Just as there are many different types of coffee beans with their own unique flavour profiles, plant-based milks offer diverse tastes and characteristics that mirror their main ingredients.
Let’s say you want an aromatic hit in your hot chocolate — try using coconut milk instead of regular dairy. Or maybe you're looking for a lighter flavour? If this is the case, soy milk could be your perfect match.
But what about when you add coffee to the equation? Well, that’s when things start to get interesting.
MILKLAB caught up with Dom, co-founder of White Horse Coffee, to get some expert insights. Read on as Dom takes us through what you need to know about pairing coffee and plant-based milk.
Coffee beans are grown across the globe and the full list of coffee plant varieties is too long to share here — there are over 120.
That said, the majority of coffee beans from your local café typically fall into a handful of categories. In fact, most coffee beans come from one of two species: Arabica and Robusta. Additionally, most roasters also offer blends, which are ideal for pairing with milk thanks to their balanced flavour profile.
Arabica beans are the most popular variety, accounting for roughly 60 percent of global production. The Arabica plant is pretty sensitive to its growing conditions and grows best in equatorial regions with tropical climates such as Brazil (the world’s largest producer), Colombia, India and Southeast Asia. Arabica beans are known for their high quality and desirable smooth taste; they have relatively low acidity and display caramel or fruit notes.
With a stronger and less refined flavour, Robusta coffee beans are considered more of an acquired taste. You’ll often see Robusta coffee described as tasting dark and earthy with burnt or bitter notes along with less natural sugar and higher acidity than Arabica.
On the other hand, Robusta beans do contain quite a bit more caffeine than Arabica, so if you’re searching for some extra zing in your coffee, try a good quality Robusta blend, such as the Hokey Pokey blend from White Horse Coffee. Dom explains that this is a great option for those looking for something different, “[Hokey Pokey] is the first time we’ve started to roast Robusta in our blends. We originally developed this blend as a point of difference for some of our partners that wanted an intense morning coffee.
The extra Robusta presents well with alternate milks particularly and brings the coffee flavour forward in the cup.”
In addition to being an experienced roaster himself, Dom has also been a judge at the Golden Bean, the world’s largest coffee roasting competition.
He discusses the nuanced relationship between a coffee’s acidity and how easy it is to pair with milk, “There definitely is a belief that coffees with higher acidity do not pair well with alternate milks. Coffees that probably fit into this category would be those from Africa.”
He explains how his experience as a coffee judge has shown him that higher acidity coffees can in fact pair well with milk, “after judging countless coffees at the Golden Bean … I have witnessed and tasted many blends roasted by various coffee roasters that are composed of very expressive high acidity coffees. I believe that with professional and industry-leading coffee roasting and blending techniques you can create very expressive and dynamic blends that are high in acidity, present excellent coffee character, and elevate the alternative milk drinking experience.”
When considering a blend versus a single origin coffee for a white coffee, Dom believes a blend is usually the better choice. “The advantage of roasting a blend is that you get to balance unique character and acidity. This is extremely difficult to achieve when serving a single origin with milk. Whilst drinking a single origin with milk can be very educational and interesting, it’s definitely more reliable and consistent to be serving a blend with milk”.
White Horse Coffee currently offers three blends, Hokey Pokey, an organic blend, and the signature White Knight blend. All White Horse Coffee blends are created with balance in mind, Dom says, “Our aim is to create something that is well rounded, balanced and pairs well with milk. The perfect everyday coffee — nice and approachable.”
Each month, White Horse also offers four or five single estate coffees, from one country, displaying “unique acidity and terroir characteristics”.
The flagship White Knight blend is “… an extremely balanced blend that uses five origin coffees. It is a blend of African, Asian and Central American coffees”. There’s also an Organic Blend comprising 50% Ethiopian natural process coffee which Dom says “... adds an exotic strawberries and cream characteristic to milk drinks.”
Why is milk quality important? MILKLAB explores this question and uncovers why the quality of your milk is so critical to making good coffee.