovery.

So, it’s more than okay to switch back to reduced-fat or even whole milk. After all, it is a sin to not drink coffee the way you like it. (Drinking diluted coffee may be an even greater transgression.)

The Substitutes

soy beans scattered across the table with a cup of milk on the table
Soy milk is a common alternative to dairy milk as cafes are accustomed to using it in coffee. Photo from bigfatcat

Non-dairy alternatives have been around for a long time but have gained popularity recently due to their health benefits and the impact of dairy on our environment.

If you are an avid drinker of soy lattes or almond milk, you would have realised that the drinks tend to curdle. This is due to a reaction to the acidity or high temperature. As a result, your coffee can taste more sour than normal.

Here’s more reasons why your coffee is sour and how to prevent it.

Additionally, alternatives such as soy, almond, oat and coconut milk already taste good on their own, boasting sweet, distinctive flavours. However, some coffee drinkers may get put off by this overpowering taste in their drink.

If you are sensitive to dairy, lactose intolerant or have a gluten-allergy, here is a more comprehensive guide to choosing the best plant-based alternatives for your brew.

Cleaning Milk from Your Coffee Machine

espresso being extracted from a black coffee machine
If not cleaned regularly, unseen milk residue can develop unwanted bacteria in your coffee machine. Photo from Tim St. Martin

Milk is packed with nutrients, but that also makes it a good breeding ground for bacteria if left in the open. It’s the same reason we all think twice about drinking a glass of milk that’s been on the desk for a few hours.

Now imagine the milk residue in your coffee machine. If you love your morning coffee, you’ll want to keep that taste consistently good.

That is why it is so important to descale your machine once every few months. Here is a guide on what to use and how to descale.

The Whole (Milk) Truth

There’s no accounting for taste. At the end of the day, it is what you prefer that makes the cut.

To some, skim milk best fits their diet plan. But for others, there’s nothing more satisfying than that creamy, frothy goodness you get from coffee with whole milk.

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