Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.
On my way to work earlier this week, I stopped at a coffee shop by my apartment just in time to hear the woman ahead of me order an oat-milk latte.
“You know,” she said, adjusting her small red Fjallraven backpack while the barista prepared her drink, “I was at this coffee shop in New Jersey last week, and they didn’t have any oat milk.”
“No …” the barista gasped, wide-eyed.
“I was devastated,” the customer sighed, shaking her head. The barista mentioned how awful it had been when the shop’s oat-milk supplier was backlogged last month. They agreed they never wanted to be caught in a situation without oat milk ever again.
When I was growing up, soy was the only readily available milk alternative. It was often served over dense, fiber-heavy cereals at the homes of the same kids who got sent to school with homemade fruit leather instead of Fruit Roll-Ups. (These kids always seemed happy and well-adjusted enough, but I — my own young, doughy body flooding with the hormones and carcinogens and saturated fats of heavily-processed foods — felt very sorry for them.) Then, about five years ago, almond became the milk du jour before everyone realized that almonds are a thirsty crop that’s sucking California dry, and it transitioned from “trendy coffee order” to “problematic fave.”
Enter: oat milk.
Oat milk makes some big promises. It is has more protein and fiber than almond or cashew milk and because oats absorb more water than nuts, it tends to be creamier. Oats cost significantly less than nuts, so it also tends to be cheaper. Plus, unlike almond milk, which requires you to soak the nuts for up to two days beforehand, oat-milk lovers can make homemade oat milk in under and hour.
Wanting to be on-trend milk-wise, I decided to join them and make my own. It’s easy and affordable, and making your own milk seems like a domestic power move, on par with Ina Garten growing her own vegetables, or Martha Stewart covering up her own insider-trading. Also, I feel guilty about how much California-killing almond milk I’ve been pouring into my coffee every morning.
I found an easy recipe on AVirtualVegan.com. Since I was vegan for two whole weeks in college, I figured I too was virtually a vegan. The Virtual Vegan’s instructions were straightforward: You soak rolled oats in water for half an hour or more, drain, blend with about three parts water, and then strain through a cheesecloth.
As with almost all of my culinary undertakings, the first obstacle I faced was equipment-related. It was easy to order cheese cloth online, but the only blender we have in our apartment is my roommate’s MagicBullet, which is smaller and less powerful than a standard blender. And because our kitchen barely has enough storage for our handful of plates and various lewd coffee mugs (my beloved slow-cooker currently lives in a box between the foot of my bed and my bookcase), bringing another appliance into our home was out of the question.
To its credit, the MagicBullet worked extremely well, and because I could only blend small batches at a time, I was able to experiment with how watery I wanted the milk to be and how much vanilla I wanted to add. I preferred the thicker, creamier texture, but no matter how I prepared it, all of my oat milk tasted pretty much the same — like what I imagine a burlap sack might taste like, one you find in the corner of the refurbished barn your friend is throwing her “rustic chic” wedding in and shove in your mouth to suppress a frantic scream after someone requests “Wagon Wheel” for the fourth time.
I gave some to my roommate Mallory try and she froze briefly, before squeezing her eyes shut in disgust and flailing around the room.
“It lingers!” she wailed. “Make it stop!”
Our roommate Kenny was more forgiving.
“I’m … kind of into it?” he said pensively. “It’s confusing, I think. It tastes like oatmeal, and my brain just doesn’t expect oatmeal to be liquid.” He stuck his tongue out a couple of times. “It really does coat the tongue, though.”
The next morning, I poured some oat milk into my coffee, thinking maybe it was better as an additive, not as a stand-alone drink. It didn’t affect the flavor of the coffee that much, but the disconcertingly slimy texture it left behind on my tongue certainly woke me up.
Thinking back to the woman with the red Fjallraven backpack, the one who was so shaken from being denied oat milk in New Jersey, I figured I must be missing something. I too wanted to love oat milk! On my way to the office, I stopped to buy another oat-milk latte, as well as a carton of Oatly, the hip, Swedish brand of oat milk, hoping I could overwhelm my tastebuds into submission. The latte tasted kind of like dirt. The Oatly tasted better than my homemade oat milk, but also kind of like dirt.
Finally, I had to admit it to myself: I just don’t like oat milk.
Homemade oat milk is great. It’s an easy, eco-friendly, affordable homemade alternative to dairy or nut milk, and hopefully, as it gets more popular, lots of people will make it and love it and use it to passive-aggressively lord their domesticity over their friends. But this week, I learned that will never be me. I’ll probably go back to drinking plain old cow’s milk. Or maybe cashew milk? I don’t know. There are too many milks now.
My report card
Taste: D (for Dirt)
Ina Gartenness: B
My Overall Performance: B-