A barista’s guide to dairy alternatives: Oat milk

oat milk

Vitasoy Café Ambassador and 2019 Australian Barista Champion Matthew Lewin on how oat milk represents the next phase of plant-based milks.

When it comes to plant-based milks, there’s many qualities that are a must for specialty coffee, like high-quality sweetness and creaminess, yet there’s one quality we value above any other, and that’s neutrality, which is required to allow all of a coffee’s quality to shine.

Matthew Lewin
Matthew Lewin is the 2019 ASCA Vitasoy Barista Champion and Café Ambassador for Vitasoy.

Like with any great coffee, the ideal is for its inherent qualities to shine through, and anything else you add to it should complement or enhance that experience, not take away from it. That is why I believe oat milk is becoming that dairy alternative of choice for many baristas.

Baristas are both the face and voice of the coffee industry. If they prefer oat milk (hint: they definitely do), like any new great trend, tool, or addition to making coffee better, they will start actively sharing it with their customers, encouraging them to try it and for good reason. 

In the last edition of BeanScene, I talked about how almond milk really complements traditional, chocolatey coffees and your coffee adjacent drinks like chai. While oat milk serves as a great companion to these types of drinks too, where I feel it really stands out is with new categories of milk-based coffee: fruitier blends and roasts that are becoming a staple for many cafés and roasters.

Like oat milk, these fruity coffee blends are quite a new addition in terms of milk-based coffee offerings but will likely remain in people’s coffee programs as consumers become more accustomed to these new, exciting and evolved fruity flavours in their coffee.

The slight sweetness and neutral taste of oat milk also works perfectly with other flavour-forward drinks you’d serve in a café, like the classic hot chocolate.

I find oat milk the easiest plant-based milk to pour and work with as well. The fact is, all plant milks require a similar approach to use optimally and there are a few tricks that will help you get the best out of it.

Give the carton a good shake each time you use it so the oat milk doesn’t stratify and stays consistent from pour to pour. Store it in the fridge and out of direct light so it stays fresh and textures better. 

PRO TIP: the hotter you need to texture plant-based milk, the less air you should introduce at the beginning. Higher temperature steam creates extra inertia foam at those hotter points of steaming – so you’re really stretching the band out as much as it can before it snaps.

Health-conscious coffee drinkers will also know about the benefits of different plant-based milks, like almond’s low calories and soy’s higher protein, but even the savviest of consumers might not be aware of oat milk’s advantages.

Vitasoy Café for Baristas Oat Milk is fortified with calcium, which, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, nearly three quarters of females (73 per cent) and half of all males (51 per cent) above the age of two aren’t getting enough of, according to the ABS Australian Health Survey on usual nutrient intakes.

Oat milk is also a natural source of beta-glucan, a type of fibre with heart health benefits. Each serving of Vitasoy Oat Milk contains more than a third of the daily recommended amount required to lower cholesterol as part of a balanced diet that’s low in saturated fat, like a healthy plant-based diet.

oat milk
Matthew Lewin says oat milk pairs particularly well with increasingly popular fruity coffee blends.

I’ve worked extensively with Vitasoy to help reformulate its Café for Baristas Almond Milk, which hit the market in July, and I’m excited to have begun a similar journey with its oat milk.

Vitasoy’s oat milk has been on the market for a few years now, and while it’s shown how well it works with coffee, there’s always room to evolve, refine, and elevate the consumer’s coffee experience.

Like I said earlier, when we talk about “neutrality”, we want a delicious milk vehicle of sorts to carry coffee, we don’t want our milks to be flavourless in the coffee. You want oat milk to be identifiable as oat, just like we do almond, soy, or dairy, but with a sympathetic approach that doesn’t shut down a coffee’s flavour profile.

The flavour arc and transition, plus finish of the oat milk, is another huge focus for us. We want it to be sweet and long and persistent, without the dry textural element you might associate with oats. Balancing all this is key. 

PRO TIP: make sure your espresso recipe to milk weight is in perfect harmony, giving enough coffee extraction to the amount of milk for a complete cup of coffee.

Ultimately, it comes down to what is going to resonate with baristas and general consumers. Beyond it all, is the coffee undeniably delicious? If not, we’re not quite there yet. That’s the framework Vitasoy and I work in for all plant-based milks.

That means making sure the coffee can shine through without compromising on anything. There’s an amazing natural oat sweetness and super creamy texture to the oat milk and you really don’t want to lose those in the process.

Working with Vitasoy has taught me the level of detail that goes into the development and production of plant-based milks, especially when they’re tailored to work with coffee.

What’s really fascinated me is how the level of total dissolved solids (TDS) relates to the performance of a plant-based milk. In this case, think of TDS as the ratio of oat to water in the product.

Your first instinct would probably be that the higher the TDS – the more oat in the oat milk – the better, but I’ve learned it’s really a give and take.

The higher the TDS, the creamier the texture and the richer, bolder, and more robust the coffee experience. However, a high TDS can also risk shutting down the coffee’s cut-through and expression of flavour when combined with the milk.

Developing a plant-based milk for coffee requires finding the right balance, a ratio that gives you the desired texture while allowing the coffee to shine.

Little tweaks to TDS when working on the almond milk recipe really showed me how drastically it can influence the milk’s ability to allow the coffee to shine. For now, plant-based milks have to do the work to tailor their products to coffee, but as they become more popular, I think the coffee industry is going to start asking, “what can we do to tailor our coffee to plant-based milks?” 


If the coffee industry was to start developing coffee blends to work with certain plant-based milks, it would serve as a huge recognition of the growing role plant-based milks play in the coffee market as well as our daily lives.

We all strive to seek out products that are making a positive impact on the world and in our local communities. Vitasoy does that through supporting local Australian farmers and workers, as well as the coffee industry.

As a proud principal sponsor of CafeSmart, every August Vitasoy’s commitment to supporting local communities and the coffee industry combine as cafes raise money to combat homelessness.

Since 2017, the plant-based community has celebrated World Plant Milk Day on 22 August, promoting the increasing role these products are playing in society.

I also feel it’s also reached the point where plant-based milks should not be compared to dairy. It’s become its own category. So when judging plant-based milks, the question shouldn’t be “how does this compare to dairy?” It should be, “how does this stand alongside other plant-based milks?”

Really, when we talk about oat milk in the coffee industry, we’re also talking about the future. It’s not just about popularity, it’s where it will go in just a few years’ time.

The success of oat milk also sets a good tone for any future plant-based milks or dairy alternatives when it comes to specialty coffee and what baristas want in it. Oat milk has raised the bar, and anything new that comes to the market, will need to take it even higher.

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For more information, visit vitasoycafe.com.au, or contact your local distributor or the Bega Dairy and Drinks Customer Service team on 1800 000 570.

This article appears in the August 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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