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To Milk or not to Milk… That is the Question

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Cow Milk

My basic philosophy as to adding anything to a cup of coffee has always been, “Add it because you want to, not because you have to.” If a cup of coffee is such that you cannot drink it without adding [fill in your amendment here] then it should not be consumed.” But there are times and reasons for adding or not adding to your cup.

One of my favorite coffee treats is Turkish coffee. Adding a little sugar to the ibrik with the finely-ground coffee and water makes for a very special treat. Cardamom or cinnamon added to that makes it even more special. I think of it as a cup of liquid dessert. Not something to do every day, but as a special treat.

By definition, a cappuccino or latte would not be if it were not for milk. Milk is half the definition of those beverages, literally. These beverages are comprised of espresso with steamed milk added. The quality of the milk is important for either. The ratio of fat to protein is what allows a barista to create the micro-foam that enables them to pour latte art. While the various hearts and flower shapes are beautiful to behold, they are an indicator of the quality of the milk as well as the ability and dedication of the barista.

But milk is not for everyone. Depending on the source of information used, anywhere from about sixty to seventy-five percent of the population is lactose intolerant , with figures over ninety percent in East-Asian populations. Lactose intolerance is caused by lactase deficiency. Lactase is an enzyme produced by your body that breaks down lactose (milk sugar). Without going into the clinical details, suffice it to say that lactose-intolerant people suffer various levels and types of gastrointestinal distress from mild to severe a short time after consuming products containing lactose. To the best of my knowledge, humans are the only species who consume milk after being weaned. Theories state that we lose some of the ability to produce lactase after weaning because we do not need it any more. But there are other causes of lactose intolerance. Moving on..

So odds are good that you are lactose intolerant to some extent. If so, what to do? There are alternatives:

There are lactose-free bovine milk products available. An enzyme is added to the milk during processing to break down the lactose for you before consumption. Depending on your location there may be numerous choices. I suggest checking a store that carries natural or organic products since these are often from cows which are usually fed a better diet which can lead to a higher quality protein.

There are also milk-free milks. For numerous reasons, including lactose intolerance, some people do not consume dairy milk. For those folks the most common alternatives are almond and soy “milks.” These are made by grinding the almonds or soy beans, cooking them in water, then filtering the liquid out.

To an even greater extent than bovine milk, the quality of these alternatives varies widely. Some are rich and sweet while others are thin, watery, and almost tasteless. Assuming that most of our readers are in the United States, three brands I have tried that work quite well in a cappuccino or latte:

Kikoman Pearl (either plain or vanilla).
Kirkland Vanilla (Costco brand)
Pacific Foods Soy Blenders

These all will work well for latte art and all are slightly sweetened although unsweetened are also available in some flavors (other than the Kirkland).

My limited experience with almond milk in coffee was not as positive, but tastes vary, so give it a try and find out for yourself. Some of the supermarket house brands of these milk alternatives we have tried were of low quality, but give them a try as they might be to your liking.

But as I stated from the start, if you are adding anything to a coffee beverage, do it because you want to, not because you have to. Quality coffee, whether it be espresso, drip, press, or whatever, should be good on its own. Whatever you add should just make it better.

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