Sure, some third wavers may frown, but milk, sugar and coffee are a power trio that have been linked up for far too long to be ignored. But what to make of all those tut-tuts around soy and skinny? What of the looks of disapproval as you reach for the sugar bowl? Never mind them, we say put whatever you darn well like into your coffee.
We’ve mentioned that milk doesn’t always suit specialty coffees, but that doesn’t mean you have to rule it out completely. With the right bean and the right brew (think strong and rich, such as espresso or French press), a bit of milk can actually complement and enrich the coffee’s flavour. However, not all milks are created equal: any pro barista will happily serve up a full-cream flat white, but skinny and soy milks are a different story.
There are very few cafés that don’t offer skinny milk, even specialty ones, so it may seem quite self-important of those few that don’t serve it. Their reasoning is generally that because of the lower fat content, skinny milk has an inferior mouthfeel. When textured, the foam in skinny milk separates more quickly from the milk and the flavour of the coffee is altered, usually for the worse.
This is all true enough, and it’s understandable that baristas want their expensive beans to be shown at their very best. But you’re the barista now, so it’s your call – if you truly love the richness of a full-cream latte, then sadly no low-fat alternative is going to cut it.
Like skinny, soy is much aligned among some specialty coffee makers. It heats quickly, so it can be a real challenge to get food micro-foam. It’s also been accused of curdling in certain coffees, and has a strong, nutty flavour that is definitely either love or hate.
But if black coffee’s not your thing and lactose is not even to be considered, there are some soy milks that are known to be better for frothing. The most commonly recommended soy is the milky and creamy, Bonsoy.
The Sweet Stuff
Specialty coffee-lovers argue that sugar drowns the natural sweetness of any seriously good coffee, so it may not be worth investing in specialty beans if you can’t enjoy them without that sweet kick. If you are a massive sweet tooth, though, you might like to play around with different kinds of sugar – perhaps try a dark brown or raw sugar for a richer flavour and see how it interacts with the coffee.
The caramel latte may be out of vogue, but that shouldn’t stop you from adding flavoured syrups to your home brews. Some commercial coffee roasters even sell coffee with flavours, such as hazelnut and vanilla, already infused into the beans. Just remember that if you use these regularly the flavours will seep into your grinder and brewing equipment, changing the flavour of future cups.