Don’t Ruin That Brew! – Which Teas Need Milk And Which Don’t

To add milk or not to add milk? That is the question. It’s been the question ever since humans began brewing leaves in boiling water. There’s a strong chance it forever will be the question, because whether or not a cup of tea tastes better with or without milk is subjective and therefore impossible to confirm in an objective sense. 

Many tea lovers will swear against adding milk to their brew. George Orwell even argued in his brilliant essay on the beloved beverage that those who add milk and sugar don’t actually enjoy the taste of tea and are only modifying it so it becomes tolerable. 

While there are some teas flavourful enough to go without dairy, the snobs aren’t always right. There are plenty of teas that are improved with a drop of milk. Black or red teas are the obvious choice but some may be surprised to learn that green tea can pair very nicely with the addition of milk, as well as many herbal teas. 

Ultimately, it comes down to what feels right for you. If you wanna splash some semi-skimmed into a cup of chamomile, by all means. If you are wanting to be more precise and tactical with it, however, please allow us to guide in the right direction. Here’s everything you need to know when it comes to tea and milk. 

What are the benefits of putting milk in tea?

Tea and milk both contain healthy compounds and nutrients, leaving people to believe a combination of the two can only be a good thing — which is partly true. A study in China of over 1,800 adults found that tea with milk were independently linked a lower risk of oral cancer. It mostly comes down to the amount of milk and when you add it. 

“There’s no convincing evidence that milk is a problem,” says the University of Glasgow’s Alan Crozier. “The amount of milk is not going to greatly interfere with the way they’re [catechins] absorbed,” says Crozier. Milk proteins can slow down the process. However, there is no evidence they cause “irreversible binding.” Crozier claims milk does not stop the catechins from being absorbed.

As stated above, brewing time is the main factor here, with a longer brewing time correlating with higher levels of catechins. With a shorter brewing time, the milk protein bounds the catechins and removes their antioxidant properties 

Strange as it sounds, you may want to try a higher-fat dairy product so that you can enjoy the best of both worlds and still get yourself some nice antioxidants. For example, if you pick a higher-fat dairy product with a lower protein content, like a heavy whipping cream, you’re likely to enjoy more antioxidants than you would with any basic milk.

What are the downsides of putting milk in tea?

Although putting milk in tea is commonplace in Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia and India thanks to its numerous health benefits, consuming too much of this cosy concoction can be pretty bad for you. Some of the problems that can arise from over-indulging milk tea include insomnia, anxiety and skin breakouts. 

Let’s start with insomnia, one of life’s most common conditions. Black tea, usually combined with milk, has plenty of caffeine, and when your body is plugged with such an ingredient, it can leave you wide awake at night. Small measures of caffeine, of course, will not have this effect but as little as two cups a day can trigger a bout of insomnia. Add sugar into the equation and you’re really asking for trouble. 

As for anxiety, this is also an unfortunate side effect of milky tea. Yes, some chamomile type teas are know for their relaxing properties, but too much tea can create an imbalance in brain chemicals, inducing anxiety symptoms. And nobody wants that. Consuming more than 150 ml of tea per day puts you at risk so watch out. 

And then there’s the downside of pimples. Excess tea generates extreme heat, creating bodily imbalance of chemicals that will trigger an outbreak in your skin. The most affected areas include the face, neck and chest. Again, all of these can be avoided by appropriate tea consumption, so don’t fret too much. 

What are the best tea blends for milk?

Black Tea

Unlike other teas on this list, which aren’t traditionally paired with milk, black tea (or red tea) is perhaps always best served with milk. 

Bitter, acidic teas in general are almost always improved by a pleasing milk, if not a spoonful of sugar along with it. Some of these include single-origin teas from India, sections of Africa and South America, as well as Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The English breakfast tea is perhaps the most famous of all black teas, and one that was born to be mixed with milk. 

Green Tea

Green tea and milk? Surely not? You’d be right to be suspicious, given that green tea not typically served with milk. But with all great things in life, there are exceptions such as matcha. Although milk will decrease the health benefits of green tea, there is still nutritional value to the addition of milk. Speaking of, use soy if you can over regular milk when it comes to this one. 

As long as you are sensible with it (adding the right amount of milk) the green tea   will retain its benefits. Sugar won’t mess with it too much, but you might want to ask yourself: if I’m having to mask the taste and/or smell of green tea to this degree, shouldn’t I just be drinking something else? There’s no shame in not liking something!

Herbal Tea

Thanks to their flavour variation, Rooibos and Honeybush take well to milk. A cup of Rooibos will ideally be smoother, more woody, than a cup of Honeybush with its sweeter, milder taste. If you’re looking for a place to start, you can’t go wrong with Adagio’s Honeybush Hazelnut. For a really sweeter tea, Davidstea’s Forever Nuts takes very well to milk. For a herbal tea closer to black tea, try Lapacho. And for a darker flavour, check out Roasted Barley (coincidentally aslo great with milk).

Any Indian chai tea is superb with milk, especially a blend that requires boiling as these usually contain hard whole spices. Simply boil for 8–10 minutes, then turn off the beat and add the milk so it won’t curdle. Strain before or after and there you have it. A perfect herbal, milky tea. 

Oolong Tea

Oolong tea is typically served without milk or sugar, like green tea. But this isn’t to say it can’t be improved with a splash of milk. “Milk oolong” is in fact a separate Taiwanese speciality; a spin on a highly sought after mountain tea known for its creamy flavour. As the rules stand, the quality of oolong depends on the elevation it’s grown at. The higher up, the greater the aroma and flavour become. 

Milk oolong is unique in that farmers pick the tea leaves by hand and then allow them to wither before the oxidation process begins. After that, they lightly bruise the tea leaves so enzymes can react with the air. This quirky process darkens the leaves, helping develop the strange but irresistible milky flavour the tea is famous for. 

Bubble Tea

While we’re on the subject of Taiwanese teas, we can’t go without mentioning bubble tea. Originally a success Asian teenagers in the 1980s, this sensation has now become popular in the UK, US, Europe and Australia. What distinguished this refreshing choice from the others on this list is that it combines drink and food into one tasty snack. The tea itself is made from tea, milk and fruit juice. Then you add the “bubbles”, little tapioca pearls that sit at the bottom of your drink, bursting with flavour. 

Yes, traditional bubble tea may be made with good ol’ cow’s milk, but it can of course be customised to substitute that with a dairy-free milk or other began alternative such as oat milk. If all kinds of milk simply aren’t your thing, you’re in luck. There’s a flavoured fruit bubble tea you can get, containing zero milk. The toppings are also vegan, given that tapioca pearls are just tapioca starch, a plant-based cassava root. The “popping bubbles” are usually made from water, sugar, fruit juice and a plant-based Alginic acid. 

What are alternatives to milk? 

Whether it’s for cultural, religious or just personal reasons, more and more people are now ditching traditional milk for alternatives when brewing up a nice cup of tea. While the flavour and consistency of these alternatives differ, there’s no harm in trying them out. Some of them include soya, hemp, oat, cashew, almond and even rice milk. 

Oat milk in particular is very versatile when it comes to your tea. Known for doing wonders in coffee, oat milk pairs tremendously well with regular English breakfast tea, chai, green, chamomile and earl grey. Thanks to its creamy, rich texture, bolder teas tend to go well with oat milk compared to other milk alternatives. On top of that, oat milk also compliments cereal, soups, curries, even mashed potatoes. 

Josh Teal

Josh Teal is a freelance writer with wit and verve, powered by copious amounts of tea and coffee. That makes him something of an expert in all things brewing, whether it's for you or for your pets!

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