Attempting to Make a Calcium-Free Latte

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Over the summer, I was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). I could dedicate a series of long blog posts to this topic, but only a small part of my troubles are relevant to this particular blog post. At the time, I may have been just a few weeks or months away from needing dialysis. One of the oddities in my blood tests was a high calcium reading.

I don’t want you to worry. I’ve made changes to my diet, I spent a lot of time sleeping, and my kidneys have adequately resumed their duties, but the high calcium level is still there—though it isn’t all that far outside the normal range now!

My Calcium Free Latte

When my kidney specialist told me to avoid calcium, I didn’t think that would be a problem. I was surprised how difficult it was! At that time, I was sleeping sixteen hours each day, and when I was awake, I was always tired. I’d find myself wandering around the house while my wife was asleep or at work, and I’d be wondering what I should eat.

I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I was often foraging through the cabinets looking for something small and easy to prepare. My choices were limited. When my doctor confirmed that I was diabetic, the diet was quite simple; avoid carbs and eat protein!

He called me the next morning, because the results of my blood test were in, and my kidneys were barely functioning. The kidney specialist threw a wrench into the works. Since my kidneys were failing, I also needed to avoid protein. Avoid carbs. Avoid protein. Avoid calcium.

I was excited one day when I found a can of corn in the cupboard. Butter doesn’t have much calcium, and the carbs aren’t too terrible, and I can microwave corn!

Then I read the nutrition information. That little can of corn had more calcium than a glass of milk or a slice of pizza! I had to give up pizza, and I had to give up my daily lattes. That stupid can of corn wasn’t going to be on my list of high-calcium foods to cheat with!

Giving up lattes

I still remember the day I put the moth balls in my Rancilio Silvia. I was too tired to put the espresso machine away on the day we got home from the news that I can’t have any calcium. A few days later, though, I emptied the reservoir and drained as much water as I could out of the boiler.

It was just another thing I couldn’t have or do anymore. I’d been using that machine every day for nearly four years. Draining Miss Silvia and putting my Craft Coffee subscription on hold was a bummer of epic proportions!

When I started feeling better, I wanted coffee!

When I was asleep more than I was awake, I didn’t really miss drinking lattes. As my condition started to improve, I really wanted to add coffee back to my diet. I’ve been keeping my calorie intake low, and I’ve been avoiding as much sugar and calcium as I can.

I started doing some research. How can I make a latte with no calcium? Avoiding fat and sugar is easy—skim milk and Stevia will do that trick there! How do you avoid calcium?

The Internet gave me all sorts of ideas. Several non-dairy milks are low in calcium. The options available at the grocery store were a different story. I checked the labels on cocounut, almond, and soy milk—any milk-like substance I could get my hands on. They all had as much or more calcium than real milk! I assume they’re fortified in some way.

Non-dairy creamer

I didn’t even look at the non-dairy creamers at first. It seemed blasphemous to use some sort of weird mixture of chemicals and vegetable oil in a latte. I don’t know why I thought this, because I would have considered using soy or almond milk just as blasphemous a year ago!

Non-dairy creamer is calcium free, and it is available with or without sugar. I’m talking about the liquid stuff in the dairy refrigeration, and not that weird powdered stuff. I’m using Nestle Coffee Mate. It is available is all sorts of flavors, but I’m using the original unflavored kind.

Can you make an awesome latte with non-dairy creamer?!

Absolutely not. I experimented a lot, and I still haven’t made anything as good as a latte with 100% whole milk. I’ve made things that aren’t entirely unlike a latte, though, and they taste alright. Not as good as the real thing, but they’re enjoyable.

Coffee Mate creamer lattes taste alright, but the texture is all wrong. They aren’t unpleasant, but the foam isn’t right, and the foam disappears long before you finish sipping your latte.

Heavy cream is low in calcium!

Heavy cream was my first mistake. I don’t know why, but I assumed the fats from the milk were what my latte was missing in regards to both flavor and the problems with the foam.

I was wrong. The heavy cream available at the supermarket is ultra-pasteurized. That means they take it up to a higher temperature than regular milk during the pasteurization process, and this changes the sugars. That changes the flavor a lot. Ultra-pasteurized lattes taste funny.

And the heavy cream didn’t help my foam. It isn’t the fats in the milk that make up the structure of the foam. You need the proteins. You would think I would have figured this out on my own. I’ve steamed skim milk before. The texture isn’t as nice as whole milk, but the foam is plenty stable.

I tried various ratios of non-dairy creamer, heavy cream, and water. The water was to bulk up the contents of the steaming pitcher a bit. It also helped dilute the latte without adding additional fat or calories. I don’t add water to my pitcher anymore, but it did work well enough.

The important lesson that I learned here is that milk is quite different than watered-down heavy cream!

If you want proper foam, you need to add some milk!

I’ve given up on making completely calcium-free lattes. My levels are down quite a bit, and they may even be in the normal range next time I get checked. I’ve been adding some milk to my steaming pitcher.

It doesn’t take a lot of milk to improve the foam by a huge margin. I’ve tried ratios of around 20% milk and 80% heavy cream, and even that comes out looking and feeling so much more like a proper latte than a 100% Coffee Mate latte.

The more milk you use, the better it tastes. I’ve settled in on using about 1/3 2% milk with 2/3 Coffee Mate non-dairy creamer. It isn’t perfect, but it is definitely satisfying my craving.

I’m not certain how much of each ingredient I’m actually ingesting. There’s always a lot of extra liquid left in the pitcher. I imagine that most of the foam winds up coming from the milk, while the remainder of the steamed liquid is close to the expected ratio of milk and creamer.

I’ve switched from my old triple-shot basket to a double-shot, so I’ve reduced the size of my overall latte by 1/3. One 8-ounce serving of milk has roughly 300 mg of calcium.

I’m probably putting about 3 ounces of milk into my steaming pitcher, so that’s a total of 100 mg of calcium. I’m using about half of the volume of fluid from the pitcher in my double-shot latte. I imagine I’m getting somewhere around 50 mg of calcium per latte—certainly less than 100 mg!

Stevia instead of sugar?!

I am definitely leaning towards the diabetic side. It is at the very least a major contributing factor in my kidneys shutting down. I’ve been doing a good job managing my carbohydrates, and my glucose numbers are still a little above normal, so I’m avoiding using sugar in my lattes.

I’ve tried Stevia and Splenda. Neither tastes right, but I’ve learned that if I use both Stevia and sugar, I barely notice the odd taste of the Stevia.

Sugar in a latte?! That’s crazy talk!

Quite a few years ago, I learned that I am a supertaster. I guess most supertasters learn to tolerate the strong flavors that they don’t enjoy, and it seems to be common for those supertasters to find their calling as chefs.

I never learned this skill. I’ve tried tasting regular coffee and espresso right out of the machine. My photography and limited audio-editing expertise would describe the sensation as being a lot like clipping. No matter the coffee, my bitter taste buds feel like they’re maxed out.

Add some milk and sugar, and I can usually pick out many of the things that Craft Coffee lists on their tasting notes on each bag of beans.

I will be sticking with sweet lattes.

Whole milk is so much better

I do cheat every once in a while. After taking such a long vacation from the Rancilio Silvia, my success ratio with pulling shots has plummeted. I’m doing better, but I’m still much more likely to get a fast pull than I used to be.

When I see what seems to be a perfectly timed pull, I think about dumping out my concoction of Coffee Mate creamer, milk, and heavy cream. Will one whole-milk latte kill me? I’d say I’ve cheated roughly once a month, and I try to use 100% whole milk and all sugar at least once with each bag of coffee beans.

The foam is better. The texture of the milk is better. Milk tastes better. Drinking a 100% whole-milk latte is an amazing treat for me!


I was hoping that last month’s blood test would tell me that my calcium levels were fine. I already knew my kidneys were doing a fantastic job again, and there was a good chance my worries about high calcium levels were over. I wasn’t quite that lucky, but that’s OK!

I’m functioning well enough that I can get away with eating a couple slices of pizza and drinking one whole-milk latte every month, but I think I’m going to be drinking these downgraded lattes for a long time. I better get used to them!

I don’t think this post will have a wide audience. My Google searches for a calcium-free latte came up completely empty. I imagine there aren’t a lot of folks making lattes at home every day, and a low-calcium diet seems extremely uncommon. I doubt there’s much overlap between those two groups!

I bet there are at least two of us, though! I’ve already done the research and experimentation. Now you don’t have to!