If we care about our coffee, we should care about the milk we put into it – and that includes our dairy alternatives. Not all lactose-free milks are the same, just like not all coffee beans are the same.
There are lots of alternative milks out there, and almond milk is one of the most popular varieties. However, if you asked most baristas and coffee-lovers about it, they would be able to tell you surprisingly little this common coffee additive.
So I reached out to Peter Sullivan of Almond Breeze; Sam Trevethyen, Head of Coffee at Grind, London; and Luke Shilling of Cafe Culture International to ask them questions like: What actually is almond milk? How is it made? And can it make good latte art?
Spanish Version: Guía para Baristas: Leche de Almendras & Arte Latte
Almond trees in blossom on a Blue Diamond Cooperative farm. Credit: Almond Breeze
What Is Almond Milk & How Is It Made?
The name almond milk is actually a bit of a misnomer. However, almond extract was already taken, and it wouldn’t be entirely accurate either.
Almond milk is made by soaking almonds in spring water, grinding them, and then straining the liquid. The result is a slightly nutty beverage that can be used to replace milk.
“Almond milk is surprisingly easy to make,” Peter Sullivan of Almond Breeze tells me, “as there are few ingredients required.” That being said, the company also offers a sweetened version of the milk, which contains pure cane sugar.
Although almond milk isn’t actually milk, its texture is similar to cow’s milk – which is why it’s a popular alternative to dairy. It also contains vitamins and has a low calorie count.
A Blue Diamond Cooperative farm, where Almond Breeze sources almonds from. Credit: Almond Breeze
Almond to Cup: The Almond Supply Chain
In third wave coffee, we care a lot about “origins”. We know that where a coffee comes from and how it was farmed has huge implications for taste, quality, and sustainability. And we recently looked at the importance of knowing where your dairy comes from, too.
So why would dairy-free milks be any different?
There are over 30 varieties of almonds, according to the Almond Board of California. And around 80% of the world’s supply is grown in California, where there are 800,000 acres of almond farms (LA Times). This makes a transparent supply chain easier to maintain.
Take Almond Breeze: Peter explains that all their almonds are from Blue Diamond Cooperative in California. The cooperative is 3,000 members strong, and some of the workers are fourth-generation almond farmers. After being grown and processed in California, the almonds are then shipped to Europe to be made into almond milk.
With short supply chains like this, it’s easy for café owners to learn more about how a particular product is grown. Whether it’s farmer wages or sustainable practices, you can trace your almond milk back to the farm and find out everything you want to know.
Soon after the almond trees blossom, Blue Diamond Cooperative brings over a million colonies of bees to the almond farms for pollination. Credit: Almond Breeze
Almond Milk in The Café
Third wave coffee shops have been suspicious of alternative milks for a long time now. We’ve all experienced dairy-free milks that won’t foam or produce latte art. But does it have to be that way?
“Dairy alternatives are notoriously difficult to thicken up and use for latte art,” Luke Shilling begins to tell me. “But now, with some almond-based alternatives, you literally can’t even tell the difference.”
He adds that almond milks with a higher protein content tend to heat up better – protein is responsible for producing foam in steamed milk.
Peter agrees. “You can steam regular [almond milk]. However, the foam will begin to separate.” On the other hand, Almond Breeze has recently launched an almond milk designed for the coffee shop: Barista Blend. “[It] has a greater almond content and slightly different stabilisers, which allow for a better texture and long-lasting foam when heated,” Peter tells me.
Of course, protein content isn’t the only difference between almond and dairy milk. Grind in London also use Barista Blend, so I wanted to know how customers respond to it – especially since Grind uses the unsweetened version. The answer: health-conscious customers appreciate it. And when I ask about customers who want a sweeter profile, more like that of dairy milk, Sam says, “Nothing a twist of agave won’t solve!”
Almonds are mechanically harvested on this Blue Diamond Cooperative farm. Credit: Almond Breeze
Can You Do Latte Art With Almond Milk?
Although latte art isn’t essential to good coffee, it’s in many ways become expected. “Latte art has become an industry standard and customers have come to expect it on their coffee…” Luke says. “Latte art is just one piece of the coffee experience, but when done well it can brighten up someone’s day!”
It can take months of practice to master certain latte art designs, so I wanted to ask Luke and Peter if they had any more tips for making latte art with almond milk.
The answer? Buy good almond milk, and then just treat it the same as regular milk. “Ensure you have a nice shaped cup and a small milk jug,” Peter says. “Do not put too much air in the jug and only heat the milk to 65 degrees – when you can no longer hold the bottom of the jug, it is probably at that temperature. Angle the cup and keep a steady and consistent pour, close to the centre of the coffee as you bring it level.”
Latte art with almond milk? Yes, It is possible! Credit: Cafe Culture International
Being a third wave café owner, barista, or coffee drinker means caring about the small details. Where were the coffee beans produced and how were they processed? What grind settings are you using? Do you have the right temperature?
And milk – whether dairy, almond, or any other variety – should be no exception to this. So next time you go to buy almond milk, take a look at the protein content. Find out where the almonds were grown. And give that latte art your best shot. You might be pleasantly surprised by the result.
Written by Danielle Kilbride.
Please note: Almond Breeze is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind and was consulted in the creation of this article. They have received a courtesy copy of the article prior to publication but have exerted no editorial control over the final copy.
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