Facts and Tips for Foaming with Almond Milk

I don’t need to remove dairy, but I believe that moderation of any single food, except Old Dutch potato chips, is a good idea.  This year I wanted to reduce my intake of cow’s milk and introduced almond, rice and soy milks into my diet.  Reading the nutritional information and articles on these milks, there were obvious benefits, but I wanted to know how I could use these products showing them at their best.  I don’t believe that you can convince your taste buds that soy is “milk” anymore than rice, in texture and in taste, can substitute for wheat in bread.  You just always feel ripped off.  I believe you have to try new products in and of themselves.   Does that make sense?

From our local store, Organic Planet,  I bought Natur-a Original Almond Milk for my daily latte using two shots of home-brewed Starbucks Espresso with half cup* of organic 2% cow’s milk .   I wasn’t sure I liked the taste of almond milk in coffee, but was that just habit?  I was also having trouble with the flat performance during foaming and asked for help from Donna Karjalainen of Natura Foods.  She turned me onto Toronto’s Dark Horse Espresso Bar Barista Trainer, Georgia Henry, and this is what I learned.

If you were a Barista, you would know that the goals of steaming are to heat any milk to a pleasant temperature [61-63 C for most people] and to create a lush foam.  Air is introduced to the milk, so the proteins move toward it, which creates the bubbles. Foam is created by the proteins in milk trying to “escape”.  Who knew?

Fact 1 – With cow’s milk the heat breaks down lactose, making cow’s milk sweeter.   Since the sugars in almond milk are mostly sucrose (from cane sugar) this chemical change doesn’t happen.  Ah ha that’s why I couldn’t reconcile the taste.

Tip 1 – Almond milk should be steamed a bit cooler, as the extra heat it doesn’t help to increase the sweetness and ruins the bubble.

Fact 2 – There is no getting away from it, the presence of more fat, E.g. 3.25% vs 0% , creates a better bubble, a good luscious foamy bubble.  However, since most people’s goal is generally less fat, we have to accept that the foam-ability of almond milk will also be lower since it’s generally lower fat than cow’s milk.

Fact 3 – Most important is that almond milk is sensitive to heat and not only will it separate, but the foam will collapse.  Sort of like cow’s milk curdling when added to coffee that is too hot.  Georgia added, “It doesn’t mean the almond milk is off, but it gets chunky and the foam separates.  It isn’t attractive to look at and the texture is compromised.”

Tip 2 – Georgia  recommends that less air and controlled heat should be introduced to produce the best texture almond milk has to offer.  E.g. don’t leave the milk steaming and walk away to put in your toast.

Fact 4 – Georgia also said that during testing sweetened versions of almond milk performed better than unsweetened where temperature changes are concerned.  I went back and bought the natur-a Almond Vanilla and natur-a Organic Soy Cappuccino and saw an improved foaming performance.
Tip 3 – If you want a better foam, use a higher fat, sweetened version of almond milk.
It’s not surprising that when the amount of sugar, fat and calories rises … in anything, so does the pleasure.  Whether your dietary concerns are disease, weight, lactose, yeast or ethics you know what your body needs and when.  For me this experiment resulted in using unsweetened almond milk only in my oatmeal  … but, once or twice a week I’ve fallen in love with the natur-a Soy Cappuccino and an extra shot of espresso as a great way to launch my work day.

An unexpected benefit, after a taste of my steaming hot latte my 24 year old son is now dropping by daily to join me for a natur-a Cappuccino Soy or Vanilla Almond Milk latte.  It only last 15 minutes, but I’ll take it!

*half cup before foaming