Cold brew coffee, where you brew the coffee with cold water, has a lot of similarities with hot brewed coffee. However, it also has a lot of differences. Of course, the taste is very much similar, but cold brew is much smoother, less acidic, and naturally sweeter. Since the cold brew taste is so soft and not as strong as for hot brew, dairy might be a bit overpowering. Too much milk or cream and a lot of the cold brew taste will disappear.
So should you add milk to cold brew?
Should you never add milk to your cold brew?
You can, of course, add milk or even cream to your cold brew, but some ways might be better than others.
First of all, don’t add too much. Too much dairy, milk, or cream, and your coffee will taste more milk than coffee. If you are using milk, which I recommend for cold brew, you can either add it directly to the cold brew or make a foam (more about that soon). If you want to add it directly to the cold brew, add only a splash, and maybe brew your cold brew a bit stronger. When it comes to cream, I don’t recommend using it for cold brew at all, but I know that there are people who like it. So, you might want to give it a try, but as with milk, only add a splash.
Secondly, you might consider making a cold foam out of the milk. Cold foam is very common when it comes to cold brew, and at coffee shops, you can often get your cold brew with many variants of flavored foams. For example, salted honey cold foam, which you can find at Starbucks. Making a foam yourself is quite easy, and you can find many recipes on our blog, maybe try the popular coffee-flavored foam to match your cold brew?
But why would a cold foam be any better?
Cold foam for cold brew coffee
Why would you want to make a cold foam instead of just adding regular milk to your cold brew? Isn’t it just extra work? Actually, making a cold foam gives two great benefits.
1 – The foam stays on top of the cold brew instead of blending. Therefore, the cold brew taste isn’t overpowered, and instead of a coffee-milk blend, you can taste both the coffee and the foam separately. I like this a lot if you are to add any sweetener. I don’t like sweet coffee, but if you sweeten the foam instead of the coffee, you will get a clean and smooth coffee taste, and sweetness from the foam.
2 – The foam is made from incorporating air into the milk, and this is reducing the flavor intensity. It gets less powerful, and therefore it won’t overpower the cold brew. Foaming also brings some natural sweetness to the milk, which might be nice
Can you use other sorts of milk?
Often when discussing if you can add regular cow milk to cold brew, questions about other sorts of milk raises as well. Can you add soy, coconut, oat, or almond milk? Yes, you can. And, these sorts of milk might be even better for cold brew, at least if you want to add it directly to the cold brew.
These sorts of milk are often less dominant in their taste, and therefore, adding it to the cold brew won’t ruin the coffee. However, it all depends on the brand and production process, and I would still not add too much if I weren’t making something special (as Almond Milk Frappuccino).
But it is often tough to make foam from plant-based milk. So for foams, cow milk is probably still the best choice.
But why use milk?
So, if you want to add regular milk directly to the cold brew, only add a splash. You might want to consider a foam or plant-based milk. But why do you want to add milk?
Cold brew is most often drunk without any dairy since it is so smooth and has a natural sweetness. I most often drink my cold brew black. Sure, sometimes I experiment, and I add a foam, or I make a drink, for example, a Tonic Cold Brew. But 95% of the times, I make my cold brew, and I drink it in its purest form with some ice.
I think many people are used to adding milk to their usual hot coffee, and therefore they believe they need it for their cold brew as well. If you are one of those, let me tell you that you probably don’t need it. Brew some cold brew, add some ice, and give it a taste. If you still think you need milk, add it. But I think many people that add milk haven’t tried cold brew without any dairy, which is a shame.
Another reason why you might think you need milk is that you brew your cold brew too strong. You use way too much coffee (or too little water), and this creates a taste that won’t be any good unless you add milk. I often recommend brewing cold brew with a 1:16 coffee-to-water ratio. Or, brewing with a 1:8 ratio and adding equal amounts of cold brew and water to serving. You can find more info about ratios in the Cold Brew Coffee Ratio post I posted some months ago.
Summary – Cold Brew with Milk
Adding milk to cold brew might seem unnecessary, and I agree, many times it is. However, it all depends on your personal preference.
If you want to add milk or cream directly to your cold brew, I suggest only adding a splash and brewing your cold brew a bit stronger. You can, of course, use regular milk for this, but plant-based dairy might actually be a surprisingly lovely match.
Another way of adding milk to your cold brew is by making a cold foam. It is basically milk made to foam by incorporating air into it. You can also add different flavors or sweeteners to it. Many prefer foam because this allows the milk to stay on top of the cold brew.
So, to summarize. Add milk if you want to, but make sure to give cold brew a try without any milk. And if you’re going to add milk, you might want to try to make a foam or use plant-based milk.
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