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Starbucks to offer coconut milk for coffees, lattes

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NBC News - Sick of soy? Can't handle dairy? You're in luck: Starbucks announced it's adding coconut milk to its menu starting later in February.

The coffee chain said customers have been asking for a non-dairy alternative to soy, and Starbucks chose coconut milk over almond milk because of fewer “allergen challenges,” according to a statement. But the brand's latest option appears to have several additional benefits — including a potentially better cup of joe than other milk alternatives. 

A Starbucks spokesperson told Today.com that more than 84,000 people voted that the brand should introduce another non-dairy alternative on its website, and it tested coconut milk in about 600 stores last year to see what customers thought.

Starbucks chose coconut milk because its “rich creaminess” tasted best with its coffee and espresso, the spokesperson added.

Alex Bernson, a barista for eight years who now writes for the Portland-based coffee website Sprudge, is no stranger to the alternative milk debate. He told Today.com that coconut milk is a good choice because it foams well — meaning you can have a real non-dairy cappuccino.

“Rice milk, you can't steam at all. It gets hot but it doesn't have any sort of foam,” said Bernson, who worked at several independent coffee shops. “Hemp doesn't steam well and kind of tastes like milk that's in the bottom of the bowl when you finish Lucky Charms.”

As for soy, Starbucks' current only option for the non-dairy crowd, “it's not the greatest,” Bernson said of the milk's foaming abilities.

He questioned the mass market appeal of milks made from rice or hemp, for example, but noted coconut has already proven to be popular.

“There's definitely been a coconut water craze in the last five years,” he said. “You see coconut oil used in lots of things, in holistic health and cooking.”

While soy has been a popular milk alternative for years, customers might be shifting away from soy milk for several reasons. Dana James, a nutritionist based in New York City, pointed out that it has more calories than milks made from nuts, like coconut. 

“A cup of soy is 120 calories, versus a cup of coconut milk which can be anywhere from 40 to 60 calories,” James told Today.com. Aside from additional calories, soy has been a controversial product for some time. 

“It's believed that 95 percent of soy is genetically modified, and it really raises concern for people,” James said.

Research into soy's role in breast cancer is conflicted, but doctors suggest soy, like everything else, is okay in moderation. But while nut allergies are a well-known concern, some people may also have trouble tolerating soy.

Starbucks will offer coconut milk in its stores starting February 17. Just like soy milk, the option will cost customers 60 cents. 
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