Whether served warm or chilled, almond milk is undeniably hot right now. You'll find it blended through smoothies, splashed on granola and battling soy as the non-dairy alternative in coffees. Indeed, as far as food trends go, almond milk is fast becoming ''a thing'', and one that's being embraced by Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane cafes.
But before you recall those preservative-laden cardboard cartons and UHT, think again. We've moved on. The new wave of raw almond milk is fresh, handmade, hyper-local, and in most cases delivered the same day by the very folks who made it. With nothing more than fresh almonds, a few dates, filtered water and a pinch of salt, it's rich, sweet and creamy and streets ahead of its mass produced rivals on taste.
One such producer is Sydney-based Anthony Tuong of Inside Out Nutritious Goods, who supplies his cold-pressed almond milk to Harris Farm, Ruby's Diner and various farmers' markets. Tuong says that health is what drives a lot of his customers. "The recent rise in popularity has certainly been helped along by the negative press surrounding dairy and soy milk," he says. He also believes that in a sea of highly processed, non-dairy UHT options, "fresh almond milk tastes so much better and is just the natural choice to a lot of consumers." He says that while most commercial UHT almond milks have a total almond content of about 2 per cent to 3 per cent, the fresh raw stuff usually sits at closer to 12 per cent.
In Melbourne, Almond Milk Co, by former barista Cameron Earl, is the brand of choice for many specialty coffeehouses.
When Earl started his business earlier this year, he was producing about 60 litres a week from his borrowed Ripponlea production kitchen. Less than five months later he's now pushing out 500 litres a week to keep up with demand from cafes including Seven Seeds, Proud Mary and Slater Street Bench.
Earl reckons that, as well as awareness of some of the perceived health risks of soy milk, the almond milk trend is driven by consumers' sense of food adventure and willingness to try new things. "It has everything to do with the people," he says. "Melburnians are so excited by food trends, and they want to keep up with the global food environment. And also, it tastes incredible."
Brother Baba Budan barista Cale Sexton is a big fan of Earl's product and says that fresh almond milk is "easy to texture" and due to its alkaline nature, "works really well with coffee's acidity which means it's less likely to curdle in the way that soy often does."
Paleo-inspired cafe Patch has its almond milk custom-made by Tanka. It's just almond milk and water, no added salt or sugar, so fructose-intolerant coffee lovers can still partake in an almond-milk latte.
Fellow Melbourne producer Jian Indomenico, of Latte di Mandorla, draws on his Italian heritage when making his almond milk. Packaged in distinctive glass bottles, his drop comes both au natural and in flavoured variations such as lavender, cacao, and vanilla and honey and the brand is gaining increasing popularity with specialty and organic retailers such as Plump Organics, il Fornaio and Hams & Bacon, which appreciate the old-fashioned aesthetic. "My product is actually an old Sicilian recipe," he says.
And it's definitely quality, rather than quantity that drives his hands-on production from his mother's Moonee Ponds kitchen. "The almond milk is made in such a way that it makes it difficult to mass-produce without sacrificing texture and taste."