got (non-dairy) milk?

In Eat, March 2019 by Lauren Kruchten

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Cow’s milk doesn’t cut it anymore.

If you’ve been to virtually any Raleigh coffee shop lately, you’ll notice the list of non-dairy milk alternatives available for cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos and other espresso drinks. This list ranges from the now-standard almond milk, to coconut milk, oat milk and even macadamia nut milk, at innovative cafés including Sir Walter Coffee and Jubala.

Coffee shop owners say these alternatives are regularly requested, even among customers who are perfectly capable of drinking cow’s milk without any adverse health effects. Ashley Vegetabile, the manager of downtown Raleigh’s 42 & Lawrence, says she noticed the non-dairy milk trend starting a year and a half ago, when new research (and well-timed Netflix documentaries) highlighted some of the negative aspects of dairy. Vegetabile says she personally switched to almond milk because of its higher calcium content compared to cow’s milk—a cup of whole milk contains about 30 percent calcium, while a cup of almond milk clocks in at around 45 percent.

But it’s not just the health-conscious or those who suffer lactose intolerance who crave milk alternatives. Benelux Coffee owner Sam Shaber says he sees a whole range of customers ordering non-dairy milks for their drinks, no matter their age or economic status—even though these alternatives can cost 75 cents to $1.50 extra, depending on what drink they’re going in.

Environmental factors may also contribute to customers’ choices, Shaber notes.

Climate experts report that the dairy industry is responsible for up to 4 percent of all human-caused carbon gas emissions, mostly in the form of methane from cow farming. And while almond milk has become an ever-popular alternative to dairy, it also takes a toll on the environment due to the large amounts of water required to manufacture it.

This is why Shaber decided to add oat milk to his lineup at Benelux, an option that quickly became popular. “When we switched to oat milk around a year and a half ago, it really made an impression on customers,” Shaber says. “Repeat customers would come back for oat milk; it brought a lot of happiness.”

The different non-dairy milk alternatives can change the taste and textures of an espresso drink, a quality that further plays a part in customers’ choices.

Jazlyn Vogt, the operations manager at downtown’s Sir Walter Coffee, says oat milk is probably the closest alternative to dairy milk in consistency, which is why it has become a popular choice at her coffee shop as well. Using oat milk results in a smooth, creamy latte without affecting taste, Vogt says.

Almond and macadamia milk, on the other hand, noticeably affect taste and texture in various espresso drinks. Almond milk is thinner, making it harder to steam into a thick consistency, and adds a nutty almond flavor, which can almost taste bitter in a latte or cappuccino. Macadamia milk, on the other hand, lends a touch of sweetness, with a delicate vanilla flavor.

You may have noticed that soy milk, once a common offering originally marketed for those who are lactose-intolerant, is not widely available at coffee shops any longer. Studies emerged showing that soy milk contained high levels of estrogen, and led to other adverse health conditions including thyroid disorders and reproductive issues.

So, which milk is the best milk?

It’s not that easy to say. Each has its own pros and cons, while flavor profiles play a big part as well. But it’s pretty clear that cow’s milk is losing ground to these alternatives, whether for customers’ health consciousness, taste preferences, allergies, or other reasons.

One thing’s for sure, your latte game is about to get a lot nuttier…or, well, oat-rageous.

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