Before I gave up dairy, I drank coffee every morning: a strong cup of joe with a generous pour of half-and-half. When I lived in New York, my favorite ritual was getting an enormous iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts that had enough cream to turn it a light shade of tan. So let’s get down to brass tacks. You want to go dairy-free, but what are you gonna put in your coffee? Here are your options:
- Man up and drink your coffee black.
- Give up coffee. Drink tea instead (without milk, obviously).
- Use a dubiously edible non-dairy creamer.
- Use a faux milk such as almond, rice, soy, or coconut.
Since I gave up dairy, I have become much more of a tea drinker than a coffee drinker. Not that hard for me because I’ve always loved tea. But let’s say tea isn’t your cup of… well, tea… and drinking coffee black makes you gag. That leaves options 3 and 4.
Non-dairy creamers, such as Coffee-Mate and Mocha Mix, have been around a long time and you can get them in liquid or dry powder form. Neither is appealing. Most non-dairy creamers have an artificial taste and strange mouth-feel, not to mention a plethora of unpronounceable ingredients.
So that leaves option 4: the other “milks.” I’ve tried them all. Almond milk, rice milk and soy milk tend to be thin and/or chalky in texture. Coconut milk is by far the best and it comes in many variations. Trader Joe’s Coconut Creamer is the closest thing to half-and-half I’ve ever tried, but it contains titanium dioxide — which might be safe, but the fact that it’s used in sunscreen just wigs me out.
Now I use plain old coconut milk. I steer clear of the ones that come in big cartons in the refrigerator section, like Silk and So Delicious, because most are sweetened and have a watery consistency. I prefer the canned or boxed coconut milk that you find in the Asian foods section, such as Thai Kitchen or Kara (my favorite); they tend to be thicker and contain fewer ingredients.
It may take a little while to get used to the slightly coconutty flavor, but once you do, it’s very much like half-and-half. Once opened, I store my coconut milk in a mason jar in the fridge. To take care of any separation that may have occurred, I shake it up before pouring some into my empty mug. (I pour it through a strainer if there are bits of coconut in it.) Then I nuke the coconut milk in the microwave for 15 seconds to take the chill off. And finally, I add the fresh coffee, stir, and enjoy.
Coming soon: where to get a great dairy-free cup of joe to-go!