You may have noticed recently that soy milk isn’t really a thing anymore. Where the bland, chalky by-product of soy beans once reigned supreme in the world of non-diary coffee-related beverages, over the course of the last two to three years it’s fallen out of favor. For good, if not entirely scientifically proven reasons (soy is a phytoestrogen and was thought to have estrogen-like effects on its fans — i.e. men growing boobs, etc.), soy has been tossed in the waste bin next to banana-flavored syrup and Rice Dream. In it’s place, we — the non-diary latte consumers of the world — have crowned almond milk as the new king. And to be frank, we’ve made a poor decision.
If soy milk was a passively disgusting alternative to animal’s milk, then almond milk is an aggressively poor substitute for the palate-savvy coffee drinker.
Even worse, as more and more coffee drinkers become fans of almond milk, more and more coffee shops are offering it as the only non-dairy option, leaving those lactose intolerant latte lovers without a leg to stand on.
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My argument isn’t a complicated one: almond milk, regardless of your enjoyment of non-dairy options, pairs poorly with espresso or coffee in general. Sure, almond milk, when steamed to utmost perfection, is a fine, even decent tasting plant-based milk to mix with your espresso.
That said, when almond milk is not steamed to perfection it takes on a bitter flavor, gritty texture, and inconsistent thickness that completely subsumes any nuance or flavor profile your 2.2 ounces of espresso might have lingering within it. What you get instead of a smooth, creamy drinking experience is something similar to licking the side of an antique cauldron that hasn’t had time to cool down — rusty, flecked with non-soluble chunks, a flavor made for cartoon spit-takes.
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Yet, the non-dairy coffee consumers amongst us seem to genuinely enjoy steamed almond milk as much as they once enjoyed the boob-growing delights of soy. Just like with soy before it, the lactose averse drinkers of the world are forced to claim allegiance to almond milk’s astringent flavor because they don’t really have any other option. Sure, you could bring in your compostable carton of hemp, rice or coconut milk for the barista to half-assedly steam, but be realistic: none of these are viable espresso pairings. Rice milk is like a milkier gruel, hemp milk is like rice milk but slightly less gruel-y, and coconut milk should be reserved for curries and tropical beverages with tiny flags sticking out the top.
Those who enjoy a non-animal milk beverage are left with the new crop of other nut-related “milks” like macadamia and cashew currently trying to push their way into the market. If you haven’t tried macadamia milk, it’s a less acrid, far sweeter version of almond milk — one that’s lacking the gnarly thickness that makes its grosser cousin more palatable to latte drinkers.
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So why haven’t we bid adieu to almond milk and its brutal dismantling of all things good about espresso? Because macadamia milk — or cashew milk or whatever “milk” we deem worthy of assuming almond milk’s heavy crown — hasn’t pushed far enough into the public consciousness. Yes, you can get an excellently prepared macadamia milk latte from a handful of coffee shops (San Francisco’s St. Frank and Los Angeles’ Go Get ‘Em Tiger to name two) but because of the implied novelty of the beverages, they’re both hard to find and overly expensive.
And here’s the greater rub: macadamia and cashew milk are delicious dairy alternatives, when prepared correctly. If and when one of these non-dairy options becomes popular enough to usurp almond milk’s throne, to get it’s own mass-produced compostable, plastic bottle, it will once again be subject to the whims of ill-trained baristas. It will once again be subject to poor preparation and the harsh flavor profiles that come with it.
If there’s a solution to the non-dairy problem, I don’t have it.
Instead, maybe it’s our destiny to float from one acceptable milk alternative to the next, always hoping that we’ll find that unicorn beverage that stands up to a shitty baristas over-steaming and still tastes good when dumped atop coffee. Until then, well…there’s always the abandonment of your lifetime philosophy of not eating animal-based products. Or you could just try drinking your coffee black.
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