The Milk Chronicles: In Search of Vegan Cappuccino


by Natascha Hildebrandt

[Natascha and I sometimes run together, and she and a few other running buddies decided to have a vegan July (no, I did not join them). They all have had interesting experiences, but Natascha was focused, oddly enough, on her daily coffee. When I heard she was trying every non-dairy milk she could find, I asked her to write up her experiences. Voila - mb] 

Inspired by some vegan ultra athletes, I decided to go on a vegan adventure for the month of July.  Looking at what I ate it seemed like the hardest things to give up would be butter, the milk in my cappuccino, and butter. I have since found that it’s easy to live without butter.  (Where you would use a tablespoon, you now substitute half an avocado.  Clearly I won’t be shedding any pounds during this experiment.) The two percent milk cappuccino is a bit more of a challenge. 

My initial reaction to all of the milk substitutes was pretty much “ick.” But it’s amazing: you can get used to anything. The second is better than the first; by the third, well, you can live with it. Generally, you will probably be happier if your palate is a little on the sweet side. (Mine is not—I’m happier in the land of the tart and bitter.) Though I chose unsweetened and unflavored “milks” to compare, they are all definitely sweeter than their dairy sister. They are all perfectly good in pancakes or cooking, and, amazingly, they all make acceptable foam for cappuccino. 

Rice milk is a good one to start with as it’s quite benign. It has a watery consistency and pretty neutral taste. It foams like fat free milk, puffy foam that holds up, but not creamy.  (Rice and almond milk had the least fat.) 

It’s hard to imagine that hemp milk is not made from t-shirt juice. I tried not to burst out laughing in Whole Foods when I first saw this. In fact it’s made from the seeds of the plants; and no, it won’t make you high. Great in pancakes, but slightly chalky texture on its own. Rather neutral taste though so that was good. Could easily live with this one as well. 

Soy milk is the most obvious alternative to dairy milk. It varies a lot by brand. Several seem cloying or bitter in a medicinal way (not like dark chocolate). Only a few are from non-genetically modified soy beans, which may be a consideration.

I had a soy cappuccino at Joe’s which was so good I convinced them to sell me some of what they use. It’s made by Pacific Foods and sold only to Baristas. Too bad because it makes really creamy foam and tastes great, despite being lowfat. (Of course it costs five times as much as milk!)  It must be the combination of sugar and some fat that covers the natural taste of soy.  

Almond milk (I used organic unsweetened from Pacific Foods) was the only one that was beige. It holds foam better than the others, but still has a weird background taste, sweet and bitter at the same time. But the impressive foam really holds its integrity. 

It’s very different from fresh almond milk. A generous friend invited me to breakfast and fed me granola with milk from One Lucky Duck in the Chelsea market. I’m guessing it’s roughly $800 per tub and is quite sweet. I didn’t have the balls to ask for a take-out cup. 

Coconut “milk beverage” (organic, unsweetened). Yum! Fat! Truly delicious. And even it foams, a nice, not pushy foam. It tastes distantly of coconut, in a pleasantly subtle way. Probably not the best plan to have daily with your avocado toast though…  On the other hand, it still has less fat than hemp and tastes a whole lot better.  Also, this was the only milk containing a single ingredient:  coconut. 

Is it worth it?  It really depends on why you are using the alternative. The pseudo-milks are definitely more expensive and less tasty, and some have more sugar (though milk has sugar in it too), calories, and/or fat. But if you have a good reason, chances are you can find a friend among the many options. 

So far I’m neither running a 6 minute mile, nor are men dropping at my feet. (Well, one did, but only because he heard these criteria in the running group. And of course he’s married and was just being funny.)  Maybe there’s a reason all the vegan ultra athletes are men. It’s almost August and I think I’ll return to my usual cappuccino. I might keep the avocados though. Or, as Mark suggested, maybe from now on I’ll have a stick of butter in lieu of a tablespoon of avocado.   

Nutritional info per 1 cup (240mL) 



RICE 120 (20) 10g 2.5g 1g
HEMP 100 (50) 6g 6g 2g
ALMOND 60 (25)      
SOY BLENDER 80 (30) 6g 3g 5g
SOY 90 (40) 1g 4.5g 9g
COCONUT 50 (50) 0g 5g 1g
2% DAIRY 122 (43) 12g 5g 8g
Posted in Vegan


  1. aplyley said...

    I’ve recently switched to coconut milk (canned, full fat version) in my french press coffee. You wouldn’t mistake it for half and half, but I really like it.

  2. misslisajo said...

    I would be interested in hearing about the rest the group’s vegan adventures. How successful were they? Did they incorporate whole grains (other than bread) into their diet?

  3. Anonymous said...

    I use coconut milk for nearly everything that calls for dairy milk. Yum! And no lactose, which can cause an immune reaction.You might find that giving up dairy for six months or so leads to losing a size or two, though not necessarily weight, especially if you are active and work out. Some people seem to experience better nutrition efficiency after eliminating dairy/lactose.

  4. Anonymous said...

    thanks for this! did you try hazlenut or oat?

  5. Anonymous said...

    My suggestion would be to try Mimiccreme, which is made from a blend of cashews & almonds. Works well in coffee, as well as in recipes for cream sauces & homemade ice cream. It’s good stuff!

  6. Anonymous said...

    I enjoyed this column. I’ve been vegan for three years now, after 30-plus years of of on-again-off-again ovo-lacto vegetarianism, and dairy was the most difficult thing for me to give up. But I have easily adapted, and have found that the different "milk" substitutes serve different purposes. Soy milk on my cereal, coconut milk in my ice-cream freezer, rice milk or soy milk for baking. The yogurt substitutes, on the other hand, are almost all foul, except for the Soy Delicious brand coconut milk variety (the chocolate is especially tasty, but don’t fool yourself that it is low-fat). And do not even get me started on non-dairy "cheese." It may be cheese-like, it may even taste good sometimes, but it will never fool anyone into thinking it is cheese.I do have to quibble with one statement you make, however. You wrote: "Maybe there’s a reason all the vegan ultra athletes are men." I must beg to differ. I am an endurance cyclist who regularly clocks between 150-200 miles a day and have ridden as many as 750 miles in under 90 hours, And despite my unfiortunate first name, I am most definitely not a man.

  7. Anonymous said...

    Does anyone know which soy milks are made from the non-genetically modified soybeans Mark mentions?

  8. ziba said...

    You can buy the Pacific Barista blend by the case on Amazon. It’s by far the best testing and froths beautifully.

  9. Anonymous said...

    @ziba – thanks, I’ll look…

  10. ziba said...

    Oh, and Natascha–a question: which coconut "milk beverage" did you try and like that had only one ingredient? That sounds good!

  11. Anonymous said...

    Hey forget all of that drink your coffee black the only way to go!

  12. Anonymous said...

    I am so delighted to see that you also love my favorite vegan milk alternative, So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage, Natascha! They also make a French vanilla coconut milk creamer that is sensational in both coffee and chai tea.

  13. CRISPYTARTS said...

    Sadly, I recently cut back on dairy as well. Nothing, nothing, nothing can replace the creaminess of milk, but the best sub I’ve found so far has been Pacific Hemp milk. Steamed rice milk will sometimes do the trick as well. I now sub milk at home but treat myself to the real thing when out and about. No can do soy. It makes me want to ralph. Thanks for this post…was hoping there was some magic beverage you found that would make my life complete, but I have a feeling it doesn’t exist. Actually it does…it’s called milk.

  14. Anonymous said...

    I really enjoyed reading this. I agree dairy is tough to give up. We’ve been forced into it with 2 kids plus myself who are highly allergic to all things dairy. If you’re looking for a good butter sub try SmartBalance Lite. It’s vegan and no dairy! :-) Cooks great and tastes great on toast. Fools everyone who comes to our house. Also… Daiya makes a good cheese sub. Melts great and doesn’t really taste funny. Will look forward to reading more about your Vegan adventures.

  15. Anonymous said...

    Unfortunately the only reason I ever drink coffee is because I am craving the creamer I put in. International Delight Carmal Macchiato….I have yet to be able to mimic this. It says non-dairy but there is lactate in it so lactose intolerant can’t have (which I am not), but there is a ton of sugar and other junk.

  16. Anonymous said...

    Cecil and others,I admit that I have encouraged the idea that veganism is for men; clearly, you have proven me wrong – wow! what a workout yours is! Could non-dairy help keep me injury free? Ok, I can’t help it… All food for thought! Many thanks, Natascha.

  17. thelandanimal said...

    I am surprised you say that you find unsweetened milk substitutes sweeter than milk itself. But, then again, I rarely drink it straight so maybe I don’t have the best grasp of the taste. I would also recommend you try Earth Balance as a butter substitute. I use it make grilled "cheese" sandwiches and works wonderfully.And you might not lose weight from trading butter for avocado and cow’s milk for coconut milk but your heart might get to appreciate having lower level of LDLs around.

  18. jadebunny said...

    Hello Mark,I just now ran across your blog after I received an alert from Google and you were cited (I’m set to get one whenever my products are mentioned).I’m so crazy busy these days I don’t normally have time to surf the web for new and noteworthy but after reading through your blog I immediately recognized a compatriot, so to speak.Back in 2007 I released my first 100% all-natural Non-Dairy, Non-Soy Cream alternative called MimicCreme. products are VEGAN and therefore were the first truly Non-Dairy CREAM alternatives available. They are made primarily from a blend of blanched Almonds and raw Cashews.My original formulation (Unsweetened) has the cleanest label possible to allow for a cream replacement that works fabulously in recipes for soups, sauces, gravies, baked goods, confections, etc. that traditionally called for dairy CREAM and not milk.I took it further and formulated two different sweetened creams (one cane-sugar sweetened and one sweetened with Vegan Erythritol) to be used as replacements for traditional ice cream base, smoothie mix, and sweetened condensed milk. Once again from a blend of Almonds and Cashews.I am not a total food scientist–but a former chef, who knows that foods are too over-processed with far too many ingredients.I found myself in a dilemma when blogs and emails started pouring in from our customers who wanted to know why their coffees were "erupting" when our products were added to their beverages. (you might get a kick out of this: had to hit the books and find a solution that was acceptable to me and all those seriously concerned about putting a healthy creamer in their coffee.Not being a coffee drinker, I hadn’t considered this before.The answer laid in an additive called Dipotassium Phosphate, which at first scared the hell out of me.Research disclosed that it was a salt buffer and after delving further, I accepted it. I was concerned about keeping our products as clean as possible. This additive mitigated the separation of the product when it was added to strong, hot acidic coffees.It drove me to devote an entire line to coffee creamers, so that I wouldn’t have to add this ingredient to my original Creams.This is what lead me to contact you. As I read your very recent blog on finding the perfect Vegan Cappuccino, I realized that you know from whence you speak and that you might not have heard about our products.I welcome a dialog and would love to send you a full assortment of our products to have fun with in your kitchen.Among them(!!) is my newest baby–a TRULY non-Dairy, non-Soy Whipping Cream, that all the food scientists told me couldn’t be done. I call this product Healthy Top.One other thing worth mentioning is that all our products are Kosher Parve. Here’s a quick video from KosherFest: regards,Rose Anne ColavitoRose Anne ColavitoFounder & CEOGreen Rabbit, LLC1177 New Scotland RdAlbany, NY 12208518-265-6624

  19. Simon said...

    I am surprised you say that you find unsweetened milk substitutes sweeter than milk itself. I usually just drink soy because of its benefits (

    AMAZZINGGG for your body. I havn’t eaten meat since I was around 4 years old either :)

  20. Carrie Van Dam said...

    THANK YOU so much. I can’t wait to go & try coconut milk in cap. I would love to hear more. Especially the other girls in the running group.
    I know when I was training for a marathon I craved meat (iron). How did the running group go??

    Thanks again

  21. web hosting said...

    Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I will definitely return.|

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