And so, despite obvious set backs in the real world of getting a shop, there’s still a list of things longer than my arm that needs sorting out and getting straight before I’d actually be ready to open that have nothing to do with the property itself. So for the afternoon I thought the premises could stew and Faisal can work his magic whilst I sit in the kitchen and drink endless cups of coffee.

As much fun as that is I thought that I should do some sort of pretense at work during my (rather extended) coffee break and so today seemed as good a day as any to see which vegan alternative to milk I like best. A quick run down to the shops left me with six candidates to play with and so – 18 steamy hot drinks later – I present to you….

The Non-Dairy Milk-Like Product Showdown!!!

They filled the entire drink thing in the fridge… the poor milk had to be relegated to the main shelf.

Since mostly they’ll be in the shop for making coffee with the most important thing was to make some badass lattes (err… nonlattes?) with them and see which one had the best combination of texture and taste. Just as a little aside it would be nice if they would taste good on their own or make a nice hot chocolate (even though clearly the best vegan hot chocolates are made with water) and so the testing process went something like:

1. Open, sniff, inspect and have a little up cold.

2. Steam and foam the stuff and have it on its own. (To see how it tastes and how much foam I can actually make without turning it into dishwasher foam.)

3. Steam the stuff and turn it into hot chocolate. (Because it would just be plain wrong if it didn’t make tasty hot chocolate.)

4. Steam and gently foam the stuff and turn it into latte. (Because that’s what it’s all about.)

So, without further ado, here’s how they did, starting at the worst going through to the best.

Alpro Organic Soy Milk: I’m not sure if I just got a bad batch or something like that, but this stuff tasted AWFUL! It had a funky strange mouth feel that felt like it was leaving a clammy residue of strangely preserved soy on my tongue and had an aftertaste that just lingered and lingered. As a hot drink on its own it had that horrible taste that I just associate with “health food” which put me right off. (I’m not sure exactly what it is… but there definitely is a discernable “health food” taste, just like there’s a definite “chinese supermarket” smell. It may not be any particular ingredient, but when it’s there it’s there and it just feels like someone’s taken something out and put something wrong in its place.) Don’t get me wrong, I love soy – I’m sure the Chinese side of my family would disown me if I didn’t – and having spent as much time in the East as I have the West, I’ve had plenty of chances to indulge that love, but that is what makes Alpro so terrible to me. (It makes me glad that I’ve never trusted the tofu that they sell in the supermaket.) Finding that this like the biggest selling and mostly widely available soy milk in Europe is like when you go to most of Asia and find out that the only way to find milk is UHT stuff, sure it’s more or less the same stuff… it’s just plain wrong. I’ll pop into Chinatown soon to see if I can find an unsweetened Asian version.

On the plus side, it did produce an excellent foam with very little effort. By the third cup I was making foam just as tight and that held a shape better than how my full fat milk foam turns out, but it just doesn’t justify the dodgy dodgy flavour in the slightest. This was the only product I had no hesitation in not finishing my cup and also the only one where I went back to the fridge and poured the rest down the sink.

Ecomil Quinoa Drink: was the second drink I tried (Alpro had been the first) and it sort of made me a little depressed about the prospect of ever finding something decent to serve instead of milk. The smell that greeted me when I opened the packet was sour, grainy, farmyard animally and nothing short of distinctly unpleasant. Perhaps I should have guessed by the way that even the text on the packet didn’t wax lyrical about its taste but instead chose to describe it as “a very digestive food”.

The actual aftertaste was quite good and the smell and initial taste got a lot better after it had been heated, but there was still a good half second period of unpleasantness before it kicked in and it made me want to gulp it down as quickly as I could so that I wouldn’t have to hold it back and go through the initial badness again. Hot chocolate went very nicely with it, but mostly because the chocolate covered for it until the better taste came through, coffee on the other hand was nothing like as pleasant… I could only take three sips. It didn’t produce a very good foam and it was pretty expensive too. It’s only saving grace is that, unlike Alpro, it left a pleasant aftertaste rather than a wake of badness.

Rice Dream Original: got me rather excited, since it was made from rice and boy do I love rice. But in the end I felt rather let down by it. Possibly it could be better if it weren’t so damned thin and watery despite trying to be milk, but as it is I don’t think I’d take it if someone were giving it away for free.

It wins out on the two products below it in the way that there’s nothing to really dislike about it (apart from a deficiency in the frothability department) but equally I can’t find anythig to like about it either. It’s got a hint of salt, which is quite nice I suppose, but all it in all it’s a distinctly uninteresting product. It very much feels like someone has sat down and tried to use rice to make a replacement or competitor for soy milk rather than create a brand new and lovely product and that is its greatest crime. It pretty much typifies the thing that annoys me most about the “health food” business; the products which are developed and that people buy are ones where someone has taken an existing an existing product and then tried to create a version of it with no gluten/no meat/no fat/no whatever rather than taking the ingredients that are available and tried to create something from the ground up. There are so many amazingly delicious things you can make without using one or two ingredients you’re trying to avoid… so why try to make inferior copies of things where the ingredients you’re trying to miss out are key. I wonder what sake is like before its fermented, now that would be rice drink worth trying.

Oatley: I had no idea that people made drinks out of oats until I went and found this stuff and I have to say… it’s GREAT! Out of all the drinks I tried I think the taste of this one is my favourite and the only things that stop it coming higher are that it doesn’t foam very well and it tastes funny with coffee. Maybe it’s a little on the thin and watery side, but probably it’s not much worse than semi-skimmed milk and since I imagine it’s targeted at the semi-skimmed/skimmed crowd and not really made to appeal to the people who like full fat milk (who aren’t going to switch to anything else unless it’s either gold top or a mix of milk and double cream… or is that just me) it’s not really so much of a criticism as just an observation.

It’s a little expensive, but if you see a carton in a shop then buy it and give it a try, it’s seriously delicous cold, gives you a fantastic feeling of satisfaction when hot and makes a nice cup of hot chocolate too. We haven’t got any cereal in the house, but I imagine that would be good. I did try making it into porridge though and that is amazing! It’s like normal porridge except that it’s porridgey to the max and super intense, I used a mix of half cream and half oatley… naughty me.

Ecomil Almond Drink: I think that Ecomil might just be a bit of a dodgy company… I really liked their almond milk a lot, but what kept it off the number one spot (apart from an ever so slight lack of foam) was a hint of the same dodgy taste that was there in the Quinoa drink. The overall taste of the stuff was delicous and the slight sweetness made it a very good match for coffee in the same way that milk is. It also had a fairly satisfying amount of fat, which always gets extra points in my books and probably is one of the reasons it’s got such a lovely texture too. Perhaps on its own it was not quite as good as it could have been, but its taste with coffee and chocolate was more than phenomenal enough to make up for that.

I’d very much like to try and find another brand of the stuff to see if they might make it better. I’m a little worried about people with nut allegies, but if I can find a brand I like then I think it will produce a vegan macchiato so good that I might even prefer to the milky version.

Bonsoy Soy Milk: After the experience with the Alpro I was not looking forward to another brand of soy milk, but a quick sniff and drink of it cold put all my fears to rest. It was smooth, it was velvety, it had a perfectly balanced taste of soy with not a hint of unpleasant sour tofu pungency or powderyness, it was – in short – absolutely delicious. If you’re drinking Alpro right now, do yourself a favour and switch to Bonsoy right now! It’s everything a soy milk should be and you don’t have to trek down to Chinatown to find it.

After looking on the box a bit more it turns out it’s made in Japan for the Australian market, which explains its nice flavour, but also its rather steep price. Interestingly it’s got barley in malty and non-malty forms as well as kombu in it, which might be what gives it the lovely well rounded rich flavour… then again that might just be because Spiral Foods don’t blow goats.

It pains me to admit it, but it seems like all the coffee shops serving up soy milk were right and if there’s a fantastic innovative product around for this then I haven’t found it yet. With a good soy milk you can get a nice taste, lovely foam and a great mouthfeel. I’ll be interested to see how Bonsoy compares to Yeo’s and Vitasoy and whatever else I can find that I can remember from when I was a kid, but just for the moment we’ve got a clear winner.

Bonsoy! Like fake milk, only tastier!