Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

The Case For Free Dairy-Free Milk At Coffee Shops

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at BU chapter.

There’s nothing quite like that first sip of a good coffee, no matter what coffee shop you ordered it from. Everyone has their preferences, whether you rely on your old favorite or you’d rather try new drinks. For me, every coffee order I try has one thing in common: dairy-free milk.

When I found out I was lactose intolerant last year, I was far more concerned about the possibility of not being able to have cheese anymore. But, I quickly realized that every coffee I would purchase would now be about 70 cents more expensive.

While I’m grateful that lactaid pills saved me from cutting cheese from my diet, there’s only so much they can do. There are still a few foods I have to avoid entirely: ice cream, Alfredo sauce, and, of course, regular milk.

Every time I order a coffee and watch the total tick upward when I ask for oat milk, I grow more frustrated. Can you imagine ordering at a restaurant, telling them you have a peanut allergy, and then finding at the end of the meal that they’ve added a few dollars to your bill for removing the peanuts? I shouldn’t be penalized for avoiding food I cannot have.

Coffee shops claim that the charge offsets the extra cost of dairy-free milk, but, as someone who regularly buys oat milk for my apartment (living in Boston, I usually find it somewhere in the $3 to $5 range), I have a hard time believing that I’m getting 70 cents worth of it in my grande latte. 

According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Report, the average cost of a gallon of whole milk in America in March 2023 is $4.36. In Boston, the average price of a gallon of whole milk in 2023 is currently $4.42. At Target in Boston, Oatly oat milk, the brand Starbucks uses, is $5.69 for a half gallon, making it more than double the price. (Though I personally prefer the Target brand oat milk, which is only $3.79 for a half gallon). Of course, coffee shops aren’t getting their milk from places like Target, as they have to buy it in bulk, but I do recognize there is a price difference regardless.

I get it — dairy-free alternatives are more expensive, but with how much brands like Starbucks are already up-charging for a cup of coffee, I think they can handle the cost. Here’s proof: as of last year, all Starbucks locations across the UK stopped charging for dairy-free milk. As a business, they seem to be doing just fine. In fact, they launched a marketing campaign around oat milk drinks, actively encouraging customers to try the supposedly too-expensive alternative.

While these shops could argue that their main customer base for dairy-free milk is people who are vegan, which is a choice they’re making and therefore justifies the extra charge, people who are lactose intolerant or who have dairy allergies do not have a choice. I would be perfectly happy to have non-vegan, lactose-free milk in my coffee, but I have yet to find a coffee shop that offers lactaid milk, let alone offers it free of charge.

I have found a few ways to get around the charge — but I shouldn’t have to scour the menu for options that might not have it. Some Dunkin’ Donuts locations (including the one on campus in Kenmore Square) don’t charge for dairy-free milk in their iced or hot coffees as long as you’re not ordering an espresso-based drink. At Starbucks, you can get any milk you want in your cold brew free of charge. But as someone whose drink of choice is an oat milk latte, I wish avoiding additional charges applied to all drinks. 

It’s time for American coffee shops to make the change — UK Starbucks locations have been proving it’s possible for over a year now, and I’m ready to stop paying extra to avoid an ingredient I cannot have.

Want to keep up with HCBU? Make sure to follow us on Instagram, like us on Facebook, check out our Pinterest board, watch us on TikTok, and read our latest Tweets!

Gabrielle is a senior studying English at Boston University. When she's not writing for Her Campus, you can find her listening to Taylor Swift, reading a romance novel, or exploring new places in Boston. You can follow her on insta @gabriellepeck15.