The Cappuccino Showdown Pt.2: Coconut Milk vs. Milk Milk

Welcome to Part 2 of an ongoing series pinning dairy free milk alternatives against cow’s milk. Game on.

Title: The Cappuccino Showdown Pt.2: Coconut Milk vs. Milk Milk

Date: 20 June, 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. And hey, why not experiment with some dairy free alternatives?

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

The last time I was at the grocery store I spied the coconut milk sitting neatly next to all the other dairy-free milks: almond, soy, rice, hemp. Wait a minute, I thought, could I use coconut milk in my cappuccino?! Why not! It seemed like a great idea! The thought of the tropical fragrance and nutty aftertaste should match really nicely with coffee. And there was only one way to find out.

So here we are, back in the science lab, otherwise known as my kitchen, to further 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. Almond milk is the first dairy alternative I tried in my coffee and while not my first choice in the morning, it definitely makes its way into the coffee rotation perhaps more than I’d like to admit.

As you may know from my previous coffee testing, I am a huge fan of ‘milk’ milk. But I am always up for some experimentation in the kitchen, and for making substitutions where possible, as long as I’m not sacrificing flavour. So for the many people of this world who either can’t drink cow’s milk or choose not to, I am rolling up my sleeves and putting on my lab coat again.

Let’s get started:


Two cup and saucer sets, espresso machine, two espresso shots (pulled at the same time using LavAzza coffee), coconut milk, ‘milk’ milk (1% milk fat), 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?).


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 coconut milk. I pulled the double shot of espresso and prepared the coconut 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.


After dispensing a dose of coconut milk into the metal frothing jug, I noticed a mild, delicate, sweet scent, almost like sweetened condensed milk, but less pungent. It was bright white in colour, similar to porcelain.

As soon as I began to froth the coconut milk, you could see how different it behaved to ‘milk’ milk. It produced larger, thinner bubbles and heated up much faster. My hypothesis for this is that the difference in fat content of each sample affects the behaviour of the liquid.

It should be noted, however, that even though the bubbles of the coconut milk sample are larger and less uniform in size, they are quite stable, maintaining their shape after sitting for approximately 5-10 minutes.

The ‘milk’ milk has a mild scent and looks less translucent. The colour is also slightly different, appearing slightly more off-white or cream. But surely you’ve seen milk before, so I will keep it brief. Needless to say ‘milk’ milk is more than adept at responding to the hot steam frothing wand, arranging itself into a uniform, stable cream.

And now onto the taste test.

I thought it might be extra scientific of me to test the coconut milk sample prior to adding agave syrup to sweeten it, you know, to taste the ‘real’ flavour. It should also be noted here that I have never tasted coconut milk on its own before now, which might have been a mistake and is duly noted in my scientific records. It gives me little context in this taste test.

The taste without sugar? Akin to sour milk as it hits the tongue with a lightly nutty aftertaste. Bad enough to make a face. Is it possible that I burned the milk?

The next step was adding the agave syrup. Same ‘ewww’ except slightly sweeter . Double ‘ewww’. After further tasting the term ‘blech’ came to mind. The sweetened coconut cappuccino may not taste quite as bitter, but still just as offensive. How could this taste so bad? How could it be so wrong? I am starting to understand the frustration and plight of the scientist.

The ‘milk’ milk on the other hand, well, where do I begin?

Maybe it’s best to let the pictures to the talking.

Ah, such a thing of beauty.

I would like to state that I do realize there is some skew to the results. For example, I possess months of practice using my espresso machine to foam ‘milk’ milk. Besides the terrible taste, I do believe that with practice I could have achieved slightly more appealing results to the coconut milk foam. But I think we’re done here. Not sure there’s any point trying to improve the appearance when the taste is…disgusting. I also must emphasize that I have a love affair with ‘milk’ milk and with cappuccinos, so this is a tough, yet wildly fun exercise. I do want to make it clear, though, that I approach each Showdown with the openest of minds and encourage you to keep me honest in my scientific endeavours.


In my opinion, backed up by somewhat scientific results, oconut milk in cappuccino is pretty gross. I did have high hopes for the tropical drink, but it just wasn’t up to the task. Some things just aren’t meant to be I guess.
So to wrap up, ‘milk’ milk is still the winner in my books, but in the matter of dairy free milk alternatives, here are the flavour results to date:
1. Almond Milk
2. Coconut Milk
I love these Showdowns and I hope you do too. Please share with me your coffee secrets and experiences and I’d love to hear what you think of coconut milk in coffee if you’ve tried it–yay or nay? Or, maybe I’m doing it all wrong? 
Stay tuned for more Showdowns coming soon. We still have Rice milk, Soy, Hemp, others?

Comments (38)

  • Shame that coconut milk was a bust, Uris would have been super exotic 😀
    Beautiful photos though!!

    Choc Chip Uru

  • Interesting that you disliked the taste of the coconut milk! I buy Coconut Dream (unsweetened/original) all the time and use it in smoothies and cereal (and the occasional chug from the bottle). I don’t like it in coffee though – it tastes sour. Weird that I like it straight but not in coffee!

    P.S. Soy milk is really bloody good in capps…I’ve been getting soy bulldogs from Bulldog and they’re delicious!

    • Yeah, I really want to try coconut milk both on its own and in cereals and other recipes, not coffee. For some reason they just don’t go together. But that’s ok. I have yet to try soy milk–might be my last choice of all the milk alternatives. But it definitely will get tested! No milk stone shall be left unturned! Any others you’re enjoying, besides soy?

      • Naw I’ve only done almond, soy, and coconut…hemp sounds interesting but is way too expensive.

        Wait I lie – I’ve had rice milk! I liked it – it’s very sweet though (even without added sugar. Weird?)

  • I’ve never thought of putting coconut milk in my coffee but it makes so much sense.

    • Do you use coconut milk for anything else? I am yet to try it but thought maybe in muesli or something.

  • Try hemp milk. And hazelnut milk. I love hemp milk lattes!

    • Kim thanks for these suggestions. I just saw hemp milk recently and was blown away–I had no idea it even existed. And hazelnut milk! That also sounds delicious. They’re both now on my list for future showdowns. Thanks for stopping by.

  • This sucks – I prefer soy milk (unsweetened), but would love to do coconut or almond milk…. now, maybe not! 🙁

    • You should definitely try almond milk, it’s very good (just not as good as regular milk). I still haven’t tried soy but so far is the crowd favourite.

  • So I’ve long held that coconut milk is the worst for this sort of thing, but I’ve just been experimenting with adding coconut OIL to my almond milk (1 tsp/8oz) and it offers the fantastic fatty acids, no sugars or carbs to my almond milk. The foam doesn’t hold as long as dairy milk, but it _is_ a decent microfoam. Coconut oil is fairly neutral in taste. So 1 tsp Coconut oil + 8oz Almond milk = 120 calories, negligible carbs and no sugar.

    • What an inspired idea. I’d love to give this a try. How else do you use coconut oil?

  • Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so you need to melt it in the microwave then temper it into almond milk. I’m debating if the use of an immersion blender might be useful. We’re in early days here on this one. This mix has so many better nutritional considerations than dairy milk. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, high in lauric acid – making it exceptional for increasing hdl (“good”) cholesterol.

    I often will put a tbsp coconut oil into my steel cut oats when cooking it, helping to carry the cinnamon and/or cardamon flavour throughout and providing more satisfaction and compounding the “heart healthiness” of that morning meal. I use stivia for my sweetener.

    I also use coconut oil for stir fries and occasionally mix it into smoothies.

  • Thanks @Van, this information is so fascinating–I’ll have to give it a try.

    • Just got some lecithin to try, too. Don’t overdo the coconut oil in the almond milk!

      • Uh oh what happened?

        • I haven’t tried the lecithin yet. I meant that too much oil is not good. Keep it to 1 tsp! heh heh I’ll let you know how the lecithin worked tomorrow or the next day.

          • Awesome. I can’t wait to hear your results.

  • First run through:

    In a measuring cup – 1tbsp coconut oil, 1 tbsp lecithin, 2 drops of almond extract and 1 of vanilla extract ` Tbsp agave nectar and 1 tsp stivia. I filled to 600ml with almond milk. whisked together. Wonderful foam, silkier texture, marvelous taste. I always used 300 ml of dairy milk and 2X shots. The next time you feel you need more agave, try adding stivia to supplement – it works better augmenting than carrying the starring role sweetener role. I think the milk’s consistency is more like dairy this way. The extracts might have been overkill. heh heh

    I reckon it’s the sort of thing you can make one or two times per week, or just mix the almond milk completely with coconut oil and lecithin. Also, making any nut milk is much cheaper (and fairly easy) at home. Also, you can control the water content better this way.

    • Do you know if adding the coconut oil and lecithin to an entire container of almond milk will maintain its stability? I suppose you could shake before serving.
      I really appreciate you sharing all this information. Are you always this experimental in the kitchen? Or just about coffee?

      • You can shake it, but after several hours, the almond milk is stable. I did find that using the immersion blender made a massive difference.With the whisk alone, the lecithin remained a tiny bit grainy.(I could only buy lecithin granules) The microfoam remained stable and firm though. Being without a high speed blender, the immersion blender is really helpful in smoothing out the lecithin, incorporating it.

        I get a bit adventurous in the kitchen, generally; coffee really gets me going though. heh heh. I had to turn my diet around for medical reasons this year, so there has been more experimenting than usual. The jar of organic lecithin granules was about $18USD/lb.

        • So you are using the immersion blender to incorporate the lecithin and I assume similtaneously frothing it for coffee? Or does the blender simply mix the two until you are ready to enjoy coffee?

          • The stick blender is just to incorporate the oil and lecithin. I’m keeping the half gallon of almond milk I made with the oil and lecithin in a rubber maid bottle and using a bit for steaming as needed (shaking before use, like almond milk from the store.). The lecithin just stabilizes the oil in the almond milk. The foam is not precisely the same as with dairy milk, but it is pretty good. The almond milk – on it’s own – is creamier this way – and I reduce the water content by about 1/3 from the mix in the stores to begin with. Buy the almonds in bulk and remember to soak and rinse for at least 8 hours..Read up on coconut oil; it’s pretty amazing stuff.

          • I intend to! Thanks for opening up this topic to us. I can’t wait to hear more from you!

  • Agave syrup! *Gasp* Don’t you know that it’s higher in fructose than HFCS!? The only thing going for agave syrup is that it’s low GI, even then it’s not worth the trade-offs.

  • Thanks for all these comments. I had been having great luck frothing coconut milk with my Briel cappuccino maker but recently bought a Rancilio Silvia and have had NO luck frothing unsweetened Coconut Dream or So Delicious unsweetened coconut milk. So frustrated, and missing my coconut milk Americanos in a serious way. Maybe I will just keep trying….seems that if it worked with the Briel it SHOULD work with the Silvia – yeah, I never got the same microfilm as with dairy milk, but that didn’t bother me as it tasted great – I sometimes also added a bit of coconut oil to the espresso before adding the coconut milk – tasted great. 🙁

    • Sara, keep us posted on your new machine. Hope it’s just a matter of getting a feel for it. And thanks for adding your tips about adding coconut oil.

  • Damn, thanks very much for posting this! It is going to be so helpful when I buy Coconut Milk at the market! So Magnificent!

  • I normally add a good 2 tbsp or so of coconut milk to my black coffee in the morning, but am still yet to try frothing it. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but it doesn’t seperate the way almond milk does, which is great for me! Just a thought, the optimum temperature for frothed almond milk is 50°C (before it starts to taste nasty), I’m wondering if coconut milk behaves in a similar way and can only be heated to a warm temperature?

  • Next time, use Thai coconut milk. Make sure it’s full fat. I literally just made a coconut milk cappuccino for the first time and it was heavenly!

    • I’m definitely up for giving it another go, and yes I agree it’s gotta be full fat. Ooh, I might try a Vietnamese coffee (with sweetened condensed milk) while I’m at it! Thanks for the reco Marco!

  • Thanks for the inspiration, Marco! I just tried making my cappuccino with full fat canned coconut milk, and I really enjoyed it. It definitely tastes different from milk, but not sour. And the “foam” was not nearly as foamy. Maybe if I keep at it, I can get a better foam, but the taste was really nice. I also add a dash of chicory root powder to my LavAzza espresso when I pull the shot.

  • I go back and forth using almond or coconut milk in my cappucinos and don’t have that bitter “Bleh” experience, and I’m super sensitive! Today, however, I put just a tiny trickle of Vanilla syrup in with the espresso before adding my frothed coconut milk (Silk, original, unsweetened) and it was great! I’ve found that almond doesn’t froth as well.

    • All I have is a little hand held frother but it’s very powerful. It may sound strange but I tried using silk coconut milk (comes in a carton) plus I added a bit of liquid egg white. Foams up very well. There is a slight eggy taste, but overall I like it a lot. I tried adding a bit of Coconut oil to the milk but it didn’t seem to do much. Again, all I’m using is the microwave and the hand held frother. May try the lecitin as well.

  • Just tried half coconut milk and half heavy cream. Worked well. Foam was more fine and uniform like milk and had a subtle coconut flavor. I did not detect any sourness.

    • Thanks for the tips, Justin. Sounds delish adding some heavy cream. I’ll have to re-run the recipe soon and see if I feel the same about the initially results.

  • So, if you pulled your shots after steaming the coconut milk, one shot pure mug, poured the coconut milk in and then, steamed the regular milk before adding it to the second shot, of course the coconut milk one will be less bitter because you added it immediately. Shots “die” within roughly ten seconds and become more bitter and intense, so if you add something before the shot does it will preserve the less bitter flavor, but if you don’t add something after the shot has died the entire drink will taste more bitter.

    So, a drink made with a fresh shot and one with a dead shot will not be an accurate comparison. It would be better to pull a new shot if you can’t add the milk to both shots immediately.


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