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Groupe SEB WMF Shared Services GmbH
It is impossible to imagine the coffee industry without plant-based milk substitutes. Whether in small speciality cafés or international coffee shop chains, guests can now enjoy their coffee specialities with soy, oat or almond drinks almost anywhere. While in the past, only vegans and vegetarians were familiar with these products, it is now common for plant-based drinks to be seen as more than just a substitute for milk. Depending on the raw material in question, the different products impress consumers with different taste and sensory qualities and are suitable for different coffee beverages. Coffee machine manufacturers such as WMF Professional Coffee Machines have also recognised the potential of plant-based milk substitutes. With innovative technology and adapted training courses, they are providing their customers with optimal support to prepare for the increasing demand for these products.
The reasons why people prefer plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk are as varied as the people themselves. For instance, the percentage of the population that is consciously choosing a diet without or with only a few animal products is steadily increasing; this is a development that is noticeable throughout the food industry. Plant-based drinks are also very popular among people with lactose intolerance. Last but not least, milk substitutes make for more variety on the menus of cafés and coffee shops. More and more, guests can choose between coffee specialities based on oat, soy or cow’s milk.
Constant growth and large selection
The market share of all kinds of plant-based drinks is constantly growing. These days, every supermarket has a shelf just for milk substitutes. The booming market, which is expected to continue to grow at a high rate and generate considerable turnover in the coming years, is home to many different companies. In addition to rapidly expanding start-ups that are constantly working with new plant-based raw materials, manufacturers of traditional dairy products are also playing an increasingly important role. They are using their expertise, market position and financial resources to create high-quality alternatives to milk, yoghurt and similar products. For end customers, this means that there is more choice than ever before.
When it comes to using these drinks in coffee specialities, however, some taste and sensory characteristics of the different alternatives must be taken into account to achieve the best results. Basically, you should not expect to get exactly the same beverages as with cow’s milk. Although many manufacturers now offer so-called “barista” versions of their milk substitutes, which are particularly suitable for foaming due to added stabilisers, their taste and mouthfeel are also noticeably different from the animal product. Coffee specialities prepared with plant-based drinks should therefore be seen as creations in their own right, bringing with them their own advantages. In the following, four of the most popular milk substitutes and their use in the coffee industry will be presented in more detail.
Perennial favourite soy
One of the best-known and most popular milk substitutes is made from soy beans. They are legumes, meaning they have a particularly high protein content, which in turn means that soy drinks can be foamed quickly and easily. The vegetable proteins also ensure stable composition of both the foam and the liquid itself. This means artistic latte art creations can be made reliably and visually appealing beverages also retain their shape for the guest. When it comes to the taste and sensory experience, soy alternatives can vary quite a bit. Different consistencies are available, from watery to creamy, and the flavours range from sweet and cereal-like to beany and nutty. It is advisable to use coffee beans with a medium roasting depth so that the distinctive flavour does not become too dominant and overpower the coffee. Soy drinks also complement the chocolaty, nutty notes of Latin American coffees well – on the other hand, they tend to disturb the fruity taste of African coffees.
The crowd favourite: Oat
Without question, oat drinks can be described as the rising star among milk substitutes in recent years. The plant-based cereal drinks can now be found on the menus of many cafés as oat cappuccinos and similar specialities, and some large coffee shop franchises are even producing their own oat alternatives. Sustainability is also a factor that should not be underestimated here: Since oats – unlike many other raw materials in plant drinks – can also be grown in Central Europe without a problem, oat drinks are the most environmentally friendly milk substitutes in this case. Their advantages for baristas, meanwhile, are obvious: Cereal aromas and an unobtrusive sweetness bring the flavour of the coffee to the fore, meaning they are also suitable for light roasts. A creamy texture and good temperature stability also make the drinking experience relatively similar to cow’s milk, which is why oat drinks are also great for guests who have no experience with milk substitutes. Only the low protein content of oats leads to problems with coffee beverages with milk foam. Manual foaming takes more time to achieve stable, even microfoam; however, this time lag does not exist with automatic milk systems such as the WMF Dynamic Milk. For this reason, special barista oat drinks are enriched with proteins and stabilisers.
The classic: Almond milk substitutes
Almond milk is by far the oldest milk substitute. It was popular in Southern Europe by the Middle Ages and has been known in Italy for centuries as “Latte di Mandorla”. However, even here it is rarely used in coffee specialities, which is mainly due to its low stability and intense taste. The typical bitterness of almonds in particular can quickly overpower the coffee, while the relatively high acidity can also have a disturbing effect. Almond drinks are also not suitable for flat whites or latte macchiatos because of their low protein density. Usually only a thin layer of foam with large bubbles is possible, which in turn quickly disintegrates. Nevertheless, almond drinks are popular with consumers due to their sensory properties and their unique taste, and they go well with medium and strong roasts that are not masked by the almond flavour.
Great accents thanks to fresh coconut flavours
The term “coconut milk” is usually associated with the thick, canned ingredient often used in Southeast Asian cuisine. While this is mostly used in curries and stews, so-called “coconut drinks” are used as actual alternatives to cow’s milk. The difference lies mainly in the water content. The fat and sugar content are high in both coconut products, while the protein content is low. This composition presents baristas with challenges similar to those of almond drinks: Poor foaming behaviour, low stability and high temperature sensitivity. The dominant coconut flavour also makes it difficult to use this drink in coffee specialities. Used correctly, however, coconut drinks can also provide uniquely fresh accents, for instance when combined with dark, intense roasts as well as blends with a high Robusta content.
Freedom of choice and top quality
Of course, the trend towards plant-based milk substitutes has not escaped the attention of the manufacturers of professional coffee machines. The ability to offer guests a choice of different milk options in particular is becoming increasingly important for restaurateurs. With devices from WMF Professional Coffee Machines, these concepts can be implemented with a high level of flexibility. In practice, the fully automatic machines are already being operated exclusively with milk substitutes. Restaurateurs also use the innovative two-milk solution for quick changes between milk types. It makes it possible to offer different combinations from one machine, for example, cow’s milk and a milk substitute, two different plant-based drinks or whole milk and lactose-free milk.
The WMF 5000 S+ or WMF 9000 S+ models with the “Dynamic Milk” system are particularly well-suited for use of the two-milk solution. This allows the machines to process milk substitutes and cow’s milk into tasty and visually appealing coffee beverages at the touch of a button. To do so, the system is able to produce hot foam with four different consistencies and cold foam with three different consistencies. Plant-based drinks and cow’s milk are drawn directly from two separate milk inserts. WMF offers these both for the “Center Cooler” on the counter and for the “9.5-litre Under-Machine Cooler”.
Technology and coffee expertise for the best results
In order to achieve the best possible results with each milk substitute, optimal settings are crucial. Depending on the respective properties of the substitute – above all the protein and fat content – different parameters can be configured for each beverage and stored on the machine. In addition to the integrated milk systems, the customer can also opt for the use of a fully automatic steam lance such as the “WMF Auto Steam” system. This allows milk creations to be prepared individually with three different, pre-configured milk foam qualities.
For both the integrated milk systems and the different steam lances, the experts at WMF Professional Coffee Machines generally recommend milk substitutes with increased protein content, which are often marketed as “barista” variants. In order to familiarise operators with milk substitutes and their proper use in advance, soy drinks and the like are also covered in the WMF Portfolio Basic training course. More detailed information is also provided in a separate course offered by the WMF Coffee Excellence Center.
Thorough and regular cleaning of the milk system also minimises the risk of cross-contamination. This is ensured by innovative and efficient cleaning solutions such as the fully automatic “WMF AutoClean” system.