Being surrounded by coffee roasters, syrups, gadgets, gizmos and machines at Caffe Culture, highlighted the elephant in the room, or cow in fact.

Brits are now drinking an astonishing 1.7bn cups of coffee a year. But with lattes and cappuccinos ranking as the most popular brew, it’s milk that’s cafes are selling most of. But are many really thinking about where it comes from and how it’s been produced?  As a nation, we’re consuming 7bn litres of milk. With the rapid rise in the number of so-called mega dairies, where huge herds live indoors all year round, an increasing amount of our milk comes from cows that have never even seen a green field – running completely contrary to the image in our mind’s eye and what nature intended.

We gathered together a group of milk royalty to discuss the white stuff at a panel session in the Business Theatre at the show at Olympia, and to impress upon the audience of café owners the need to ensure they’re sourcing and serving the right stuff.

Dairy farmer, former BBC Food and Farming Farmer of the Year, and co-founder of Free Range Dairy Network, Neil Darwent, Bobby Bawa, Managing Director of Food Made Good Approved Supplier Foodspeed, which also has a royal warrant, and Roseanne McEwan, Brand Development Manager of Cotteswold Dairy, tackled issues of taste, price, traceability and the welfare of cows and farmers.

A short film showing a Gloucestershire herd being let outside for the first time this spring may well have been enough to persuade people of the importance of allowing cows to exhibit their natural behaviours and enjoy the diet nature intended for them – grass! You’d never describe a cow as looking good on the dance floor, but they certainly can’t be faulted for their enthusiasm – boy did they look happy to be back in the field

We take free range eggs for granted now, said Bobby. So why not insist on the same standards for milk and indeed all dairy products, he asked. His company Foodspeed has been offering free range milk produced by Cotteswold for a couple of months now and a number of SRA Members including Petrichor at The Cavendish, The Hospital Club and The Breakfast Club are now serving the milk which comes with the Pasture Promise. The cows must live outdoors for at least half the year and there’s a price premium – meaning the cost is between that of regular milk and organic – and importantly farmers get their fair share.

Roseanne said that feedback from customers had been very positive in terms of the quality – baristas are really pleased with the frothing capabilities, she added.

Cafés go out of their way to tell their customers about the origin of their beans, as well as the certifications they have, or in some cases triple certifications. So why not showcase the milk, said Bobby, treat it like a premium product, rather than a valueless commodity?

In time, Neil predicted, if we do pay greater heed to the provenance of milk,  there could be the opportunity to market it as a seasonal product – its taste and qualities varying during the year, depending on the cows’ diet. Now there’s a marketing opportunity – but only if you know where your milk is from and what the cows are consuming. Judging from the number of questions and nodding heads in the audiences, the milk moovement is heading in the right direction.

If you care about the life we afford our cows, the nutritional value of milk, the countryside and supporting rural communities and would like to find out more about free range milk, come and meet the cows (and the farmers) on a lovely Cotswold farm on 9 June. Click here for more details.