6 Coffee Chains That Charge More For Non-Dairy Milk And 5 That Don't

Whether you're vegan, lactose intolerant, or just enjoy the flavor of plant-based milks, the use of non-dairy milk is on the rise. So, it's frustrating when you order from a coffee shop only to find a dollar tacked onto the price of your oat flat white. Some people colloquially call this a vegan tax — it's a surcharge added to drinks that contain non-dairy milk. Not all places add on this fee, which is why we've investigated which coffee chains charge more for non-dairy milk and which don't.

Still, you might be wondering what's with the fee. People who drink dairy milk get it for free in their drink, so why do folks have to pay more for non-dairy alternatives? Well, coffee shops that charge extra claim that it's due to the higher cost of non-dairy milk. But plenty of companies manage to factor this cost into their budgets and not charge extra for milk alternatives, so it seems like a poor excuse. Some customers even claim that this charge counts as a form of discrimination and are suing coffee chains that charge extra for plant-based milks.

Whatever the reasons for the plant milk surcharge, it's good to know where to expect it and where you won't have to worry about it. Nobody likes an unexpected extra fee when they come to pay for their coffee. So, whatever type of non-dairy milk you like, here are 6 coffee chains that charge more for non-dairy milk and 5 that don't.

Charges: Dunkin'

It might technically be a doughnut shop, but Dunkin' is also known for coffee. In fact, some people claim that Dunkin' makes better coffee than Starbucks. And another thing it does? Charges extra for non-dairy milk. At Dunkin', customers can order almond or oat milk in any coffee of their choice. But they'll have to pay up to $2 for the privilege.

There's some confusion over these extra charges and they don't seem to be particularly clear. There's a possibility rules may vary between franchises and sometimes staff might not even know the correct protocol. However, it seems as though there's a standard 50-cent surcharge for non-dairy milk, but only up to a certain quantity. So, if you order one of the biggest drink sizes, you might be charged for up to four quantities of milk, adding $2 to your drink. This means you could pay around $7 for a large iced coffee with non-dairy milk and an extra shot — which is steep for a coffee chain. You'd expect a specialty coffee for that price.

Some people believe that this extra charge is a form of discrimination. Lactose intolerance counts as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and, therefore, an extra charge for lactose-free milk could be seen as discriminating against those who can't drink milk. There's even been a class-action lawsuit filed against Dunkin' due to this, though the case is still ongoing.

Charges: Starbucks

Starbucks is the biggest coffee chain in the United States. It's become an institution, with secret menu items, rabid devotees, and thousands of stores across the U.S. — and even more worldwide. But one thing it hasn't managed to do in the U.S. is get rid of its charges for non-dairy milk. It's worth noting that in some other parts of the world — including the U.K. — Starbucks has done away with extra charges for plant milks, so why can't the chain manage this in the U.S.?

Starbucks offers a large number of dairy-free milk options. You can choose from oat, soy, almond, or coconut milk. However, in most cases, you'll have to pay between 70 and 80 cents for it. The exception is if you only want a little bit of milk to top up your drink. You can add up to 4 ounces of your chosen milk alternative to drinks for free. Beyond this, you'll need to pay the surcharge. So, if you like short drinks or Americanos with a dash of milk, you might get away without paying a fee.

Like Dunkin', Starbucks has had a lawsuit filed against it for the potential discrimination of charging extra for plant-based milk. The outcome of these cases could see an end to chains having a dairy-free surcharge, but for now, these fees remain.

Charges: Dutch Bros

Drive-thru coffee chain Dutch Bros is a staple for people who want coffee while on the move. It started as a coffee cart in Oregon, way back in 1992. However, it expanded over the years and now has over 800 locations — some company-owned and some franchised — with plans to expand even further. It's known for its fun, sugary flavored coffee drinks (although it also serves straight-up coffee).

Since 2021, it's had oat milk on the menu. There's a dedicated oat milk kicker latte on the menu, which has the oat milk factored into the price. You can also replace dairy milk with oat milk in any other drink of your choice. If you do so, you'll be subject to a 50-cent surcharge. This might not be as large a fee as you'll find for non-dairy milk in some coffee chains, but it still adds up. If you buy a couple of coffees a week, you'll end up paying an extra $50 a year for coffee, compared to someone who orders coffee with dairy milk.

Charges: Peet's Coffee

Peet's Coffee has always been ahead of the game when it comes to adding dairy-free milk to its menu. It first started offering soy milk way back in 1995. As more plant milk options became mainstream, it moved with the times. It put almond milk on its menu in 2013 (three years before Starbucks did) and oat milk became a staple at Peet's in 2019 — a year before Starbucks. One area where it's lagging is in charging customers for non-dairy milk.

Whether you want almond, oat, or soy, you'll have to pay 80 cents. This tacks quite a lot on the regular price of your drink. In 2023, Peet's got rid of its surcharge for non-dairy milk during April for Earth Month. However, it put the charge right back on and shows no signs of ditching it for good, so it seems like more of a marketing gimmick than a commitment to dropping these charges. Peet's itself has said that plant-based milk makes up more than a third of all the milk used by the chain, so it seems like it's time to treat its vegan, lactose-intolerant, and milk-avoiding customers better.

Peet's is another chain that's being hit by a discrimination lawsuit due to its charge for milk alternatives. Plaintiffs claim that this charge breaches the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whether or not you agree with this, it still seems like it's time to drop the excess charges.

Charges (for some non-dairy milks): Biggby Coffee

Biggby Coffee has more than 350 locations and is set to have over 500 by the end of 2024. So, while it isn't the biggest coffee chain, you might still have one in your city or neighborhood. Biggby offers a wide range of drinks, including flavored lattes, iced lattes, frozen lattes, iced hot chocolates, and more. And many of these can be ordered dairy-free by choosing a plant-based milk. However, whether or not you get charged for the milk depends on the type you choose.

It's a bit of a strange one at Biggby Coffee. You can choose from oat milk, almond milk, soy milk, or coconut milk. If you choose oat milk or almond milk, you'll be charged an extra 50 cents. Meanwhile, soy milk and coconut milk are both offered free of charge. So, this is good news if you love soy milk or coconut milk — or if you don't care what milk you have, as long as it's dairy-free. But oat milk and almond milk devotees will still be charged extra to get their milk of choice.

Charges: Tim Hortons

Although it was founded in Canada, donut shop and coffee chain Tim Hortons has locations all over the United States. While it offers non-dairy milks for its coffees, you will get charged for it. At Tim Hortons, you'll find oat milk, almond milk, and coconut milk. We appreciate the variety of options, as not everyone likes the same types of plant-based milk. Whichever one you opt for, you'll be charged an extra 25 cents. Although we'd rather there wasn't a charge at all, it's worth noting that this is the smallest upcharge of all the chains that do charge more for dairy-free milk.

Okay, so there's a charge for milk, but what about doughnuts? Another bummer is that you can't get vegan or dairy-free donuts from Tim Hortons. It offers a range of vegan bagels and some breakfast options, such as oatmeal and hash browns. However, if you're in there hoping for a sweet treat, you're out of luck. We're hoping that they'll improve their vegan offerings at some point, but for now, dairy-free customers might want to look for other options.

Doesn't charge: Pret A Manger

Now, we found ourselves in the sweet territory of coffee chains that don't charge for non-dairy milk — rejoice! Like many other chains, Pret A Manger — or Pret, as it's better known — used to charge for non-dairy milk. However, in 2020, it dropped its dairy-free milk surcharge and offers free plant-based milk of your choice in any hot drink.

At Pret, you can choose from oat milk, soy milk, and rice-coconut milk — all for no extra fee. Also known for its baked goods and lunch options, Pret has more to offer vegans and those who avoid dairy. Some of its other dairy-free and vegan options include the morning glory muffin, a meatless meatball wrap, a Mediterranean mezze salad, and Moroccan lentil soup with a bread roll. So, next time you head to Pret, you won't just get free plant milks, but a range of other great plant-based options.

Although Pret isn't the largest of coffee chains in the U.S., it's still got its finger on the pulse when it comes to plant-based options, so it's worth checking out if you have a store near you.

Doesn't charge: Caribou Coffee

If you're a fan of Caribou Coffee, the great news is that you can get non-dairy milk there free of charge. However, it isn't quite that simple. So, here's the kicker: if you want free plant-based milk from Caribou Coffee, there are some stipulations. You can't just rock up to your nearest branch and order an oat iced latte with no extra charge. Instead, you have to be a member of Caribou Perks and order ahead using the Caribous Coffee app.

There's a bit of history to Caribou offering free vegan milk alternatives. In early 2023, the coffee chain started offering free non-dairy milk on a trial basis. It was announced that this trial would run up until May 3, 2023. The trial proved popular enough to continue giving out free non-dairy milk, but only for customers who sign up for Caribou Perks and pre-order their coffee. This might seem like a bit of a pain, but it's free to join Caribou Perks, and ordering ahead in the app is a small exchange for saving 80 cents on every coffee.

So, while we believe it's time for Caribou to offer dairy-free milk at no cost to everyone, we still appreciate that there's a way to get it for free. Plus, you can save time when you order ahead since your drink will be waiting for you — there's no need to get in line.

Doesn't charge: Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee is a relatively small chain, with just over 100 locations, so you might not find one nearby, but if you live in or around cities such as LA, San Francisco, Chicago, or New York City, you might find one in your neighborhood. Plus, the chain is expanding, so who knows where one will pop up next.

Blue Bottle Coffee is a specialty coffee roastery and coffee chain. So, if you're sick of subpar coffee in some of the more popular chain locations, this one should be on your radar — it's among the best chain coffee shops. Its cafés also tend to be bright and beautifully decorated, so they're a great place to hang out. And what's more, oat milk is offered free of charge at all locations, so you won't have to stump up any extra cash just to avoid dairy.

It's not just that oat milk is free, it's now offered as the default milk at Blue Bottle. What this means is that if someone orders a cappuccino or a flat white, for instance, they'll get that made with oat milk, unless they specifically request otherwise. Dairy milk and almond milk are also available at no extra cost, but oat is the go-to. This makes a difference from most establishments, where it's assumed you want dairy milk unless otherwise requested. The reason behind this choice is to help Blue Bottle reduce its emissions to help benefit the environment.

Doesn't charge: Stumptown Coffee Roasters

You might have heard of Stumptown Coffee Roasters' beans — they sell some of the best coffee beans that you buy in grocery stores. However, it's also a small chain, with U.S. branches in Portland, New York, and Los Angeles. It's known for serving up top-notch coffee, but what some people might not realize is that these coffees come with oat milk unless otherwise specified.

Starting in 2023, Stumptown Coffee Roasters — like Blue Bottle Coffee — started serving oat milk as standard in all its coffees and other drinks, unless customers ask for an alternative. According to Stumptown, even before the switch to using oat milk as a default choice, around 50% of customers were ordering oat milk in their coffees. This move aimed to even further reduce the company's carbon footprint.

Unlike the coffee chains that charge extra for non-dairy milk, Stumptown doesn't make customers pay more if they don't want oat milk. You can request dairy milk or a number of other non-dairy milk alternatives with no upcharge, meaning everyone gets their drink the way they want it.

Stumptown has partnered with oat milk brand Oatly since 2018 and also makes a range of packaged, ready-to-drink iced coffee and cold brew products containing oat milk. So, even if you don't live close to a Stumptown café, you might be able to find their packed oat milk coffees in grocery stores.

Doesn't charge: Philz Coffee

Philz Coffee is a little different from your average coffee shop in a number of ways. For starters, you won't find espresso at Philz Coffee. By extension, this means you can't order espresso-based drinks, such as lattes, cappuccinos, and flat whites. Instead, Philz specializes in pour-over coffee. Each one is customized to your tastes and can take up to 5 minutes to make. You'll find a range of dark, medium, and light blends on the menu, with the tasting notes listed, so you can get an idea of what kinds of flavors to expect.

The other way that Philz is different from many other chains is that there's no upcharge for non-dairy milks. Most Philz locations have oat milk, almond milk, and vanilla soy milk that you can add to your coffee. Whichever you choose, there won't be any extra charge. The food menu can vary between locations, but there are generally some vegan options on the menu, such as a vegan chocolate chip cookie and a vegan breakfast sandwich. Philz is not only a coffee shop but also a roastery and carefully sources its beans from across the globe. So, you can expect high-quality coffee when you drink here. In fact, the coffee is so good that you might sometimes want it black.