If you're a frequent coffee drinker and find yourself hitting up every office-type coffee bar, you're probably familiar with Coffee Mate. They're the makers of the single serve coffee creamers that are usually kept in full stock. They've been at it for over 50 years and have long been considered the leaders in the industry. 

It's hard to know exactly what's in those little creamer cups since they don't list the ingredients on the single serve containers. Is Coffee Mate vegan? The label does boast the phrase "lactose-free" and you've probably heard there's no real cream in it, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's vegan.

What's Really in Coffee Mate

Claire Waggoner

The ingredient list for "The Original" flavor of Coffee Mate in single serve containers says it contains water, coconut oil (yep, it's mostly oil), sugar, sodium caseinate, dipotassium phosphate, mono- and diglycerides, artificial flavor, and beta carotene color. 

In the case of Coffee Mate, lactose-free does not mean vegan. While the classic Coffee Mate-style creamers contain no real cream and no lactose, they do contain a milk derived protein. 

What Makes it Non-Vegan

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Caroline Ingalls

While used in very small amounts (less than 2%), the sodium caseinate in the creamer is not a vegan ingredient. It's a protein derived from milk commonly known as casein and is an important protein in the cheese-making process

It may seem strange to add in a milk protein to a "creamer" that doesn't have any other milk ingredients, but it helps keep the product stable. The casein protein helps prevent the water and oil from separating. Plus, casein has been separated from all the other components in milk, so it really is free of lactose (the sugar in dairy).  

What About the Powdered Stuff?

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Christine Chang

If the sodium caseinate makes sure the oil and water don't separate, you'd think the powdered form of this non-dairy coffee creamer wouldn't need to contain any milk ingredients.

But the ingredient list for powdered Coffee Mate contains many of the same ingredients as its liquid counterpart: corn syrup solids, hydrogenated vegetable oil, sodium caseinate, dipotassium phosphate, mono- and diglycerides, sodium aluminosilicate, artificial flavor, and annatto color.

The reason the powdered version also needs to contain sodium caseinate is because it's not made as a dry base. The powdered version isn't a mix of powdered ingredients, it starts as a liquid and is dried using a method that turns it into a powder. This method of processing still requires that the oil and water (which is evaporated when it's dried) don't separate, and the sodium caseinate is needed to keep the product stable. 

Does Coffee Mate Make a Vegan Creamer?

coffee, milk, tea, sweet
Nancy Gao

The good news is that Coffee Mate now has a line of vegan creamers made with coconut and almond milk. Unfortunately, they don't come in single serve containers and they must be refrigerated.

You should also be careful if you're picking up a bottle at the store. The vegan creamers are a part of Coffee Mate's Natural Bliss line, which are not all vegan. Make sure the bottle you pick says it's made from almond or coconut milk, otherwise you'll be buying a coffee creamer that actually contains real cream. 

If you're vegan and looking for an alternative to the shelf stable Coffee Mate creamers, there are some options out on the market. Califa Farms has a big selection of vegan creamers with flavors like pecan caramel and their own version of plant-based half and half. They come in shelf-stable boxes but do need to be refrigerated once opened. Your best vegan on-the-go option is Coconut Cloud, a powdered coconut creamer that comes in portable, single serve packets. 

While you may not be able to find vegan single serve coffee creamers at most coffee bars, there are plenty of plant-based options out there. Preparation is key, but being able to enjoy creamy coffee at a moment's notice is well worth it.