Black coffee purists probably shudder at the thought of adding anything to that perfectly brewed cup of coffee they’re sipping right now. On the other hand, some people need to add something extra to their mug to make java drinking enjoyable, and that’s perfectly fine.
Add-in advocates might turn to sugar or honey to dress up their cups, but sweeteners aren’t the only things you can pour into your morning java. A good creamer could be a gamechanger, upgrading your plain joe by giving it a richer taste and thicker, creamier texture.
There is a seemingly endless supply of dairy-based creamers and non-dairy coffee creamer alternatives out there. With so many options, you might have trouble deciding which one is best for boosting the flavor of your iced or hot beverage.
That’s why we’re here to walk you through your coffee creamer options and help you figure out what to try.
Creamer vs. Milk
Aren’t creamer and milk pretty much the same things? Not really. Both are delicious coffee add-ins, but a few key factors separate them. Something to note before you read on: to keep things simple, we’re only comparing liquid creamer and whole milk here.
The primary difference is that while most creamers are non-dairy, milk is a dairy product. Creamer also tends to be thicker and creamier than milk and usually boasts a higher fat content and extra ingredients, like sugar, flavorings, or dyes that aren’t present in milk.
The way they taste also separates these two liquids. Whereas milk is a slightly sweet yet relatively flavorless beverage, creamer is noticeably sweet and often made to taste like something else, for example, hazelnut or mocha.
A Word on Nutrition
Pouring milk or creamer in coffee will drastically alter the joe’s nutritional value, even if you only add a little bit. Be careful on the coffee creamer aisle if you’re trying to watch your calorie count; dumping a lot of creamer into your daily joe can undo your diet before you know it!
When counting calories, you’ll notice creamer has the most, as it contains milk fat, which gives it a thick consistency and makes your coffee taste richer. Milk comes in at number two on the calorie content chart, but depending on your milk of choice, the amount varies.
If you ask for skim, one percent, or even two percent milk, the calorie content will be lower than whole milk since whole milk has a higher milk fat content (for context, whole milk is generally in the three- or four-percent range).
Don’t get so caught up in calorie counting that you don’t let yourself enjoy a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with adding creamer or milk to your coffee if that’s what you like, but remember that doing so means you’ll have to alter your diet accordingly, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
Analyzing Coffee Add-Ins
Let’s look closely at what you might use to dress up your cup of joe.
As Forrest Gump would say, milk and coffee go together “like peas and carrots.” However, there is more to milk than meets the eye.
Much of the west automatically considers cow’s milk the go-to coffee additive, but it’s not your only option.
Types of Milk
This is the most common milk used in coffee. It adds sweetness and thickness to your morning cup, and how it affects the brew’s taste largely depends on how the farmers raised the cows, the milk’s fat percentage, and the freshness of the milk.
Goat’s milk is more easily digestible than cow’s milk, and it adds an earthy taste rather than the sweetness of cow’s milk. This add-in goes best with medium-roasted beans.
While it isn’t widely used, buffalo’s milk can turn your java into a real treat. Plus, buffalo’s milk is fatty. So, it can add much-desired creaminess to your coffee. This stuff manages to be both sweet and tangy, and it’s worth trying if you can get your hands on it.
Unless you inquire otherwise, this is the milk your barista is most likely to use, as it makes your order creamier and sweeter. Whole milk is heavy, with somewhere between three and four percent fat.
Reduced-fat milk usually falls in the one- or two-percent range, although you can find milk with as little as half a percent fat. This milk balances sweetness and thickness nicely, allowing you to beef up your coffee without overdoing it on fat and calories.
Skim milk is fat-free, making it a great morning coffee addition for those counting calories. While much sweeter than whole or reduced-fat milk, skim milk is nowhere near as thick. So, if you value a creamy cup, this may not be the best choice.
Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives
A splash of almond milk gives coffee drinks, desserts, and other dishes a slightly sweet, nutty flavor. Non-dairy creamer lovers go gaga for almond milk because it’s one of the lowest-calorie milk alternatives available. Plus, it’s high in vitamin E, which works to protect the body from disease-causing free radicals.
Since it, like cow’s milk, has a naturally sweet and mild flavor, oat milk makes a suitable substitute in any recipe that calls for cow’s milk. This stuff is also easy to make at home; all you need are oats, water, and a sweetening agent, though that part is optional.
Cashew milk, while delicious, isn’t the best choice for anyone with increased protein requirements, as it has a notably low amount of it. However, the rich, creamy, and nutty milk is a worthwhile pick for Roasty readers monitoring their carb or calorie intake.
Of all the dairy-free milk on the market, coconut milk has the lowest protein and carbohydrate count. While it isn’t uncommon to find this liquid and its subtle coconut flavor added to South Asian dishes, coconut milk is also a popular coffee add-in, particularly among those who want to cut their carb intake.
Soybeans or soy protein isolate make soy milk, and in terms of protein content, the mild, creamy liquid is comparable to cow’s milk. The difference between the two — besides that one contains dairy and the other doesn’t — lies in calories, fats, and carbs, of which soy milk has about half as much as cow’s milk.
A bit of cream is yet another excellent addition to your cup of coffee. Like milk, the amount of milk fat it contains determines how many calories the cream adds, how it makes the joe taste, and how it alters the consistency of the contents of your mug.
Types of Cream
Half and half
Equal parts milk and cream, half and half is one of the most common add-ins American cream lovers pour into their coffee. It contains about 12 percent fat, making it thicker and sweeter than whole milk.
If whole milk or half and half aren’t thick enough for your liking, try upping the fat content a bit with light cream. This stuff contains about 20 percent fat, and even though it will add extra calories, it’s still better for you than some of the heavier options.
Light whipping cream
Light whipping cream contains around 30 percent fat, making it heavier than light cream but still not as thick as whipping cream or heavy cream.
This is much thicker than half and half and usually contains about 35 percent milk fat, depending on the brand. A splash of whipping cream makes your coffee much thicker and creamier.
As its name implies, this is the thickest and heaviest option you can find. With 38 percent (or more!) fat, its richness can enhance your joe. However, a little goes a long way here; if you use too much, your coffee might get too thick for you to enjoy.
Many turn to coffee creamers to thicken up their joe. You can find these in powder or liquid variety. Many types of coffee creamers are dairy-free — perfect for our Roasty readers wrestling with lactose intolerance.
Despite the implications of the name, creamers aren’t cream at all. Sometimes, they’re even called coffee whiteners. But if they aren’t made of cream, what are they made of?
Three main components make creamer: water, sugar (or an artificial sweetener), and oils. Sometimes, companies make an effort to make healthier choices in terms of ingredients, but others do not. Be vigilant in checking the ingredient list before you buy; what goes into these products is less straightforward than real milk or cream.
Liquid vs. Powder Creamers
The primary difference between powder and liquid creamer is how you store them. You can put powdered coffee creamers in your cupboard, as there’s no need to refrigerate them.
On the other hand, most liquids need to go in the refrigerator once they’re open. Shelf stable options exist, but they’re preferable for high-volume environments since they don’t last more than a month after opening them.
Roasty Rankings: Our Picks for the Best Coffee Creamers
Coffee-Mate Original Liquid Creamer
Let’s kick things off with a classic, shall we? We don’t doubt you’ve heard of Coffee-Mate, and we admit we’re fond of the refrigerated liquid. You can keep things simple with the Original recipe or dress up your cup with one of 25 enticing flavors (there’s even a roster of festive flavors for the fall and winter seasons — pumpkin spice, anyone?).
These dairy-free creamers are also void of lactose, cholesterol, and gluten. Each tablespoon of this stuff averages about 20 calories. Want to give Coffee-Mate a chance but don’t want something that requires refrigeration? There are powder, single-serving, and shelf-stable liquid products, too.
Califia Farms Almond Milk Creamer
Almond-based coffee creamers are perfect for non-dairy enthusiasts, and this one from Califia Farms is no exception. Though the product we’re recommending is named the Barista Blend and marketed to baristas (a.k.a., the unsung heroes who keep us going daily), don’t worry. You don’t need to work in a shop or know how to create perfect latte art to buy a carton of this stuff.
This delicious creamer is free of soy, dairy, gluten, and carrageenan. Plus, it’s non-GMO and kosher! Califia Farms, a leading vegan coffee creamer brand, also boasts fun flavors like hazelnut, pecan caramel, and vanilla. So, if the plain jane unsweetened stuff isn’t exactly calling your name, there’s something good in the brand’s product lineup for you, too.
Laird Superfood Creamer
As far as plant-based creamers go, this one from Laird Superfood is top-notch and made of coconut milk powder, organic coconut sugar, aquamin (calcified sea algae), mushroom extracts, and extra virgin coconut oil. Don’t let anything you see on the ingredient label scare you off; it’s all good!
Let’s get something out of the way: you can’t taste the mushroom, so there’s no need to worry about your cup of joe tasting like fungus. But just because you can’t taste it doesn’t mean it’s not working.
The combination of cordyceps, Chaga, lion’s mane, and maitake in this mushroom extract blend work to support cognitive function, weight management, and more. The aquamin also works in your favor, providing a healthy dose of good-for-you minerals in every serving.
The bottom line: free of soy, dairy, and artificial ingredients, this creamer makes a lovely and healthy addition to your morning joe.
NutPods Original Coffee Creamer
If you’re in the market for vegan creamers, NutPods should be on your radar. This brand was born from Madeline Haydon’s desire to find a dairy-free creamer that was just as creamy as dairy-based versions, low-calorie, cholesterol-free, and lacked unnecessary add-ins. When she couldn’t find a product that met her needs, Haydon decided to make one herself. And that was the beginning of NutPods.
NutPods creamers come in lots of yummy flavors — French vanilla, caramel, and hazelnut, for example — but we’re partial to the original. This plant-based alternative creamer made with coconut cream and almonds blends beautifully with a batch of your favorite freshly brewed espresso.
Not a fan of almond or coconut? Not a problem! NutPods also has creamers made from oat milk, perfect for use in a homemade latte or cappuccino.
Elmhurst Hazelnut Oat Creamer
Another plant milk-based creamer worth trying comes from Elmhurst. Elmhurst, established in 1925 as a dairy and relaunched in 2017 as a plant milk company, has an impressive roster of almond, pistachio, oat, and cashew creamers. To keep things simple, we’re only highlighting one of the brand’s products: the hazelnut oat creamer.
A splash of this creamer, made from 100 percent whole grain oats and hemp seeds, makes your morning joe rich, creamy, and a little sweet. While it doesn’t have any dairy, gluten, gums, oils, artificial flavors, or fillers, Elmhurst’s creamer has plenty of nutrients, thanks to the HydroRelease method used to make it.
International Delight French Vanilla Creamer
We think it’s safe to assume you’ve heard of International Delight. After all, the brand is somewhat of a creamer giant, so we’d be remiss to exclude one of its offerings from our buying guide. International Delight has an extensive list of everyday flavors (plus some seasonal and limited-time offerings), and one of the most popular is French vanilla.
You’ll most likely find a bottle of this French vanilla-flavored goodness in your grocery store’s refrigerator section. However, if you want something with a longer shelf life, look into International Delight’s creamer cups; they let you curb your vanilla creamer cravings, no refrigeration required.
How to Make Homemade Coffee Creamer
Making coffee creamer is surprisingly simple. So simple that it makes me wonder why more people don’t go the DIY route.
Gather your ingredients
The ingredients you use ultimately determine your creamer’s taste, so only reach for the highest-quality products.
Every creamer needs a milk base, like half and half, milk, or a dairy-free milk alternative. What you choose is up to you; the following steps are the same regardless.
Sweeten the deal
Adding a little sweetener to the mix can make your taste buds sing. White or brown sugar, liquid sugar, or even honey make a great addition to your homemade creamer. Artificial sweeteners work, too, if you want to stay away from high sugar content.
Add a burst of flavor
After settling on a base and sweetener, choose a flavor that you and your fellow java sippers will delight over. French vanilla, hazelnut, mocha, and caramel macchiato are some of the most popular choices, but almost any flavor will work, so feel free to experiment. Use high-quality extracts for the best results.
Pro-tip: if you don’t know what type of creamer you want to make, head over to our homemade coffee creamer round-up for some inspiration.
Prepare your creamer
We recommend prepping your creamer the night before you want to use it. That way, it’ll be chilled and fresh when you pour your morning coffee.
Pour two cups of milk base into a small saucepan, then add one or two tablespoons of sweetener and flavor. Bring the mixture to a simmer on the stove, whisking it constantly until everything’s mixed. When the creamer steams slightly, remove it from the heat. Let it cool, then place it in the refrigerator overnight. By the time you wake up, you’ll have creamy creamer to pour into your joe.
Bailey’s Irish Cream
If you want to ramp up the taste of your coffee and give it a little “adult spin,” you could try adding Bailey’s Irish Cream to your next cup of coffee. Bailey’s is an Irish whiskey and cream-based liqueur, meaning there is alcohol present in the drink.
It mixes very well with coffee, giving it a truly unique taste combined with the effects of the alcohol to create a more grown-up coffee experience. Be careful of how much you drink, though, especially if you have to drive.
A Creamer Q&A: Answering Frequently Asked Questions
How do you store coffee creamer for freshness?
Follow the directions printed on the product label and avoid using it after the expiration date for the best, freshest results. But generally, anything sold refrigerated needs to be kept refrigerated, and anything sold unrefrigerated is fine to stay in the pantry unless otherwise noted.
You should use your products within one to two weeks, except for powdered creamer and single-serve creamer cups; those last for three to six months and one month, respectively.
How do I tell if my coffee creamer has gone bad?
Plenty of things can ruin an otherwise perfect cup of coffee. An incorrect coffee-to-water ratio, stale beans, and — you guessed it — expired creamer. So, how do you know when that bottle in your fridge is past its prime?
The long answer to this question is in our detailed “how to tell if coffee creamer is bad” guide. However, the short answer is to choose one (or a few) of the following steps:
- Check the expiration date.
- Rely on the sniff test.
- Look for visible signs of spoilage.
- Taste it.
How much creamer should you put in your coffee?
You can add as much or as little creamer as your heart desires, but typically, one or two tablespoons should do the trick.
What are the most popular coffee creamer flavors?
You’d be surprised at some of the flavors coffee creamer companies can create; it’s nothing short of magical. Some of the most popular picks are French vanilla, hazelnut, mocha, caramel macchiato, Italian sweet cream, and pumpkin spice when the fall season rolls around.
Can you freeze coffee creamer?
Yes, you can freeze liquid coffee creamer! It’s not recommended by most brands, particularly those who make dairy-free coffee creamer, as the ingredients may separate. However, it is possible, and plenty of people do it successfully.
If you’re freezing creamer in bottles, pop the containers in the freezer and walk away. Some say you should pour some of the liquid off first to keep the bottle from exploding, but truthfully, this isn’t necessary. However, you need to label containers with the freeze date, especially if you’re freezing multiple bottles; doing so helps you use them in the order of freezing.
Some people even pour their creamer of choice into ice trays and make creamer cubes, which are especially useful for iced coffee fanatics. Powdered creamers can be frozen, too; stash the entire container in the freezer, and that’s all!
How long does coffee creamer last in the freezer?
Since creamer manufacturers don’t suggest freezing their products, setting a use-by date for frozen creamer isn’t easy. However, user experience seems to show that it’s probably a bad idea to keep it in the freezer for more than six months. It’s probably still safe to drink after then, but you risk degradation in taste and quality.
How do you defrost coffee creamer?
The best way to defrost frozen coffee creamers is to move the bottle to the refrigerator and let it sit until it melts.
How do you use thawed coffee creamer?
Once the creamer has thawed, use it within two or three days (don’t forget to shake it well first!), and don’t refreeze it. That said, you don’t necessarily have to wait for it to thaw to use it; frozen creamer is quite useful, too. For example, dropping a creamer cube into a mug of piping hot joe can cool it down rather quickly.
Keep It Creamy
As you can see, there is a pretty long list of cream options for your coffee. Remember, always consider your calorie and fat content when using creamer, so you don’t go overboard. You don’t want your coffee to make you go up a pants size, after all. That said, experiment with all of these different options to find the perfect creamer for you.
Not all types of cream will go with every coffee roast. Continue experimenting and keep a few options on hand, so you always have some type of coffee creamer or milk to add to your next cup of coffee.