First there was non-dairy creamer, the original "coffee whitener." It's the lactose-free powder that for decades was widely used as a "non-dairy" substitute for milk or cream but has rarely seen the inside of a cup of specialty "third wave" coffee. You've never come across a packet of the stuff at, say, Intelligentsia or Handsome Coffee (where you can't even get sugar).
Then there was soy milk. It may or may not have been a taste improvement over the sodium caseinate and vegetable oil in non-dairy creamer. And it tends to curdle in coffee (coffee, more acidic than soy milk, can act like a coagulant -- hello, tofu). Plus there are all those phytoestrogens and the stigma of GMO soybeans.
So, more recently, almond milk has been the dairy alternative du jour. High-end cafes such as G&B and Sqirl offer their own rich, nutty house-made almond milk to those who are inclined to skip the cream. When Four Barrel in San Francisco last year banned soy milk (citing legumey-ness), it started serving locally made almond milk instead.
But the latest trend might be hazelnut milk. The brand new roaster and cafe Bar Nine Collective in Culver City makes its own hazelnut milk. So does the just-opened Superba Food + Bread in Venice, which serves Stumptown Coffee. And Tyler Wells, who heads the coffee program at Superba, also offers hazelnut milk at his new downtown espresso bar Blacktop.
"There is one primary reason we use hazelnut milk over almond milk," says Bar Nine Collective roaster Mitchell Tellstrom. "We find the flavor of hazelnuts to agree better with the flavor of our coffees."
Lately, Go Get Em Tiger and G&B have been mixing a combination of house-made almond and macadamia nut milks -- 75% almond milk and 25% macadamia milk -- after experimenting with its recipe a number of times, for macadamia's richness and flavor, which offsets the slight bitterness of almond milk, a barista said. It's $1 extra for the almond-macadamia milk.
At Superba Food + Bread, it's an additional $4 for coffee with hazelnut milk because of the added cost of hazelnuts.
Word is that it also froths better.