The growing awareness around dairy milk’s impact on the environment has increased the popularity of plant-based milks in the specialty coffee sector.
Almost a quarter of adults believe plant-based milk is better for their health than cow’s milk. According to research by Mintel, oat milk is now the most popular plant-based milk in the UK. In 2020, it accounted for 40% of all plant-based milk sales.
As consumers increasingly come to expect oat milk as part of a coffee shop’s offerings, most have had to adapt to cater to this demand. For many specialty coffee roasters, this means sourcing and roasting coffees that will complement its unique texture and flavour profile.
Read on to find out what roasters can do to ensure their coffee pairs well with oat milk.
What is oat milk?
Essentially, oat milk is made of oats that have been blended with water. This mixture is then milled to a fine consistency before enzymes are added to break down the oat starch. The bran solids are separated from the liquid base, leaving behind oat milk.
Despite being similar to cow’s milk in creaminess, oat milk is slightly sweeter, making it ideal for white coffee drinkers who are looking for a dairy alternative.
Unlike dairy and other nut or soy-based milk products, oat milk is usually allergen-free and typically produced in a gluten-free environment.
Dairy and soy milks naturally have enough protein and fat content to create glossy, velvety microfoam for milk-based coffee drinks. A downside to oat milk, on the other hand, is that it does not naturally contain these properties.
As a result, a range of adulterated oat milks have become common. These are usually branded as “barista edition” oat milks and have been optimised for flavour and texture.
Milks used in coffee must be able to hold texture. Adding small amounts of sunflower oil or coconut cream to oat milk can help with viscosity and mouthfeel.
Also, the lecithins in sunflower seeds can help act as an emulsifier, binding water with fat molecules to help stabilise foams. This can help prevent the structural collapse of foams in drinks that require stiffer milk, such as cappuccinos.
When it comes to introducing extra proteins to oat milk, hemp or fava bean flour can be added. This helps with milk structure as protein has a stabilising effect on milk foams — operating as surface-acting components that capture air and help to create bubbles.
It also allows baristas to introduce a little more fat to improve mouthfeel without damaging the stability.
While adding fat to oat milk improves its texture, it must be done carefully, as fat can also inhibit foaming.
Which coffees go best with oat milk?
When pairing plant-based milks with coffee, it is important to consider the flavour profile of the milk itself, as well as the impact it will have on the drink.
Oat milk tends to be a blank canvas for coffee as it contributes very little flavour. This means it works well to highlight the characteristics of the coffee. For instance, oat milk may be a better option for specialty single origin coffees.
Generally, any processing method matches well with oat milk. However, using it in natural or honey processed coffees can allow the fruity characteristics to shine. Further to the flavour impact of naturals over washed coffees, they tend to result in coffees with more body.
This goes some way to offsetting the lower fat content when compared to full-fat dairy milk.
A number of excellent combinations can be achieved by pairing oat milk with coffees of any origin. East African coffees, particularly winey Kenyans or blueberry packed Ethiopians, are a traditional pairing with oat milk.
Alternatively, using oat milk with a developed Brazilian coffee with peanut butter and dark chocolate flavour notes may result in a malty finish.
What to consider when roasting for oat milk
Roasting coffee to pair it specifically with oat milk is a relatively new idea and could help roasters reach a new audience.
This strategy has worked well for Dutch coffee business Bocca, who includes specialty Ugandan robusta in the blend that was designed for oat milk. This helps to create more body in the cup.
To maximise the potential of any pairing, it is important to consider the difference between oat milk and dairy.
Oat milk has a different flavour profile: it tends to be sweeter, with less of its own acidity. This means it can help highlight the brighter notes in a coffee.
On the other hand, pairing oat milk with more developed roast profiles can help create a more full-bodied coffee. This is due to the higher concentration of oils that build up on the exterior of the beans during a longer roast.
As consumers show an increasing preference for plant-based milks over dairy, roasting coffees to complement their characteristics can help build a strong customer relationship and encourage repeat sales.
At MTPak Coffee, our online Education Centre is dedicated to sharing essential information with specialty coffee roasters around the world. We cover everything from roasting basics and coffee trends to the latest in coffee packaging and design.
Additionally, we can provide roasters with a range of sustainable packaging options made from sustainable materials such as kraft and rice paper, and polylactic acid (PLA). Our high-quality multilayer packaging offers protection from oxygen, heat, moisture, and light, while also showcasing a commitment to the environment.
For roasters who are experimenting with roast profiles that work with oat milk coffee, we also offer a range of low minimum order quantity (MOQ) options across three different bag structures.
These can be produced using fully recyclable materials, and can help keep costs to a minimum, allowing you to change your packaging designs without the need to pay for a whole new print roller.