So much time and attention is put into the choice of coffee beans, the roasting process, the grinding, and the brewing.
If we are looking for the perfect latte or cappuccino drink or even seeking to make that perfect cup of regular drip, shouldn’t we also be putting more time and attention into using the best milk products in our coffee drinks?
Although some coffee purists may believe that adding dairy products to coffee ranks in the same category as the Seven Deadly Sins, others enjoy a little cream in their coffee and use it for a variety of reasons.
We add dairy to our coffee to provide nutritive value, including calcium and vitamin D.
Also, whereas coffee can sometimes be acidic and potentially cause stomach problems, putting some form of dairy in the coffee has a kind of “coating” effect, which tempers the potential for adverse reactions.
With so many options on the market today, it may seem overwhelming to decide which one is preferable.
But just taking a few minutes to educate ourselves on what is available will go far in improving the quality of our coffee beverages.
Here are some factors to consider when choosing the perfect dairy products in your local area:
Cow’s milk is the most basic and easiest to come by, although some people enjoy experimenting with varieties from other animals such as goats.
In addition to knowing what animal the dairy product comes from, it can be beneficial to know where it comes from geographically. Buying food that is produced locally helps the environment and the local economy.
Also, buying locally produced dairy products can be particularly helpful in knowing that the product is fresh.
The amount of fat can be a controversial issue when it comes to coffee (or any food or beverage product). Although consuming lower fat products may be better for our health, they are also likely to provide a lower-quality, “thinner” tasting coffee beverage.
Because the fat is what makes dairy products thick and creamy, non-fat milk almost has the effect of watering down the coffee beverage instead of adding to its flavor and structure.
Types of Dairy
Half-and-Half, which is often poured simply into a cup of brewed coffee, is a blend of milk and cream. With 12% fat, it comes in with a much more dense and creamy consistency than plain milk.
This usually means that less is needed in a cup of black coffee than would be used in, say, a latte or cappuccino. This is exceptional when frothed in an espresso machine or with a dedicated frother.
In comparison, light cream and heavy cream are between 20% and 40% fat, and are really only useful for baking and cooking rather than adding to coffee.
The only exception might be that heavy cream is often used for whipping, which means that sugar and air are mixed in to provide a lovely garnish for some fancier coffee beverages.
Whole Milk is the barista’s best friend.
With around 4% fat, this form of dairy may be considered less “healthy” for those on a lower fat diet, but also brings with it a richness of texture on the palette that many people enjoy.
This one is a great pick for those who don’t have a frothing system at home but want something that is rich.
Reduced Fat Milk usually comes in at 1% or 2% fat and is a good compromise for a person who is adding a milk product to their coffee every day.
There is some loss of flavor and texture, but the balance comes in with the benefits of not overdoing it on the fat.
Skim or Fat-Free Milk, contains no fat at all. Because it is the fat that makes the liquid taste creamier, there is some loss of flavor when using a skim product.
It does, however, create foam that is less “fluffy,” which some people prefer. And, it may bring with it a slight bit of sweetness that is not found in whole or other reduced fat varieties.
There is some controversy in the dairy world about organic versus milk that comes from conventional farms. Truly, the difference is often related to the size of the farm.
Local, organic co-ops are typically a little better at making sure their cows are treated to pasture feeding, as they are more able to “micromanage” their herds (and more importantly their grass) a little more closely than larger operations.
It should be noted that ALL dairy (and beef) cows are fed mostly from grass, however, grain products are given to dairy cows to boost their rate of production and as a lure to get them to return to the milking barns.
Often times, the taste of purely pasture-fed milk speaks for itself and is worth a taste test.
As we brew exquisite coffee drinks at home, we want to make sure that the coffee is paired with better dairy products to bring out the finest flavor.
Putting thought into the selection of our milk products, including consideration of the type, origin, fat content, and flavor, is an excellent step toward experiencing the perfect cup of coffee.
Want to be more hip to java? Make sure to check out our glossary of coffee terms you absolutely should know the deeper you get into the world of coffee!
About Julie Workman
As a freelance writer for over 15 years, Julie Workman has been published in various magazines, books, and online media. She holds a college degree in Home Economics which she uses every day in overseeing her household and making her home a happy place for her family.