Dairy-Free Barista Tips

 Image: Califia Farms - Dairy-Free Barista Tips

We spoke with award-winning barista, Jon Stovall of LA’s Cognoscenti Coffee, to get his take on why Califia Farms Barista Blend is his almond milk of choice for coffee drinks.

Jon agrees that almond milk is fast becoming a popular option with the coffee crowd. “Not only is it healthier, but the micro-foam it creates gives your coffee a smooth taste and allows baristas to create latte art that rivals that of dairy milk,” says Jon.

“Of course, you have to have the right almond milk to make this happen and I’ve discovered that a key taste differential is almond milk that is made with blanched, not roasted, almonds. This is because the blanched almonds don’t compete with the coffee flavor and deliver a much more 'milk-like' taste and consistency.”

Jon explains that the challenge in steaming any non-dairy milk has to do with the elasticity that’s required to stretch and steam it into a familiar froth. Califia Farms Barista Blend is Jon’s almond milk of choice because it’s the only almond milk creamer designed specifically for those who appreciate a fully creamed, dairy-free cup of coffee.

So how can your make your own beautifully steamed, plant-based lattes and cappuccinos at home?

First of all, consider using cold brew coffee, like Califia’s Concentrated Cold Brew Coffee, which can be served hot or cold. The process to create the concentrate brings out sophisticated taste profiles

Getting Steamy

Achieving great steamed (or, as Jon would say, “sexyfoam”) microfoam using almond milk requires a very gentle but turbulent ‘stretching phase.’ Stretching is the tearing sound you hear (like paper being torn) and is the air going into the milk to create the silky micro-foam. You need to stretch your almond milk early and quickly because that’s when they accept the air more easily. You need to introduce all the air into the microfoam before the almond milk hits 100 degrees to allow more time to spin the milk into a finer texture. “In my opinion, Califia’s Barista Blend is really the only almond milk creamer around that can create “sexy” microfoam,” said Jon.

The Tips:

 Image: Califia Farms - Dairy-Free Barista Tips

Making a great cup starts with the right equipment. This list skips the professional grade steamers and offers tips for equipment that might already be in your kitchen. One thing required by all methods mentioned here is a kitchen thermometer.


Yes, you can ‘steam’ almond milk without any fancy equipment. Just heat it gently until bubbles arise. Make sure not to burn the milk, aiming for 130-140 degrees. For some additional froth, give it a whirl with a quick hand whisk. “This will make hot milk that has a bit of foam, but there are better ways to make hot foamy milk.”


Also not ideal, but it works. A microwave has the benefit of speed and less chance of burning. Set microwave at 50% and heat for 30 seconds – check it if it’s not quite there, simply stir and heat for another interval. If you don’t have power levels on your microwave, use the defrost setting. Don’t exceed 150 degrees.


You don’t need a fancy espresso machine with an integrated steam wand (that small protruding pipe that provides steam for milk-frothing). Instead, return to basics with a wand frother. Battery operated, they won’t heat or steam, but they will whip up a great foam; push the button and put the frother into your stove top pan of milk for approximately 20 seconds, stretch early and quickly before the milk hits 100 degrees, and voila! Or put the wand frother directly into your cup of almond milk for 20 seconds for a quick microfoam-“esque” texture.


“This is probably the best way to achieve the foam you desire - and it’s the way I would do it if I didn’t have a commercial espresso machine at home,” says Jon. A plunger frother essentially operates like a French Press coffee maker to create a creamy froth. Available in stainless steel and glass, these are best when they come with a spout. To begin, add cold almond milk to the fill line and microwave until hot. Then set the lid in place and push the plunger in and out of the almond milk 5-8 times to create bubbles and foam. It should just about double in volume to become a textured, delicious microfoam.


 Image: Jon Stovall, lead barista and trainer at Cognoscenti

Jon Stovall is the lead barista and trainer at Cognoscenti Coffee, the sought-after coffee ‘pop up’ in Los Angeles. Started in 2009, Cognoscenti was one of the earlier adopters of the multi-roaster program with a sustainable approach in long term relationships. Jon is a barista guild member of America/SCAA. In 2012, he was elected by the Barista Guild of American members to represent the western region, where he helped develop curriculum and events for the barista camp. He's also an esteemed member of the brain trust that developed the initial U.S. Latte art championship expo event which was designed to help the U.S. compete in the world latte art championship.