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Can You Put Milk in Tea? The Definitive "Rules"

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Can You Put Milk in Tea? The Definitive "Rules"

Can You Put Milk in Tea? The Definitive "Rules"

February 10, 2022

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We've all thought about it: can you put milk in tea? We talked to the people who actually grow the tea to get their opinion. The answer? Absolutely! You can add milk to any tea you want. 

Don’t listen to tea snobs who tell you that milk and tea do not go together. The best teas in the world taste beautiful, no matter how you choose to prepare them. In fact, milk can bring out interesting new flavors in tea. 

Award-winning Wuyi tea farmer Li Xiangxi says “the purpose of tea is to be enjoyed - hot, cold, with milk and honey… what matters is connecting with everything the tea has to offer.” 

In the spirit of Li Xiangxi’s advice, we’ll cover the “rules” of adding milk to tea to help you get the best results possible.

a mug of hot milk teaa mug of hot milk tea
a mug of hot milk tea
Permission Slip: Feel free to add milk to teaPermission Slip: Feel free to add milk to tea
you officially have permission to add milk to tea!

Adding Milk to Tea: What You Need to Know

Snobs argue that adding milk to tea is not authentic, but some of the oldest tea drinking traditions in the world combine tea and milk. The old Manchurian Qing dynasty traced its roots to a nomadic northern plateau culture where tea’s essential nutrients and caffeine were mixed with calorie-rich milk for the ultimate “energy drink.”

Even now, the tradition of hot milk tea is alive and well in trendy cafes from Tokyo to Hong Kong. The key to both modern milk tea and old-school Qing tea? Brew a strong enough tea to stand up to milk, and heat the milk before adding it.

  • • Brew a stronger tea for milk tea: use 50% more leaf than usual and brew at least twice as long.

  • • Heat your milk before adding it to hot tea, or be ready with a steamer wand to froth it up. Otherwise, the cold milk will cool down your hot tea. Tea tastes best when it is either hot or cold, not room temperature

  • • Add your favorite sweetener to taste. Great tea is naturally sweet, so you might need less than you think!

"Best Before" dates - what does a tea expiration date really mean?"Best Before" dates - what does a tea expiration date really mean?

Can You Steep Tea in Milk?

Steeping tea in milk is a great way to enjoy big tea flavor, but it does not yield the same results as a strong brew in water.

Why not?

a glass of iced milk teaa glass of iced milk tea
a glass of iced milk tea
  • • Some parts of tea’s flavor are only water soluble, while others are fat soluble. Milk is going to extract fat-soluble compounds first, yielding different and interesting results that are worth exploring

  • • Heating milk to 212°F is not recommended. Temperatures above 181° can scald and scorch the milk and change its flavor. Since ideal hot tea infusion is above this temperature, you can compensate by increasing the steep time.

  • Cold-brewing tea in milk is a good option because the tea has more time to infuse while the milk’s flavor is protected from heat. This can yield rich, beautiful brews.

Is Milk in Tea Good for You?

Tibetans, Manchurians, Mongolians and more add milk or butter to tea to create a more nutrient-rich brew. The protein and fat in milk enhance tea’s health benefits as part of a balanced diet.

Milk does not “take away” tea’s health benefits. While some short chain polyphenols can be disrupted in antioxidant activity, EGCG and other long chain tea polyphenols show remarkable resistance to the effects of milk. Polyphenols also last longer if they are bound with milk protein, increasing bioavailability and stability.

bikes, sunshine and iced milk teabikes, sunshine and iced milk tea
bikes, sunshine and iced milk tea
  • • Milk + tea is one of the world’s oldest energy drinks, combining useful calories, fat, proteins and caffeine

  • • Milk does not diminish the health benefits of tea on its own

  • • Drinking more water in general and more tea specifically is a health win, as long as the milk is in moderation.

Is There an Ideal Milk to Tea Ratio?

Don’t let anyone tell you that there is just one milk tea ratio you have to follow. 

You put milk in tea because it tastes better to you. It’s all about finding that magic balance where you get the most out of your tea and still enjoy the creamy hot milk tea you crave.

If you are just starting to experiment, one ideal milk to tea ratio to try first is 2/3 strong-brewed tea to ⅓ milk. Adjust from there to suit your own taste!

adjust your milk tea ratio to suit your own tasteadjust your milk tea ratio to suit your own taste
adjust your milk tea ratio to suit your own taste

Best Teas to Drink With Milk

Drink what makes you happy - the best tea to drink with milk is your favorite tea!

If you are looking for a new favorite to make the best pairings, we’ve got you covered. Milk builds on any dessert-like toasty chocolatey notes in a tea, but it can also taste just as good with fresh vegetal or floral notes.

Black Tea With Milk

Black tea is the classic pairing with milk. In the past, people used milk to cover up bitter flavors in low-quality black teas, but these days, you can get your hands on beautiful and inspiring black teas to rival the best milk tea bars in Hong Kong, Taipei or Tokyo. 

For the best black tea for milk tea, we recommend teas like these:

Chai Tea With Milk

“Chai” just means “tea,” but for many, the special drink is a creamy, spiced milk chai, complete with cardamom, clove and cinnamon. 

You can use any tea to make spiced chai, but black tea is most traditional. For more full bodied, try using dark shu pu’er or toasty roasted oolong.

Herbal Tea With Milk

Steamed milk and honey is the classic bedtime drink. Caffeine-free herbal teas can be a great option in the spirit of the bedtime classic. In fact, chai spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and cardamom are some of the most popular cozy milk steamer options out there.

Chamomile Tea With Milk: Herbal Chamomile Huai Flower Steamer

This chamomile steamer is the perfect caffeine-free bedtime herbal tea. 

Mix chamomile and the complex, sweet and aromatic Huai Flower and brew a double-strength infusion with boiling water. Blend with a teaspoon of honey and steaming hot milk of your choice.

Peppermint Tea With Milk: Peppermint Pu’er Nightcap

Peppermint can be deeply settling, especially with a touch of digestive shu pu’er tea in a cozy steamed milk nightcap.

Combine peppermint and pu’er tea, steeping a double-strength 1 cup infusion with boiling water. Add 1 cup of steaming hot milk of your choice. 

Coconut milk is especially delicious with peppermint!

Rooibos Tea With Milk: Vanilla Rooibos Oolong Latte

Rooibos is a full bodied caffeine-free herbal tea rich in antioxidants. It is made to be blended with vanilla for a sweet aftertaste, and a touch of roasted oolong like Big Red Robe for more complexity and toasty depth. 

Brew a double-strength 1 cup infusion of rooibos and Roasted Oolong with boiling water and add ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract. Combine with 1 cup of steaming hot milk.

Worst Teas to Drink With Milk?

Don’t listen to the tea snobs out there.

No tea is too complex or delicate to enjoy with milk. You can put milk in green tea. White tea can be great with milk, and oolong tea with milk can be beautiful.

The worst kind of tea to drink with milk is a tea that does not taste good on its own. If a tea is bitter and astringent, your body is telling you not to drink it. Don’t use milk to cover up something that was bad to begin with - instead, use milk to make good tea even more delicious.

  • • Avoid bitter, low-quality teas grown with pesticides 

  • • Avoid teas that don’t taste good without milk

  • • Avoid teas that are not transparent about the people who grew them and the agricultural practices used. High quality tea comes from small family farmers!

milk tea make with high quality green tea from the He Family in Laoshanmilk tea make with high quality green tea from the He Family in Laoshan
high quality tea comes from small family farms!

What’s the Best Milk for Tea?

Milk and tea is all about pairing flavor and texture. Your ideal milk depends on your favorite tea. 

One rule that never changes? Use the best quality milk and the best quality tea you can get your hands on! Whether you choose whole milk, almond milk, coconut milk or anything else is up to your preferences.

  • • Whole milk or cream is the classic base for traditional milk tea with black tea

  • Almond milk is a reliable dairy alternative that works with almost any tea

  • Coconut milk can be a rich treat with delicate green tea or jasmine

What’s Better: Milk or Cream?

Both milk and cream are great options.

Cream gives flexibility because you can use less to get the same flavor and body. This leaves more room in your cup for tea, giving your tea a chance to shine.

creamy milk tea topped with cinnamoncreamy milk tea topped with cinnamon
creamy milk tea topped with cinnamon

Browse Verdant Tea’s Blog to Learn More About Tea and Tea Culture

Tea culture is all about adaptation. Some of the earliest tea in the world was sipped with milk, butter, spices, and even salt, so don’t be afraid to experiment and try adding milk to any tea. You might discover something exciting!

The people actually growing the tea are excited for their work to be enjoyed however you like it best - tea with milk, tea on its own, or tea in a fun mocktail - it’s all up to you! 

Check out the Verdant Tea Blog for fun tea recipes and tips on brewing, storing and picking out the best teas. 

Most importantly, have fun!