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The Cappuccino Showdown: Almond Milk vs. Milk Milk

Title: The Cappuccino Showdown: Almond Milk vs. Milk Milk

Date: 31 March, 2012

Lab Partners: Me, myself and I. Ooh, does my espresso machine count?

Purpose: To determine which milk tastes better as a key ingredient in my beloved cappuccino.

Introduction: According to Wikipedia, A cappuccino (Italian pronunciation: [kapputˈtʃiːno]English pronunciation: /ˌkæpəˈtʃiːnoʊ/, meaning “Capuchin” or literally “small cap”) is an Italian coffeedrink prepared with espresso, hot milk, and steamed-milk foam. The name comes from the Capuchin friars, referring to the colour of theirhabits.[citation needed

I love to have a cappuccino in the morning before work. It’s great if you’re hungry but not quite ready for breakfast. It’s also a great way to quell my coffee craving early, so as not to be tempted to spend $4 at Starbucks during the day. As I am largely a tea drinker, usually that one morning cappuccino will keep me free from coffee thoughts all day.

Every once in a while I buy almond milk. I feel like I am being super healthy and responsible, and vow to remove milk and dairy products from my diet, even if just for a while. I start using almond milk in my morning muesli. I enjoy it with a smug look. Then the small carton gets finished, or half of it gets thrown out because I don’t finish it time. And months go by…

I think I’m afraid to give up milk and dairy all together because I love milk, cheese, yogourt, cream, etc., and because I bake A LOT. Now I know there are a million dairy alternatives out there, but I am sensing this is more of an emotional issue for me, rather than one of taste. I suppose a lot of our connections to food are emotional, aren’t they?

So here I go, putting these two milks head-to-head. I feel I am well qualified to run this study due to my love of coffee and nerdy attention to the details of milk frothing and also because I am a food science major. But why am I trying to prove myself here? It’s my blog and I’ll test what I want to (oooh, such a bad ass!)

Materials:


Two cup and saucer sets, espresso machine, two espresso shots (pulled at the same time), almond milk, milk milk, and agave syrup used as a sweetener (this is my go-to coffee sweetener. Its flavour is perfect for coffee and why not cut down on your sugar consumption where you can?).

Procedure:


In order to provide a fair assessment, I used a double shot basket when making the espresso so the coffee is from the same pull. Standardization is important in science experiments, right?

After warming both cups and setting aside, I started by steaming the almond milk. I pulled the double shot of espresso and prepared the almond milk cappuccino.

After cleaning the milk frothing wand thoroughly, I steamed the milk milk and prepared the second cappuccino.

Many photos were taken, both drinks were sweetened with an equal amount of agave nectar (approximately 1/2 tsp–my usual dose).

Visual and olfactory observations were made. Following this, a taste test was performed.

Results:

Even before I taste the samples, there are differences. The almond milk, with a lower fat content, did not leave a thick residue on the espresso machine’s milk frothing wand like the milk milk did. By looking at both samples, there are visual differences as well. Sample 1 appears to have a slightly smoother texture compared to the foamy texture of Sample 2. This is not rocket science, but to give you a better idea of the results, see the photos below:

Sample 1

What do you think?

Sample 2

Have you figured it out yet?

The almond milk has a lovely creamy aftertaste on its own and this creamy nuttiness is a great match for coffee. Milk milk has its own inherent sweetness too. I don’t like my coffee to be overly sweet, but I find myself adding more agave syrup to the almond milk cappuccino to achieve the same results as the milk milk one. Milk milk can’t be beat for its comforting flavour and delicate dulcitude (how’s THAT for an adjective!).

Are you ready for the reveal?

Conclusion:

Sample on the left: Milk milk-Sample 1; Sample on the right: Almond milk-Sample 2


I am a (milk) milk lover. Always have been. Friends jab and strangers pause when I request a tall glass of cold milk with dinner. Does anyone over the age of five drink milk with a meal? This girl does. Proudly. Is there anything that tastes better with spaghetti, or with beans on toast?

It must be said, however, that anything new takes some getting used to. And I assure you, I faced this showdown with an open mind. But it can be difficult to be objective when you are messing with a coveted daily ritual. If I was to remove dairy from my diet, almond milk would be a respectable alternative to milk milk in my morning coffee. Tea, on the other hand, would require something with a less prominent flavour.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I declare milk milk the winner here, but was there any question? I gave almond milk a fair and honest chance, but I’ll probably stick with (milk) milk.

Then again, I could be convinced to do a week- or month-long challenge if you’d be willing to join me. I am a creature of habit but I like to think of myself as open-minded too. What do you say?

UPDATE: The more I sip the almond milk cappuccino, the more I’m coming around. It’s creamy but without the fatty aftertaste. This would be great during the summer months, when I still crave a coffee hit but would like a less heavy feeling.  Hmmm, could this staunch (milk) milk lover become a convert?

Stay tuned…

Comments (53)

  • Actually for a while now I’ve faced the same dilemma. Historically for like ten years before my crazed meat eating better half I was vegan not super strict. So if I was at a friends house and they cooked a cake I might not have a huge slice but I wouldnt say no. Recently we have a few friends who choose not to eat animal products and put forward some great arguments which make me reconsider my dietary choices. But again I am a socialist so I don’t think consumer choice is the best way to change the planet. So I often more than often get my coffee with soy. Now I love all the milks soy almond rice for their distinct quality but soy does go really well with coffee.

    Reply
    • Thanks Mel. I didn’t know you were kinda vegan in your past life:) I have been thinking about leaning into it more and more, mostly as a way to eat healthy food in a new way. But I am not ready to give up meat all together. I should put more effort into finding responsibly prepared meats tho. Also experimenting with gluten free baking. It’s like learning a new language but may end up being a healthier way to indulge in baked treats that I love so much.

      Reply
  • […] link: The Cappuccino Showdown: Almond Milk vs. Milk Milk | dulcet … ← Grosche Zurich Ml French Press Coffee […]

    Reply
  • This is a really good comparitive post – nice work – definitely something to remember with all the coffee culture growth 😀

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru
    Latest: Bleeding Jam Marbled Mudcake

    Reply
  • Nice comparison Melanie! I always wonder about adding the Almond milk to my morning coffee. I tried coconut milk once, blech. I’ll give the almond milk a try though, it does sound like a good match for the espresso drinks like cappuccino (my fave!).

    I love how you think…you make me wonder and think too. Good things for me!

    Reply
    • Thanks Sarah. Actually it got a real convo going on facebook about vegan, dairy free, gluten free diets. Very interesting. I might be doing similar posts with soy milk, hemp milk…maybe not coconut milk from what you’ve experienced, eek!
      Sometimes it’s hard though, to compare a substitution to the “real thing” or what you are used to having. It makes it easier to see all the differences, rather than just start trying new things and getting used to those flavours…more to come on this topic for sure!

      Reply
      • Looking forward to THAT!

        I agree, it is hard to compare something to the real thing, but you never know what you’ll discover – it might be better!

        Reply
  • What a great post – love doing taste tests like this – thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much. I think there will be more to come…Are you a coffee drinker? What do you prefer? Milk? Cream? Coffeemate?

      Reply
  • if you have leftover almond milk, this is my suggestion:

    1 cup almond milk
    1 frozen banana, sliced
    1 big handful spinach
    1 tbsp natural peanut butter or almond butter

    throw in a blender or use an immersion blender and voila – green monster smoothie. this one tastes like a peanut butter banana milkshake – i have it for breakfast a couple times a week. love it!

    Reply
    • Really?! That sounds amazing! Thanks for the tip Byn. No more almond milk going to waste:)

      Reply
  • Thanks for this post! I’m a first time mom with a six week old and she is sensitive to the protein in milk milk. I have been dying for espresso and wondered how almond milk would fare. I will definitely give it a try. I might even get crazy and use chocolate almond milk for a mocha. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Morgan I’m glad I could help. I plan to conduct more showdowns with hemp milk, coconut milk, rice, soy and others. Stay tuned! And let me know what you think of almond milk in your coffee.

      Reply
  • […] investigate milk alternatives for my morning cappuccino. This is the second installment of the Cappuccino Showdown, the first test being performed on almond milk, which I have to admit put up one hell of a fight. […]

    Reply
  • For me, it is the viscosity that is the main issue w/ almond milk caps. Milk fat blends with and carries the espresso flavour without significantly diluting it. I have decided to try mixing almond milk with soy lecithin. Coconut milk is a waste and the same with rice milk, as they just water the espresso down. Almond milk at least compliments the espresso flavour. I’ve been reluctant to spend the $15USD for the smallest bottle of lecithin powder I could find, but I’ll get some when next in town and let you know.

    Reply
    • What a great perspective. I agree that almond milk cannot replace milk, but I suppose it isn’t meant to. It is a great alternative, though, and I agree that it complements the flavour of espresso. I have been reading a lot about the use of xanthan gum as a thickening agent, not just by gluten free bakers but by ‘mainstream’ chefs. It is also quite expensive, but I believe closer to $5-10? I might give it a try with rice milk. That is next on my list to test out. Have you tried Hemp milk? I have heard people really like that in coffee (not sure about cappuccino specifically).

      Reply
  • Nice article. I came across almond milk in the supermarket the other night and would have bought some save for not knowing how it would work for cappuccino (which is about the only thing I use milk for.

    It’s not that I’m vegan or vegetarian or anything else like that: I’d eat road kill if it was still fresh when I came across it. But I frankly don’t care for milk other than as a topping for my cappuccino. Never have, even as a child.

    Recently, I’ve taken to adding a drop or two of almond extract to the milk before frothing it, which gives it a rather interesting flavor; so when I saw the almond milk (which I never knew existed before), I thought it might be nice to try. But they only had it half-gallons and I didn’t want to buy it until I knew whether it would froth. I’m your basic tightwad, you see.

    Which reminds me: How long does the almond milk last after it’s been opened? That’s one of my complaints with “milk milk:” It starts to go bad before I get through the container. I live out in the boonies, and there aren’t too many choices when it comes to grocery shopping. If half-gallons are what the store stocks, then that’s the extent of my selection.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Thanks for stopping by! I believe that almond milk lasts for about a week in the fridge–that’s what the package says but I’m sure it lasts longer if it stays cold…Anyone else have a better answer on this? I am not a regular user of almond milk (though I think I should be).

      Almond milk is great in cereal too!

      Reply
      • I reckon the stores generally sell it in 946ml (32 ounce) containers – and yes, a week or so (it never lingers more than a day or so in my refrigerator!) If you are making your own, raw almond milk (better, as it isn’t cooked and nutrients killed), 5 days is the limit.

        My cappuccino “milk” recipe is 1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil, 1tsp raw agave nectar, 1 tsp stivia (sweets optional to taste)1 tsp organic soy lecithin and 400 ml (store bought almond milk). Add oil and lecithin and 100 ml or so of almond milk and let them warm together (In the sub tropics this can usually be done by leaving them on the counter. In cooler climates, let your mix warm over hot tap water – when warm, mix with an immersion blender or whisk until emulsified, gradually adding in the remainder of the almond milk as you blend…steam, froth, add espresso and enjoy.

        Did anyone try xanthum gum in lieu of lecithin yet?

        Reply
        • I haven’t tried yet, but excited to! Hopefully next weekend. Has anyone else had any luck in this area? I’d be interested to hear.

          Reply
    • In my experience, almond milk lasts quite a long time. Actually, all non-dairy “milks” I’ve come across seem to last a lot longer than dairy milk. Often close to a month. But I would test each time I used them after the 2 week mark.

      Reply
      • @Deanna,

        Thanks for your input! What kind of non-dairy “milk” do you use?

        Reply
  • A great experiment! I feel the same way about dairy. I would go as far as to say I am addicted to it, be it emotional oe physical or both. I am also happen to be a coffee-addict. So you can imagine what my cappuchinos mean to me. I’ve been trying to go vegan and cut off dairy completely from my diet for quite a while. But I always seem to come back. Mostly because I can’t give up cappuccinos and lattes. I love all non-dairy milks on their own, but when it comes to coffee… well, here you really need something very neutral-tasting, but also a little bit sweet and creamy to balance out the bitterness and the acidity of coffee. And cow’s milk is perfect for this, almost like coffee and milk very made for each other lol. Now, I’ve only tried cappuccinis with soy milk and… well, it’s not bad, but it’s not the same. The beany flavor of soy milk just doesn’t go well with coffee and it seems a bit too watery to neutraluze the acidity of coffee. But I live in Europe and here they only use the Alpro Soya brand in Starbucks and other coffee shops as far as I know, and that’s not the best brand I’ve tried, so I donno… This is why I was always curious to try other milk alternatives in cappuccinos, particularly oat and almond, to see whether they froth just as good etc. But I don’t own an espresso machine, so yeah… Anyway, great experiment. Thanks for posting!

    Reply
    • I totally feel your pain. When you substitute in something new, it will never be the same as the original you have grown to love. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t great options to try. I would definitely try almond milk and from what I’ve heard (but haven’t yet tried) making your own is both easy and of superior flavour. Also, I am the recent owner of an espresso machine, but for years (and still sometimes to this day) I happily use my stovetop moka and warm up my milk in the microwave or on stovetop and whip using a milk foamer from Ikea ($1.99 each if that). And it’s just as good. Let me know how your experimenting goes. I’d love to hear!

      Reply
  • Actually, I’ve been using the almond milk since my earlier post, and I think it’s somewhat superior to dairy milk for cappuccino — but I view the question subjectively, rather than taking the position that dairy milk is the gold standard and everything else is judged comparatively.

    I say this because about the only thing that can be objectively and qualitatively compared is the consistency of the froth. That’s objectively measurable, and I’ve found almond milk to consistently produce a slightly firmer froth than dairy milk. Whether that’s good or bad is, of course, a matter of opinion. Personally, I think it’s good.

    As for the flavor, that’s more subjective. I personally think the almost milk complements the espresso better than dairy milk does. It has a slight nuttiness (understandably, since it’s made from nuts) that actually became more noticeable to me in its absence when I ran out of almond milk and used dairy milk for a few days.

    Then again, I’m by no means a (dairy) milk lover. Even when I was a little kid I didn’t like it. I dreaded snack time in kindergarten because they tried to force milk down my throat.

    -Richard

    Reply
  • @Van, I tried xanthan gum this morning in my almond milk capp and it was amazing! I used about 1/4 tsp and could have done a better job at mixing it in, but frothed it with my steaming wand and while it still didn’t LOOK quite as creamy as milk, the mouthfeel and viscosity was thick and silky, just like cows milk. Amazing! I didn’t add the coconut oil or any other flavouring (I still love agave as a sweetener in my coffee). Anyway, wanted you all to know. Xanthan gum seems expensive but you use such a small amount it works out in the end. I’m excited to hear more about your experiments and results! Keep posting them here!
    Melanie

    Reply
  • Have you noticed that Almond Breeze no longer froths? Or is it just me and my Nespresso Aerocino?

    Let me know if you have experienced this. I have had it with 2 different packages in the past 2 months.

    Reply
    • Really? I must say I haven’t used almond milk in a while. Is anyone else noticing this? Peter, have you tried any other brands?

      Reply
      • Only Almond Breeze, the same one pictured above

        Reply
        • I’ll have to try it again. The last few times I added xanthan gum to give it a thicker silkier texture which was cool, except as soon as I added it to the coffee, it thickened up that too, which was a bit weird. I’ll let you know what happens.

          Reply
    • I doubt it’s your Aerocino. I’ve been noticing a trend of Almond Milks “no longer frothing” even though the ingredients and nutritional information has not changed. I’ve been tracking this with other brands like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods 365 Organic as well. You buy the “May” batch and it foams well and the “June” batch is just weak collapsing soap foam. Then back to “May” and it’s perfection.

      Anyone else have insight on why these formulas are changing batch to batch?
      ste recently posted..Frothing/Foaming Almond Milk (Cappuccino)My Profile

      Reply
  • Try making your own almond milk. It’s really easy and probably costs less if you can buy almonds at wholesale prices. I add some fresh vanilla beans (cut and scooped straight from the pod) and it’s a super tasty cooling drink. It’s also alkaline, so very good for you. Really settles the stomach as well. Just drank my first almond vanilla cappuccino… very nice… better than soya milk imo and soya consumption has a lot of ethical / environmental issues to deal with. I think I could alternate this with real milk for my cappuccinos…

    Reply
    • Oooh, vanilla beans–great idea, sounds delicious. I am travelling at the moment but should be more settled soon. Will definitely give this a try. Thanks for your input, Fred!

      Reply
  • Almond milk is easy and fun to make and doesn’t require housing a cow. Almond milk doesn’t promote mucus, digestive issues or disrupt your endocrine system like milk can do. Almond milk is perfect for those who can’t digest the casein protein or break down the sugar in milk, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream and all dairy products. Almond milk is a great dairy alternative for those with autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Almond milk is high in protein, low in fat and perfect for those with diabetes.:

    Reply
    • Thanks for your input Tony. Anyone else have anything to add?

      Reply
  • I guess the “milk-milk” is cow milk because i assume you’re not using human breast milk. ? Try making your own milks – pecan, hazelnut, etc. 🙂

    Reply
    • p.s. my favorite was hempmilk. 🙂 Living harvest brand

      Reply
    • Yes Cherie, cow’s milk 🙂 Oh, but I love the idea of pecan or hazelnut milks, yum!

      Reply
  • Melanie,

    Thank you for posting this. It was very informational and funny. I googled almond milk cappicino after making my 1000th one. I love my weekend cappucinos:) and my weekly espressos. I freshly ground organic beans and sometimes even use my own almond milk. Granted homemade almond milk doesnt contain the usual additives in store almond milk so takes longer to froth up. Anyways, Ive tried all brands of almond milk and highly recommend using whole food’s 365 almond milk(original, unsweetened) they sell it in half gallon jugs.(2 for 6.50~ish)It tastes fresh and clean, cheap too. Im also that guy who never sweetens his coffee. I prefer the raw, black strength. But, when I want to go all out, I will put a dab of RAW honey(tastes WAYYYYYY better) into the esspreso pot and a dab in the milk before I froth it. (I heard agave isnt whats its cracked up to be). Also all these milk haters are right. The whole milk industry is messed up. hopefully you live in a state that RAW milk is still legal. Dont get me wrong, I still love to use quality cheeses in my cooking and I enjoy organic greek yogurt everyday. I hope this info helps!

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading, Steven. I am now in NZ so no Whole Foods for me so I’ll have to check out our local organics store to see their selection of almond milks. Good for you making it yourself! I do hear a lot of people disagreeing with the use of agave syrup…again I only really stopped using it in my coffee because it’s much harder to find here (and much more expensive when you do). I like the idea of adding a bit of honey into the espresso pot and into the milk–I’ll have to try that! Now I must go and make myself my morning coffee:)

      Reply
  • I love almond milk in my coffee. I use to drank 1/4 of gallon of regular milk everyday and it was so bad for me, so I quit and switched to almond milk. I don’t rarely drink almond milk plain, but I love it in my espresso. I think HEB Almond Milk is the best since I’ve tried a lot of different brands.

    Reply
    • HEB Almond Milk. And where do you by that Mikhail? Are you based in the USA? Or elsewhere?

      Reply
  • I can’t have 2% milk because of the carbs so I’ve switched to almond milk, which froths very well in my aeroccino (seems to favour the lowest fat milk possible). It is less sweet due to the lack of lactose, though unless you buy “unsweetened” almond milk will have added sugar to compensate.

    Oh and, btw, agave is pure sugar. 😛

    Reply
  • I googled and found this article as I was looking for a milk alternative due to health reasons (no, not I want to at more healthy, rather milk milk was not agreeing with my digestive system.)

    “The covenanted morning ritual”… AINT THAT THE TRUTH. One does not mess with a coffee drinkers morning pilgrimage (wash, grind, load, brew, pour, etc)

    I am 32 year veteran Chef and Ive always told people… “If youre looking for healthy, dont come ’round here.” But the milk milk (whole milk mind you) is just not working for me any more. Most jump on the “youre just lactose intolerant” wagon… but oddly enough I can eat cheeses, yogurt, whipped cream, etc… just not milk.

    Im going out and buying some almond milk and giving it a shot.

    Reply
    • That’s great to hear! So…how did it go?

      Reply
  • I don’t have time to read thru all the comments above, but if no one else had made mention, Coconut flavored Almond Milk by Califia is THE BEST. You will not miss milk milk, believe me. Enjoy !

    Reply
    • Tina, thank you that’s great! No, no one has mentioned that yet. I am now living in NZ and getting almond milk in a coffee shop is near impossible (they’re just starting to offer it in Oz I think) but I will definitely check to see whether or not I can find Califia here. Coconut flavour, YUM!

      Anyone else tried it?

      Reply
  • So i came across your blog while drinking my first almond milk espresso (ok fine so I googled ‘almond milk espresso’). I was really pushing the expiry date on my regular milk milk and so I reached over for my wife’s coveted almond milk (she wasn’t home so please don’t tell her). While frothing I noticed that the almond milk was more ‘bubbly’ and not as creamy as milk milk (can we come up with a better term for this? Maybe milkmilk or legit milk). As soon as I had the first sip someplace in the back of my mind (I think it was the back of the right side of my head) started declaring the experiment a failure. Like you, I wanted to give it the benefit and kept sipping. I can see how I could potentially switch from milk milk if I was on an island with streams of almond milk but no cows but for now I’m in New York and while we don’t have cows roaming around, I do have a grocery store across from me that sells fairly fresh milk milk (I must ask them where they keep the cows). Overall, milk milk wins and dairy will remain in my life like a comforting reminder of an age before we stopped doing physical labor and started blaming diet for expanding sideways.

    Reply
    • Danial your comment made me smile–thanks for getting involved in the experiment. I find almond milk works in coffee when you’re having a stovetop espresso or filter coffee, rather than trying to replace the soft creamy cappuccino topper. At least we know we have options should cows milk disappear. Cheers!

      Reply
  • Hi thanks for the interesting comparison,thought i would throw in my 10 cents worth. I recently started “The Liver cleansing diet” Sandra Cabot so stocked up on veges, fruit and all things healthy including a kg of raw almonds and a litre of almond milk.
    I tried the almond milk with my morning coffee and I actually preferred it to milk.
    Enter my friend Rudy who had a look at the almond milk I had purchased and made the point that it contained a number of additives such as Xantham gum and many others, Hi question to me was “why don’t you make your own milk”?
    Answer didn’t know how hmm turns out it’s REALLY EASY.
    Take one cup raw almonds soak overnight in filtered water.
    Rinse twice then place in food processor I use a nutriblullet
    Add 4 dates
    1/4 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 tsp vanilla extract or pref 1/2 vanilla bean pod
    pinch salt
    2 cups filtered water
    blend 45seconds
    strain through an almond bag (available online) or thin tea towel or muslin cloth
    Result …. amazing almond milk slightly sweat and way better then the store bought equivalent
    store in fridge and shake before use
    n.b. you can mix the leftover pulp with muesli or make biscuits with it.

    Reply
    • Thanks for adding to the conversation Clay. It’d be great to hear feedback from those who make their own almond milk too. I’ll definitely have to give it a go. I like that you add cinnamon, yum.

      Reply
  • Why are you calling it “milk milk”? It’s cow’s milk. Almond milk or cow’s milk is the comparison here. So there is a huge benefit to cows if you choose almond milk.

    Reply

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