If you’re anything like us, coffee not only wakes us up in the morning, it’s a ritual – a way of life. Pour over, espresso machine, even coffee service with your breakfast catering? Take it black or add a splash of non-dairy alternative milk? Any way you brew or take your morning coffee is good with us.
Milk is the proverbial sidekick to the hero that is coffee. More and more people though, are becoming lactose intolerant or simply choosing not to drink cow’s milk for environmental or health reasons. It was only a few years ago that the alternative milk options were meager at best. In those wild, wild west days the only options at Starbucks were soy and almond…gasp! Dark days, indeed.
But lucky for us (and the planet), our beloved grocery stores dedicate whole aisles to alternative milk options. Cafes have expanded their offerings. Ice cream has gotten a makeover from all the non-dairy milks. There was even a shortage of Oatly oat milk last year due the plant-based drink’s popularity!
Everyone has an alternative milk at our table
Okay, maybe that not exactly how we say it. But we do mean it! Our fridge is always filled to the brim with all kinds of alternative milk options. Everyone has their preferences, but with so many types out there, it got us thinking: which one truly reigns supreme? Yeah, sure we could’ve just gone with the Google search results, but they left us wanting more! How does hemp milk stand up to rice milk? And what about the battle between the big two: oat versus almond?
That’s exactly why we conducted this Extremely Important Science Experiment™. So we gathered up some of our incredible staffers and held a comprehensive taste test of eight different alternative milks. ~The results will shock you!~
Before we really dive into the winners and sour milk losers, some housekeeping. This isn’t really a comprehensive guide because we only chose one brand for each of the eight milks (there’s so many of them!). We also decided to leave out some milk options – we were working with a budget, don’t @ us! We did however, go with the popular, unsweetened brands* of each of the following: hemp, cashew, oat, soy, rice, coconut, macadamia nut, and almond.
Our volunteer taste testers consisted of those who were the fastest to sign-up for the blind experiment. They came from different teams across the company for a truly diverse set of taste buds in the testing room.
Each taster splashed a bit of milk into a small cup of coffee without knowing the type of milk. Tasters dumped out any remaining coffee so as to not get too bad of a mid-morning crash. The alternative milks were scored 1 – 5 (1 being “terrible,” 5 being “incredible”) on taste, if the flavor overpowered the coffee, aftertaste, and whether or not tasters would use the milk as their go-to coffee creamer option.
Here are our alternative milk rankings from least favorite to best…
The alternative milk results you’ve all been waiting for
Can you believe it?! We were all shocked too! For years, almond milk was seemingly the most popular alternative milk option for soy-free, dairy-free folks. Between 2010 – 2015, demand for almond milk skyrocketed by 250%. It was, and still is, everywhere! But it also came under a lot of heat after experts discovered almond’s impact on the environment.
A lot of our tasters said this option tasted like “cardboard” and questioned its color: “why is it gray?” Although one taster mentioned they would use it if the office was out of creamer, half of the tasters said it was their least favorite of the options. Another taster said they drink almond milk “everyday” and that it was bad was a complete surprise. Talk about a fall from grace!
To be honest, we thought coconut milk would rank much higher! Coconut products dominate the shelves in grocery stores and beauty stands. At one point, coconut was deemed a “superfood” and products like coconut water, oils, cream, and others were thought to be a cure-all for many wellness-minded consumers. While the demand for coconut products shows no signs of slowing down, the tasters were not a huge fan of coconut milk in their coffee.
Most of the group said it either tasted like nothing or had a “slightly sour taste.” The majority of the group said they would not use this option as their go-to coffee creamer. Luckily, there are many other ways to enjoy coconut, so this result might not keep us up at night after all.
Rice milk just narrowly edged out coconut milk to take the third least favorite spot according to our tasters. The tipping point was its aftertaste. The group ranked it just slightly better than coconut milk’s. Many of the tasters felt offended by the look of the liquid as they poured it into their cup. The group was audibly taken aback by its color and wateriness, with one taster noting, “it looks a little scary.”
One punny taster proclaimed this one was, “a waste of milk time.” Ha! Despite its thin consistency and unsettling look, another taster noted it might do alright in an Americano. We won’t say no to that.
Have you ever tasted cashew milk? Do cafes sell it? Restaurants? Cashew milk, show yourself! In our circles it doesn’t seem like a popular option (but please reach out to us if you think we’re wrong).
To describe the taste of this milk, as it turns out, is to not really describe it at all. To the majority of our tasters, it really didn’t taste like anything. A few folks commented that this milk had a smooth texture – but it wasn’t enough to redeem its tastelessness. Based on the results, one taster’s description perfectly sums up this milk: “inoffensive.”
Hemp milk is one of those products you always see in the non-dairy milk aisle. You’re always curious to try it but it feels dangerous – like your parents are going to catch you drinking out of the milk carton. Well consider your curiosity quenched because we tried it for you! And the results were…average.
Hemp milk was the first alternative milk our tasters tried. People were initially confused by this option. Slightly nutty, kind of watery, but overall, not much flavor. If you’re into omega-3 fatty acids and protein-rich alternative milks, this one is for you. Otherwise, read on for our top three alternative milk options!
#3: Macadamia Nut
Macadamia nut milk! The under-the-radar breakout hit! Although all of our alternative milks were unsweetened, tasters described macadamia nut milk, or “milkadamia” as this brand so cleverly calls it, as sweet and creamy. The group was all about the smell – more so than any of the other milks.
If you find yourself day dreaming about a Hawaiian getaway while enjoying your morning coffee, this milk offers a complete sensory experience for you. We cannot guarantee that it will actually transport you there, though.
Okay, yes, it’s the same score as milkadamia – but hear us out! Soy milk narrowly beat out macadamia nut milk in taste. The kicker though is that once this milk’s identity was revealed, the tasters were completely floored.
Some tasters described its flavor as flowery and having a milk-like consistency. The group overwhelmingly listed soy milk as the most surprising of the eight milks tested. To quote one taster, “I was shocked by soy.”
I guess it’s almost unfair at this point to include Oatly oat milk in a taste test because – if its 2018 shortage was any indication – people go nuts for it. Many speculate about its popularity but most agree, oat milk is here to stay.
Our tasters think so too! The majority of the group ranked it as their favorite of the alternative milks, with a slightly sweet taste and ultra-smooth texture. Even upon first sip, a few of the tasters immediately identified the milk not by flavor – but by name. One taster proclaimed, “I would recognize this taste anywhere.” When one taster was asked their final verdict, they said, “oat milk is dank.” The highest of compliments, indeed.
The alternative milk battle is over…for now
Interestingly, the top two alternative milks were most like the very liquid they attempt to replace. Even though the rise of alternative milk says a lot about our eating habits as a society, our taste tester’s preferences were clear. The creamier, cow milk-like alternatives were simply hands-down better.
Maybe it’s the familiarity of dousing your cereal with milk before watching Saturday morning cartoons, or something else entirely – who knows! Whatever your preference, we hope this helps you and your team decide on a go-to creamer for that much-needed morning coffee.
*Disclaimer: we are not endorsing any of the brands or dissuading purchase of any of the brands used in this taste test.