The Rise and Rise of the PBA(s)

As the health and wellness trend continues to gain traction in Ireland and many other western countries, the use of plant milk has exploded, once niche plant-based dairy alternatives (PBAs) are now commonplace on the high street.

Having a diverse and inclusive alternative milk menu that caters for the rising number of flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets is essential for a successful coffee shop menu today.

According to the recent survey led by Allegra UK, Health and wellness (27%) is the primary motivation for purchasing plant-based milk in a coffee shop – ahead of those purchasing because of intolerances or allergies (22%) and dietary preference (15%). This indicates the appeal of PBAs has broadened beyond health necessity or lifestyle choice, with these products attaining mainstream appeal.

Whether you choose non-dairy milk for ethical, health, or other reasons, it’s important to find one that doesn’t overwhelm the subtleties of your coffee.

The development of so-called ‘barista style’ PBAs, such as Alpro professional range, which better mimics the texture and foam of dairy, usually through the addition of plant-based oils, has further increased adoption among artisan and speciality coffee shops.

Why invest in great beans and learn how to make an espresso-based drink only to have it taste bad? Whether you’re a barista or consumer, understanding the differences among dairy-free milk can help you create a delicious drink.

Soy Milk

This is probably the best-known plant milk around the world. People have been using soy alternatives to animal products for generations. It is great not just for those who want to avoid dairy, but also for people with nut allergies. It is also widely available. But dependant on the manufacturer and additives, soy can either foam very well or not-so-well.

And how does it taste? Some say soy is great neutral-flavoured milk that can work well with speciality coffee. Others say it can be quite overpowering, but in general, the nutty flavour means that soy can complement coffee from South American origins but distort the qualities of African beans, which tend to have fruity notes.

Almond Milk

This dairy alternative has reportedly overtaken soy milk as the leading plant milk in recent years, it has refined and smooth taste. Some baristas might find Almond milk might curdle and separates during the pouring, it is more likely to happen with an acidic coffee and can also be caused by a large difference in temperature between the coffee and milk.

It can definitely complement a few light roasts but higher acidity cups will distort and get a weird sourness. Almond milk is also great to create Latte art, very manageable to pour and great texture.

Oat Milk

This plant milk is relevantly a newcomer in the PBA range, but it has quickly gained popularity, mainly because it has the most neutral flavour of all alternatives to dairy and doesn’t overpower the coffee. It has high and consistent performance, matches great with coffee, in both hot and cold drinks.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is creamy and rich, which helps it mimic the mouthfeel of a dairy-based drink. But it has a lot of saturated fat, which masks coffee flavours, and it has a distinctive taste of its own. There are a number of products combining coconut with other plant milk to bring body and creaminess to otherwise watery milk. It is quite versatile in hot or cold drinks.

Hemp, Hazelnut & Cashew

Hemp, hazelnut, and cashew milk are widely disregarded for speciality coffee drinks. These types of milk are less commercially available and can be more expensive than soy, almond, and oat products.

Hazelnut has a distinctive flavour that can mask or distort the nuances of the beans.

And hemp is too watery to work with, hard to maintain the texture, although it has a fairly neutral flavour, but for most baristas, it is very hard to work with, leaves undesirable watery, runny mouthfeel.

Cashew milk has a milder flavour than almond milk but is also naturally sweeter, which can be overwhelming in coffee. It also doesn’t foam well.

Read Part 2 of our PBA for Coffee Blog – How Plant-Based Milk Behave Differently To Dairy

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May | 2019