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Market Lane Coffee at the Prahran Market stopped selling soy milk coffees last year.
Market Lane Coffee at the Prahran Market stopped selling soy milk coffees last year. Photo: Angela Wylie

Matt Holden

Poor Dan Yee. The Salvage Specialty Coffee barista was named The Sydney Morning Herald Good Cafe Guide Bonsoy Best Barista last year.

That's already a mouthful. But somewhere along the way towards a story on coffee news website Sprudge, Yee became ''Sydney's Best Soy Barista''. ''Ha, yes,'' says Yee. ''That was my mate (and Sprudge correspondent) Matt Davis having a bit of fun.''

So what does Sydney's best (non-soy) barista actually think about soy milk and coffee? ''It just doesn't present well with our coffee. It coagulates and goes really chunky; the definition is horrible,'' says Yee.

The problem is partly to do with the coffee, Yee explains. ''The quality of green beans coming into the country is improving, and people are roasting lighter to bring out the natural acidity in higher-grade coffee. The proteins in soy don't react well with that.''

In cows' milk, the proteins bond better, giving caffe latte a creamy texture. But in soy milk they tend to curdle: ''You're making tofu,'' says Yee.

''Soy also has a lower caramelisation point than cows' milk, so you have to literally burn it to get it to a temperature that most people will accept. Ideally, you'd only heat it to about 55 degrees, but that's too cool for the average coffee drinker.

''So it's difficult to work with, but if the customer wants it, well - they're paying for it,'' says Yee.

Melbourne specialty roaster Market Lane Coffee stopped serving soy milk in its coffee last year. Market Lane's Jason Scheltus blogged at the time: ''We're not proud of our soy-based drinks. Soy milk curdles with our coffee, resulting in an unpleasant texture and a less-than-perfect taste.''

Market Lane general manager Jenni Bryant explains: ''The lighter roasts and fresher coffees that we serve have higher acidity, and that doesn't work with soy milk.''

There are also philosophical concerns. ''You want to serve what you feel good about. We couldn't apply the level of traceability to soy milk that we apply to green coffee and cows' milk,'' Bryant says. (Market Lane serves organic, unhomogenised milk and roasts beans sourced directly from farmers.)

''People interpret it as us trying to make people drink coffee the way we say. But it's about serving a product that we believe in.

''Think of it this way: you don't go to a seafood restaurant and ask for a hamburger.''

What's the most extreme coffee order you've ever made, heard being made or wish you'd made! Share your suggestions in the comments below.

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