What type of milk is best for coffee?

All froth? Choosing milk for your coffee is a serious business.
All froth? Choosing milk for your coffee is a serious business. Photo: Justin McManus

Most Melbourne coffee drinkers take their brew with milk. A straw poll of cafe owners suggests about 85 per cent prefer white coffee.

We're getting fussier about our beans but we're still slow to care about the milk that goes into our morning cuppa. It does matter; a standard latte is only 15 per cent coffee, the rest is milk.

Milk plays a big role in how coffee tastes, according to Preston coffee roasting company Ducale Coffee. It holds regular milk-tasting sessions for cafe owners and in a blind tasting of six full-cream milks (served cold, warm and with coffee), Jonesy's Dairy and Procal came out on top. The tasters found Coles milk insipid, while the unhomogenised Elgaars was too dominating.

Ducale roaster Rob Stewart encourages people to think about their choice.

A consequence of the "milk wars" between big supermarkets is that milk producers can reduce costs by diluting fresh milk with up to 16 per cent permeate, a watery byproduct of milk processing.

"Milks with added permeate tend to have less body, less sweetness and their micro foam collapses very quickly, affecting presentation," Stewart says.

We're getting fussier about our beans but we're still slow to care about the milk that goes into our morning cuppa.
We're getting fussier about our beans but we're still slow to care about the milk that goes into our morning cuppa. Photo: Melanie Faith Dove

Milks with no added permeate enhance coffee's natural characteristics without suffocating flavour. But unhomogenised milk is difficult to work with in a busy cafe because the milk bottle needs to be shaken every time it is used to distribute the fat through the milk.

Boutique or organic milk can cost twice as much as standard milk.

At Auction Rooms in North Melbourne, Andrew Kelly has switched to Schulz milk because it's from a single herd and comes directly from the farmer to the cafe.


"Baristas used to talk about milk cutting through the coffee as if it was the enemy, but now we talk about milk complementing the coffee."

While Kelly champions filter coffee, up to 85 per cent of his customers choose espresso-based drinks and of these, about 75 per cent are milk-based. While full cream is a better product, he feels he can't take skinny milk off the menu.

Fleur Studd, of Market Lane Coffee, was initially nervous about not offering customers skinny milk but says it hasn't been a problem. "We have found that lower-fat milk is just not as delicious and the flavour, body and sweetness of the drink are compromised."

She also uses Schulz organic, unhomogenised milk from Timboon, which is pasteurised at low temperatures so it retains enzymes that help with digestion.

Sourcing a local quality product was a priority for Marinus Jansen of Padre Coffee when he chose St David Dairy milk for his cafes. It's produced by regular customer Ben Evans, who has opened his own micro dairy in Fitzroy.

Jansen's pet hate is a scalding hot latte. He says the ideal temperature for milk in coffee is 60 to 65 degrees but if a customer wants an extra hot coffee he will serve it.

Simon Michelangeli from Fugazza says his customers are attracted to the taste and health benefits of A2 milk. He's developing a new blend to match the different taste profile of light milk.

Family-run Jonesy's Dairy is a favourite with many roasters. Fed up with low prices for their milk, Wayne and Rhonda Somerville set up their own dairy in Kerang, in northern Victoria, in late 2009. Today, they sell 95 per cent of their milk to cafes, and to a few independent food stores (including Happy Apple, Ascot Vale; Village Grocer, Yarraville; Renaissance IGA, Hawthorn).

Business is booming and they expect it to double in the next year.

Rhonda Somerville says if cafes are spending a lot on coffee beans, they want quality fresh milk to go with it.

"Baristas are looking for consistency in flavour, frothing ability and minimal processing. Our milk has a good, clean, unadulterated taste that does not interfere with coffee blends."

Milky business - who uses what

■ Auction Rooms, Monk Bodhi Dharma, Market Lane Coffee - Schulz Organic Dairy

■ The League of Honest Coffee, Seven Seeds - St David Dairy

■ The Duchess of Spotswood, Two Birds One Stone - Jonesy's

■ Fugazza - A2

■ The Maling Room - KyValley Farms

■ Axil - Pura

■ St Ali - Demeter biodynamic