If you’re an espresso fan, you know that frothing milk is a big deal. What seems like a straightforward and mundane job to the uninitiated is actually a subtle and complex art that goes underappreciated by the masses. The difference between a stellar, smooth cappuccino and one that is just alright can be the quality of the frothed milk.
An interesting wrinkle starts to form when you consider how substituting dairy milk with a non-dairy alternative milk changes the frothing game. One of the most commonly asked questions we get is how to make an espresso drink with non-dairy milk. In this article, we’re going to cover one of the most popular non-dairy milk options: almond milk. We’ll discuss techniques for frothing almond milk and any special considerations you need to make to get the most out of your almond milk latte.
In short, regular almond milk doesn’t froth well, but you can buy a special almond milk for baristas that will froth.
Can You Froth Almond Milk?
Before we can talk about the proper technique for frothing almond milk, we first need to address this question: does almond milk froth in the first place? It sounds like a simple question, but since almond milk doesn’t have the same chemical structure and macronutrient breakdown as ordinary dairy milk, it’s not so simple.
It turns out that a milk’s protein content is what determines how frothy it can get. Since almond milk has a different blend of proteins than dairy milk, it also responds to frothing differently. You can froth almond milk using the same techniques you would use to froth regular milk, but your results may be lacking.
Luckily, many brands that sell almond milk sell a version specifically designed to be frothed and used in coffee. These are typically labeled as barista almond milk or coffee almond milk. The difference is generally the protein content, which is altered to improve the almond milk’s frothing characteristics.
We’ve tried several of these alternative, coffee-specific almond milk versions and can testify that they make a big difference. If you’re purchasing almond milk for making cappuccinos and lattes, look for one of these barista versions.
How to Froth Almond Milk
Whether you use ordinary almond milk or one designed with frothing in mind, there are some things to keep in mind before you start.
One of the most important factors to consider when frothing milk—any milk, almond or not—is temperature. The ideal frothing temperature for dairy milk and almond milk is between 155°F and 165°F. If the milk is too hot, you’ll wind up with a chunky, cheese-like texture instead of the silky smoothness you’re looking for. If it’s too cold, you won’t get much frothing action, and you’ll end up with espresso and milk instead of a genuine cappuccino or latte.
Some espresso machines control the frothing temperature for you, taking away any guesswork. If you have one of these, you can use it with almond milk the same way you would use it with regular milk. Otherwise, be sure to heat the milk to around 160°F before you start frothing.
If you have a steam wand, you can use it to froth almond milk too. The proper frothing technique is surprisingly tricky and takes a lot of practice to get right.
Start by holding the wand just under the surface of the almond milk. You don’t want the wand fully submerged but also don’t want to have it barely skimming the surface. The sound it makes is a great tool for diagnosing your frothing technique. You should aim for a gurgling, rushing sound combined with a slight hiss. If you’re familiar with the loud sound that usually fills coffee shops, that’s the one you’re trying to replicate.
Once you get the height right, look for tiny microbubbles to start forming on the surface of your almond milk. As they start to appear, fold them back under the liquid milk in a circular, up-and-down stirring motion. Think of forming layers of bubbles, one on top of the other. This part takes a lot of practice to get right, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t come out right the first time.
If you don’t have a steam wand, don’t worry, you can still froth almond milk the old-fashioned way. There isn’t much to this besides a whole lot of elbow grease. Once you have the almond milk heated to the right temperature, use a whisk to aerate it vigorously. Look for the same microbubbles we discussed in the steam wand section and use a similar folding motion with the whisk once you see them forming.
This method is not easy, but it works. It takes a few minutes of constant whisking to produce smooth, velvety almond milk foam. We recommend switching hands often.
With a French Press
The last way you can froth almond milk is still technically by hand but is much easier than using a whisk. It doesn’t get as close to genuine, wand-frothed milk, but it’s so much easier than using a whisk that we find ourselves using it far more often.
The trick is to use a French press. Pour the pre-heated almond milk into your French press and rapidly move the plunger in a vertical motion. This method takes far less effort than the whisk and does a decent job, although it never comes out as smooth.
Almond Milk Frothing: Final Thoughts
If you’re a fan of non-dairy milk, it can sometimes feel like the world of coffee isn’t meant for you. Not every coffee shop carries vegan alternative milk, and it can be disappointing to be forced to order a plain black coffee when you had your heart set on a smooth, creamy cappuccino.
Luckily, almond milk is a great alternative to dairy milk in general, especially in espresso drinks that use frothed milk. It’s not that hard to froth almond milk at home, and with these tips we’ve presented here, you should be able to craft your own delicious almond milk versions of classic espresso drinks.
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