Milk In Your Coffee - Which Milks Best Enhance Your Brew

13 min read DEC 24, 2023

Most people enjoy a cup of coffee each and every day.

In fact, I think it’s safe to say that this beloved bean is a staple in most households.

But, within this multitude of coffee drinkers, 9 out of 10 people choose to add a little something extra to their daily brew.

Can you guess what this “little something extra” is?

Where tea drinkers commonly request a lump or two of sugar, many cafe coffee orders include a pump or more of flavored syrups.

And at home, a teaspoon or so of sugar, honey, or maple syrup are commonly added to java.

Greater than these common coffee additions, however, is that of milk. Yes, 90% of consumers must have milk when it comes to their daily cup(s) of joe.

So, what is it about milk, dairy and non, that makes this such a splendid coffee companion?

And does it really matter which milk you choose when adding it to your (coffee) mug?

Then, what about the health benefits of coffee, are these frustrated with the addition of dairy?

Let’s find out…

The Milk And Coffee Combo

Were you shocked to learn that 90% of folks add milk to their coffee?

What is it about milk that makes it pair so well with this brew?

Well, the reason milk makes such a great coffee companion is due to both its fat and protein content.

The fats in milk, especially dairy milk, can change the texture of coffee entirely.

Since you make coffee with water, the texture is obviously thin. But, when you add milk to your brew, this added fat content provides a touch of thickness, creating an overall smooth texture, even a bit of creaminess for you to savor as you sip.

The protein content of milk, however, works in a completely different way to transform any cup of joe.

Milk is noted as a good source of high-quality proteins. And, these proteins, when combined with coffee, have a binding effect.

You likely are aware of the fact that most coffee possesses a natural bitterness.

This is due to what are known as tannins, and while these polyphenolic compounds can have many benefits, they do have an astringent taste which can diminish the pleasant flavors in coffee, causing those bitter notes that we don’t find so pleasant.

When you add milk to coffee, the proteins in milk bind to these tannins, masking their bitter flavor and improving the overall taste of your brew.

So, the addition of milk actually enhances the flavor of your cup of coffee twofold, adding texture and taming bitterness.

What makes this even better, however, is the fact that some experts now note that the addition of milk to coffee can actually enhance your brew’s health benefits as well!

While we could certainly dedicate an entire post (or several, for that matter) to the health benefits of coffee, which include powerful rewards such as reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, cognitive decline, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes, increasing lifespan, improving liver and immune health, and more, there’s still some coffee drinkers that experience digestive distress as a result of drinking this brew.

And researchers have discovered that one health benefit of adding milk to coffee is that this fatty, protein-rich addition makes your brew less acidic.

So, as milk reduces your brew’s acidity, this decreases instances of heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux.

Then, a study completed in 2023 regarding the effects of combining amino acids with polyphenolic compounds on immune function found when you add milk to coffee, this provides a double benefit, making immune cells twice as effective at fighting inflammation.

In other words, the immune boosting properties of coffee, due to its polyphenol content, were basically made doubly potent with the addition of milk, which contains essential amino acids. And this was especially effective as it pertains to reducing inflammation in the body.

But, as I’m sure you’ve been thinking thus far…not all milks are the same.

Some folks can’t tolerate dairy milk, so how do nondairy milks fair when it comes to enhancing coffee?

Then, what about flavored coffees and varying roasts, will just any type of milk do when adding this creamy content to your brew?

Of course, if you’ve been adding milk to your coffee for very long, you likely know that the type of milk you use certainly does matter.

So, for the remainder of our milk exploration today, let’s take a look at some of the most popular milks and how they fare in a variety of brews.

5 Popular Milks And What They Do To Your Brew

As we discussed above, the fat and protein content of milk serves to improve the texture, flavor, and even the health benefits of coffee. But there’s far more than one kind of milk to choose from when it comes to selecting an option to use in your brew.

So, today we’ve compiled the most popular options, including dairy and nondairy selections.

Below you’ll find a description of each of those milks, including how they can improve your brew based on their individual nutrient profile and overall taste and texture, as well as which roasts, if any, pair with each selection.

1- Whole Milk

In a single cup of whole dairy milk, nearly half of the calories in this serving are derived from fat. Then, approximately 21% of those calories come from protein.

When it comes to coffee add-ins, whole milk tops the charts as the most popular java addition, and the above listed nutrient profile has a lot to do with this decision.

Its high fat content makes this milk a good choice for creating texture in both simple additions as well as when crafting foams for topping cold brews and many espresso-based drinks such as cappuccinos, lattes, etc.

But how does this selection fare between roasts and flavored coffees?

In classic roasts

Light roasts are typically more acidic and brighter, so most coffee drinkers find that the addition of whole milk doesn’t bode well in such brews.

Instead, whole milk’s high fat content pairs more appropriately with medium and dark roasts, as these tend to have more intense flavor profiles.

In darker roasts, the addition of whole milk can bring out a bit of sweetness in the coffee, and this serves to highlight the typical chocolate, nutty, and caramel notes in such brews.

Then, as a bonus for Lifeboost customers, since our coffee is naturally low acid, whole milk pairs even better in our medium roast as opposed to brands with a higher acid content. Here, our low acid beans, when combined with milk, allow for a greater creaminess and even a subtle sweetness to be experienced with each sip.

In espresso…

Espresso roasts are simply coffee which has been roasted at a higher temperature for a longer period of time. This deeply dark roast is then ground to a very fine consistency and then brewed under intense heat with the incorporation of steam and pressure.

And, due to its boldly dark roast and unique brewing method, espresso pairs exceptionally well with whole milk.

Baristas often choose whole milk to use in espresso-based drinks as this selection’s fat content provides a creamy richness in this potent brew, and whole milk’s nutrient profile also causes this selection to foam or froth extremely well.

As many of you know, most espresso drinks incorporate varying uses of milk foam, and whole milk is a top choice for creating rich, velvety foams for such drinks.

In flavored coffees…

Most flavored coffees, at least ours here at Lifeboost, begin with a classic medium roast.

We then utilize pure essential oils and natural baking extracts to flavor these medium roasted coffee beans.

So, when choosing a milk for our flavored selections, whole milk’s fat content and creaminess can serve to enhance both the natural flavors in the coffee beans as well as those delightful additions such as vanilla, hazelnut, chocolate, caramel, peppermint, a variety of spices, and so on.

2- Oat Milk

Oat milk has become one of the most popular non-dairy milk options for use in coffee over the past few years.

While it isn’t the greatest protein source, thus making this option a bit more difficult when it comes to producing quality microfoams for cappuccinos, lattes, and the like, the creamy texture and overall neutral flavor of oat milk still makes this choice a huge win when adding it to coffee.

And as an added bonus, oat milk doesn’t curdle when added to a piping hot cup of joe, which is unfortunately a common occurrence when using nut-based plant milks.

In classic roasts…

Since most plant-based milks contain less protein than dairy milks, the acidic flavors in coffee aren’t as easily hidden when using these selections. Therefore, typical light roasts don’t always pair as well with oat milk.

Lifeboost light roast, on the other hand, though noted as bright and acidic, still has a lower acid content than other light, underdeveloped brews. So, oat milk can be a nice addition, especially due to its mild taste.

In medium and dark roasts, oat milk - especially barista varieties - pairs exceptionally well due to its rich and creamy texture which enhances the coffee’s natural flavor profile.

In espresso…

Oat milk is regarded as a great choice in espresso, though when making latte art, this can cause a bit of difficulty due to the molecular nature of oat milk producing larger bubbles than typically desired in a foam.

The overall flavor and consistency of oat milk, however, is regarded as the perfect addition to espresso for the smooth and creamy texture which results from this addition.

In flavored coffees…

As with whole milk, oat milk works well in most flavored coffee selections as the creaminess enhances any medium roast, the base for nearly all of our Lifeboost flavored coffees.

And, since oat milk doesn’t have a nutty flavor, like most nut-based plant milks, this neutrality serves as a blank canvas of creaminess which won’t interfere with the flavors infused into the coffee.

Personally, I’ve found oat milk to pair best with flavors which naturally possess a creamy consistency in the original food or spice.

For instance, pumpkin is a creamy food, and oat milk naturally enhances this flavor in our Pumpkin Spice Coffee.

Then, flavored selections which incorporate chocolate or vanilla, such as our Frosted Sugar Cookie Coffee or Chocolate Covered Strawberry Coffee are also enhanced with the addition of oat milk.

3- Almond Milk

One of the most popular nut-based plant milks is almond milk.

This choice is high in protein, so it works well when making latte art, however its nutty flavor can overpower some coffee choices, so let’s take a look at which options are best suited for this milk.

*A quick note before we begin, however, be sure to heat almond milk prior to adding it to coffee as the acidic nature of coffee can cause this milk to curdle due to the temperature difference.

In classic roasts…

Medium to dark roasted coffee seem to be the best choices when using almond milk. These roasts have a more developed flavor due to longer roasting times, and this stands up a bit better to the typical nutty flavors of almond milk.

In espresso…

We mentioned that the high protein content of almond milk does make great latte art, which is a win for espresso-based drinks, just be aware that this selection can leave a slightly watery layer which rests beneath the foam.

And, as with medium and dark roasted coffee, almond milk works well in espresso too as this is a deeply dark roasted selection. The light flavor and texture of almond milk shouldn’t interfere with the depth of flavor in espresso, instead simply offering a slight bit of creaminess to any espresso-based brew.

In flavored coffees…

Some find that the nutty flavor which is easily evidenced in almond milk interferes with some flavored coffee selections.

When using almond milk in flavored coffee, we recommend pairing it with those flavors which would enhance, or be enhanced, but a nut-based plant milk. For example, our Pistachio Coffee, Amaretto Coffee, and Vanilla Almond selections each pair nicely due to the nutty, flavorful tastes in these brews.

4- Coconut Milk

Coconut milk has a naturally sweet, somewhat floral, and of course a classically tropical flavor.

Some find the tropical notes in this plant-based milk to be a pleasant addition to coffee, though most can strongly detect such flavors, even finding them to interfere with the classic notes in any brew.

Why use this milk at all, then?

Coconut milk does add a touch of natural sweetness to any brew, and though it can be a bit watery, it’s also uniquely creamy, making this a preferred non dairy choice for many.

In classic roasts…

Coconut milk, due to its tropical flavor and thin texture, makes a great addition to light roast coffee, even enhancing the true flavor profile of a light roast with this naturally sweet milk.

On the contrary, some medium and dark roasts can easily be overpowered by the tropical and “coconutty” flavor of this milk.

In espresso…

As far as the true flavor of coconut milk, it’s a less likely espresso pair.

And coconut milk must be warmed prior to adding to hot coffee so it won’t curdle. Even still, this selection is proclaimed by some baristas as a great choice for silky frothed foams for lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos, etc.

In flavored coffees…

Due to the detectable coconut flavor in this milk, many flavored coffees don’t pair well with it.

However, if you enjoy a coconut themed flavor selection, such as our Toasted Coconut Coffee or our Dark Chocolate Coconut Truffle Coffee, the flavor and fat content of coconut milk enhances these selections quite nicely!

5- Half & Half and Heavy Cream

Both half and half and heavy cream are dairy based options typically added to coffee.

But, while we’ve clumped these selections together, they can yield different results.

First, half and half is essentially made of half milk and half cream, so there’s more lactose in this option.

Heavy cream, on the other hand, actually contains very little lactose and many who can not tolerate milk are pleasantly surprised to find that heavy cream doesn’t cause the same digestive issues.

In classic roasts…

Due to its overly rich taste and texture, we wouldn’t recommend using more than a tablespoon or so of either of these selections (half and half and heavy cream) no matter your preferred coffee roast.

Then, of any classic roast - light, medium, or dark - dark roast is the preferred selection when incorporating half and half or heavy cream as the thick, rich texture offers a smooth, velvety finish to such brews.

Unlike some plant-based milks, heat isn’t a deterrent when using half and half or cream. Instead, especially in the case of heavy cream, these additions contain a greater amount of fat and oil which easily seems to melt into your brew, offering an overall smooth sipping experience.

*Just remember, a little goes a long way.

In espresso…

Since espresso is a more concentrated brew, you typically wouldn’t add cream or half and half to a shot or two in your demitasse.

However, many folks do enjoy using heavy cream to make whipped cream to top iced espresso-based drinks.

In flavored coffees...

Many enjoy using half and half or, more often, heavy cream in flavored coffees as this not only mixes effortlessly, but magically works to bring out the sweetness in the infused flavors used in making these coffees.

Granted there’s no actual sugar or added calories in any Lifeboost flavored coffee, but heavy cream enhances the infused flavors in such a way that the classic sweetness of such additions is easily evidenced as you sip.

For instance, adding a tablespoon of heavy cream to our Caramel Macchiato Coffee, or our Chocolate Covered Strawberry Coffee (and many, many other selections) brings out the sweet caramel notes or rich chocolate and delicately sweet berry flavors in these selections.

No matter which roast or flavored coffee you prefer, be sure to try some of these popular milk additions, pairing carefully to elevate the texture and enhance the flavor of your brew!

Check out Lifeboost Coffee Mito Creamer.

Headshot of Becky Livingston Vance
Becky Livingston Vance Content writer

Becky is a mother, educator, and content writer for Lifeboost Coffee. She has had three years’ experience as a writer, and in that time she has enjoyed creatively composing articles and ebooks covering the topics of coffee, health and fitness, education, recipes, and relationships.


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