Beware the coffeehouse…

The warm inviting atmosphere of the uptown coffee shop lures you in. You sit in one of the creaking, flowery-upholstered mismatched chairs, open your favorite book and reach for a hot, steaming cup of…LACTOSE??? For crying out loud. Just when you thought everything was safe and cozy, the froth skimming your upper lip carries that familiar odor of warm milk. Unfortunately, lattes are full of it. Most coffee drinks have only a shot of espresso, and the rest of the beverage is steamed milk. Here is what you need to know to survive a trip “out for coffee” with your best friend.

Stay away from convenience stores. Yes, Quick Stop and Tom Thumb have “cappucino” machines, but this coffee is undoubtedly made with a dairy product, most likely dried milk. You could always ask the clerk if the machine is dairy free, but how and why would he know?

Good news! When I first wrote this section, chain coffeehouses, like Caribou Coffee and Starbucks, did not cater to the lactose intolerant. But! Thanks to the immesurable pressure I’m sure they felt after thouroughly exploring my website, both have added West Soy Vanilla soy milk to their menu.

You may still visit your locally run coffeehouse. This is the coffeehouse that does not have a mass produced menu. The menu is usually written on a chalkboard screwed to a natural brick wall above the counter. The furniture decidedly does not match and looks like it came from Goodwill or a fire auction. (You may have noticed chain coffee places imitating this look with mass produced chalkboards.)

Local coffeehouses may have soy or rice milk to substitute in their lattes for milk. This lets them cater to not only lactose intolerant customers, but also to vegans (who don’t consume any animal products). You may recognize these vegans by their colorful hair and ornate piercings. Do not be afraid! Befriend these people, as they are usually friendly and help make more dairy-free foods and drinks available for the lactose intolerant, too.

Regardless of where you go, be aware your drink won’t be as frothy and pretty as your friends’, because nothing froths quite like real milk. (This is why some places don’t carry substitutes.) If rice milk is substituted, your drink will be sweeter, and if soy milk is substituted, your drink will have a more earthy flavor (read: it will taste vaguely like dirt).

Even if you ask for soy or rice milk, make very sure the flavoring they add is not full of lactose. Usually this is only a concern if you order a chocolate flavored latte. Oh! And don’t forget to tell them you do not want whip cream! Often, people don’t make the non-dairy connection of choosing rice milk and smother your otherwise digestible drink with rich whip cream.

To be safe anywhere, order your coffee straight and black. No lattes, cappucinos, or anything with whip cream on top.

I am not the only one who has run across this problem. Caffeinated Magazine features a writer in a similar situation. Read James P. Oliver’s essay and review of coffee houses in Spokane, WA.

Where do I go? Java Joe’s Coffeehouse in Des Moines, IA serves soy milk coffees. The Daily Grind in Stillwater, MN serves rice milk coffees. And now, both Caribou and Starbucks, conveniently located in any highrise tower or local strip mall, carry soy milk as well.

You can thank me. 🙂

5 Responses to “BEWARE: Of the Coffeehouse!”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    I have three children, two of whom have become lactose intolerant at the onset of puberty. I am not lactose intolerant, and up until recently neither was my husband (he is showing signs of it, he is 57). Our youngest are 10 and 14. The 14 year old found he could finally have a slice of pizza, but is afraid to try it again. The 10 year old has recently become intolerant too. Although, my oldest, whom carries more native blood than even myself (my mother is from this background, as well my oldest ones father is too), has no problems with milk (odd I think), in comparison to her younger siblings, who their dad (half siblings) is from German/Polish background (as far as we know). It has been a puzzle to us and we wondered if the younger kids issue had more to with something external? Another issue to mention. We have found that working with dried milk and/or cheese products works for our cooking and eating, only fresh seems to be their problems.

  2. Andrew Says:


    Its hard to tell if lactose intolerance is hereditary or caused by something external. In children’s case, I would guess its hereditary, just for the fact that both kids have symptoms and they received symptoms during the ages of 10 to 14 (many children begin to experience symptoms in this age range). You, your husband or some of your other family members still might have lactose intolerance, but just not have symptoms. This would mean they have “lactose malabsorption,” which is the inability to break down the dairy sugar in milk. You can have lactose malabsorption and still have no digestive symptoms from the consumption of dairy products.

    Regarding your kids, its actually important for them to continue to have dairy foods for the nutritional value. I would suggest that they try taking lactase supplements, lactose-free foods or they can try a product called Lactagen.

    Hope this helps.


  3. Jen Says:

    The Panera chain not only serves soy milk, but creates their hot soy mochas with Hershey’s syrup, with is a non-dairy chocolate syrup. I react to any dairy (including the casein protein), so this is the safest way for me to enjoy this drink. The Coralville, IA Panera goes so far as to put soy milk out in a canister for customers to use in their regular coffee.

  4. Renata Says:

    I live in Brazil and here it is a little bit hard to find information about lactose intolerance.
    This site helped me so much!
    After reading this comments I went to Starbucks here, and Yes! They have soy milk. I loved it!! Thank you!

  5. Bradley Says:

    My friend has lactose intolerance, he told me he has a hard time going to restaurants and picking out “safe” foods. So I decided to make a website of alot of popular restaurant’s (McDonalds, Wendy’s,etc….) milk free products. The website address is as follows

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Disclaimer: No medical doctor has reviewed the contents of this website/ blog. This website/blog was development for the purpose of providing a central place for lactose intolerant individuals to come to share basic information and personal insight. It is advised that you check with your physician or medical advisor before acting upon anything learned from this site.