Whether it’s that bracing cup of strong coffee in the morning, a lunchtime latte or a cappuccino after an evening meal, coffee is a major feature of many people’s days. It’s reassuring to know that coffee can be a part of a vegan lifestyle, too: a naturally vegan beverage, coffee is one everyday treat you don’t have to sacrifice. You may have made a lot of changes to what you eat and drink, so it’s nice to have one thing that doesn’t need to change very much. With just a few modifications, you can carry on enjoying your favorite coffee drinks without compromising your ethics or your health.
Is coffee vegan? Plain black coffee is completely free of animal ingredients. For white coffee drinks, you will need to replace milk and cream with plant-based equivalents. If you’re a vegan for ethical reasons, you may wish to source your coffee and other ingredients from companies that only sell vegan products for a completely vegan drink.
If you’ve landed on this page, you’re looking for information on coffee from a vegan perspective.
- Can you include coffee in a vegan diet?
- Are there any vegan companies that sell coffee?
- Which coffee drinks are vegan?
- How can you avoid animal products when you go out for coffee?
- Are instant coffee drinks vegan?
- Can you still enjoy your favorite creamy coffee drinks without using dairy milk or cream?
- What are some tasty vegan coffee recipes you could try making at home?
Fortunately, we have the answers. Keep reading to find out how you can enjoy delicious vegan coffee drinks.
Is coffee vegan?
The question “is coffee vegan?” looks like a simple one on the surface. Coffee beans, after all, are entirely vegetable in origin. They are the fruit of the coffee plant, harvested, dried and roasted to provide the delicious beverage that gets so many of us through the day. Beans and water: what could be more vegan than that? Things get a little more complicated, however, when you consider the ins and outs of coffee production — not to mention the extra ingredients added to your morning cup of joe, such as steamed milk or cream.
Plain black coffee would certainly be considered vegan in and of itself. Vegans who choose their lifestyle for health reasons may be fine with knowing that their cup of coffee doesn’t contain any animal ingredients — no saturated fats from cream, no lactose from milk, and so forth. Those who are pursuing veganism as part of a more caring, animal-friendly and environmentally conscious lifestyle may not want to stop at the contents of the cup.
For the health-motivated vegan, a secondary concern may be the healthiness or otherwise of coffee itself. Caffeine, the stimulant compound that gives coffee its reviving effect, is often seen as unhealthy; coffee in general is frequently regarded as a guilty pleasure for any health-conscious individual. That said, recent research has shown that coffee may have unsuspected health benefits. It’s rich in antioxidants and can improve your mood if drunk regularly.
If you’re pursuing a vegan lifestyle mostly for health reasons, the question “is coffee vegan?” becomes one of “what unhealthy animal-derived additives are in my cup of coffee?” Milk-heavy lattes and creamy cappuccinos are clearly not vegan –– they’re made with milk and other dairy products, which come from animals. These days, as more and more people are turning to a vegan lifestyle (or at least going dairy-free), you can find plenty of delicious substitutes for dairy milk and cream. They often taste better, too.
Nut milk is a popular substitution, with many people preferring these over the more established soy milk and creams. Oat milk is also vegan and very popular (Barrista edition), although some people find it nicer in tea than in coffee due to its milder flavor. Non-dairy milk substitutes are often artfully concocted to give a deliciously creamy flavour, and even to produce the decorative foam art so beloved of modern coffee connoisseurs. Of course, there are plenty of dried and powdered non-dairy creamers and whiteners. These tend not to be as palatable as liquid milk and cream substitutes; although some may be designed to foam up, they can’t be induced to create really good frothy heads or decorative foam art. In addition, powdered whiteners tend to be less healthy than a nut, soy or oat milks. They may also be made with animal fat.
Keep in mind that some of these replacements may contain animal products as additives. Always check before you buy, either by reading the ingredients printed on the packaging or asking the person serving you your coffee. Explain that you need a product that’s free of animal products, not just free of lactose.
Considerations for vegan coffee drinkers
A potential pitfall for the vegan coffee-drinker is flavored coffee. Most flavorings used to give coffee a hint of nut or vanilla are derived from vegetable or chemical ingredients, but occasionally you might encounter one that isn’t. Again, it’s a matter of checking the ingredients and knowing what you’re buying.
You should be particularly careful when buying any kind of instant coffee. Most brands of plain instant coffee do not contain animal products. That said, there are many instant coffee products on the market that are designed to produce white coffee or a latte or cappuccino style drink, with varying degrees of success. Many of these use non-dairy whiteners and creamers — but they can include dried milk or milk byproducts. You can certainly find vegan versions of these drinks; just be sure to check all of the ingredients in the package before you buy to avoid any nasty surprises.
If you’re a vegan for ethical reasons, the question here is how far you delve into the production of your chosen beverage. Factors to consider include the environmental track record of the company when it comes to growing and processing your coffee, and also their other operations. A company that is involved with operations that cause environmental damage is responsible for the needless deaths of animals, and some may prefer to avoid giving such a company their money.
In addition to concerns about the production of coffee specifically, many ethical vegans prefer to deal only with companies that eschew involvement with animal products altogether and sell only vegan goods. Fortunately, there are plenty of options here — more and more vegan companies and outlets are springing up and their product ranges get broader all the time. You don’t need to choose between the quality of your beans and the ethics of the company you buy from.
Another option for the discerning vegan is to switch to a coffee substitute. This allows you more variety and lets you stick to local ingredients, often ones that are more environmentally friendly than coffee. If you’re a vegan for health reasons, you may find these preferable. Hot drinks made from ingredients such as roasted barley are a delicious and convenient alternative to caffeine-heavy coffee.
Vegan coffee recipes
Vegan gingerbread latte: To make this vegan latte, you’ll need a tablespoon of black treacle or blackstrap molasses, a sugar cube-sized piece of root ginger (or half a teaspoon of ground ginger) and a pinch of cinnamon. Grate the root ginger finely. Mix the ingredients with hot black coffee — two shots of espresso or equivalent — then gently warm a cupful of nut or oat milk and stir in the coffee. Sweeten to taste, then top with vegan whipped cream and a pinch of ginger.
Irish coffee: This after-dinner staple can be made 100 percent vegan. Measure a shot of good Irish whiskey into a glass, then top up with two shots of espresso. It’s best to sweeten this drink with simple syrup — if you use granulated sugar, make sure you stir it very well to avoid any grittiness. Top off the drink with vegan cream, pouring carefully so that you get the desired layered appearance. You should also add some whipped vegan cream on top to give the best effect. Garnish with two or three vegan chocolate coffee beans.
Vegan cappuccino: If you’re feeling extra fancy, get yourself some professional-grade vegan milk and make this delicious foaming drink. If you don’t have a milk frother attachment on your coffee maker, you can warm the vegan milk in a saucepan instead and whisk it up with a mini whisk. Make your coffee as usual and then add a head of foamed milk, pouring it carefully to form a pattern. You might need a little practice to get the last part right but once you do, your vegan coffee will be the talk of your friends and family.
Turkish coffee: Spicy and fragrant, Turkish coffee is traditionally served without milk so it’s naturally vegan. It’s made rather differently to the coffee most of us are used to in the West. To start with, you’ll need very fine grounds — as fine as cocoa powder. Turkish coffee is unfiltered and relies on the fineness of the grind to be made properly. Secondly, you’ll need to put away your French press or espresso pot. Turkish coffee is made in a metal pan called an ibrik (a small saucepan will do). The best ratio is two teaspoons of fine Turkish coffee grounds to each cup of cold water. Mix the coffee and the cold water in the ibrik or saucepan. Add sugar if desired and a couple of cardamom pods. Bring the coffee to the boil, then remove from the heat, then boil again. This should generate the required head of foam. Serve very hot, with plenty of foam on top. Traditionally Turkish coffee is served with a glass of water and something sweet on the side. Vegan dark chocolate or vegan Turkish Delight made with agar instead of gelatin is the perfect accompaniment.