From substitute to ingredient: Can non-dairy milk be good?

Let’s be honest– sometimes, non-dairy milk sucks.

We try to bargain with ourselves, saying we like one alternative more than the other, but the truth is many of us are still not in love with our options.

As a coffee-lover with dairy sensitivities, I’ve always hated compromising when I wanted something besides straight espresso or black coffee. I was even more disappointed as a barista, serving my customers a drink I knew wasn’t as good as it should be.

So we have to ask: can non-dairy milk options taste good? 

This question was heavy on our minds at the start of Indie Coffee Roasters’ first location in Carmel. We wanted to put our best foot forward with every drink, picking ingredients that always make us say “that’s it!”– not just “that’ll work.”

Yet, our options for non-dairy milk weren’t giving us that special feeling.

We tried soy milk, a popular alternative, but were disappointed by the overpowering flavor and poor steaming texture. Almond milk provided a better flavor, but still didn’t steam well and posed a problem for those with nut-allergies. Mostly though, it just didn’t get us excited– and nothing else did.

Until we were approached by Oatly… and right away we were sold.

Oatly is a brand of oat milk designed for a coffee shop setting. We immediately loved its outstanding flavor. It is mildly nutty and savory but has a level of sweetness comparable to high-quality cow’s milk, and it steams superbly, allowing us to do latte art with ease. As a bonus, it isn’t just dairy-free, but also gluten-free, nut-free, and free of added sugars.

Our favorite part of Oatly, however, isn’t any of it’s “on paper” perks. It’s the idea that it’s an ingredient, not just a substitute. Not only does it steam well and avoid allergies, but it is a quality ingredient in its own right. It’s not a compromise, it’s a wonderfully unique flavor equally satisfying as good ol’ cow’s milk.

When designing drinks, we never want to think in terms of our “best options.” We want to think “Does this get us excited?” and if it doesn’t, we want to keep looking. We want every part of a drink to give us that special feeling, without any one ingredient holding the others back. We’re proud now to serve a non-dairy milk that does just that.