The common wisdom about Earl Grey tea is that if you put milk in it, the milk will curdle. After all, the tea is made with a citrus fruit – oil of bergamot. Many tea drinkers swear that it’s true, but others add milk to Earl Grey tea regularly with no resultant curdling (I am one of these folks – Earl Grey upsets my stomach without milk in it). In fact, adding milk to Earl Grey tea is becoming increasing common, despite the issue of curdling.

Earl Grey Cream tea makes a good start to Earl Grey Milk Tea. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Earl Grey Cream tea makes a good start to Earl Grey Milk Tea. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Several things could account for milk both curdling and not curdling in your Earl Grey.

Why Milk Would Curdle

  • You add cold milk into the teacup after pouring in the hot tea.
  • You steep up the tea overly strong.
  • The Earl Grey version has a heftier dose of oil of bergamot than usually found in this style of flavor-enhanced black tea. (Some versions even use the rind instead of the essential oils of the fruit.)

Why Milk Would Not Curdle

  • You add the cold milk in first and then the hot tea, giving the tea a chance to warm the milk a bit, which seems to prevent curdling.
  • You steep up the tea weaker than usual for a black tea (most British drink this tea steeped weak and with no sugar or milk added).
  • The flavoring is imitation, not real oil of bergamot. (Yes, there is Earl Grey made with something less than authentic oil of bergamot. Demand for this tea is so great that growing enough of these fruits is proving difficult.)

Earl Grey Milk Tea

I came across a recipe for Earl Grey Milk Tea (the author called it “chai,” meaning the U.S. way of using the term to mean spiced tea). The recipe called for the following ingredients:

  • 7 cups water
  • 4 Earl Grey tea bags (better to use loose leaf tea so you don’t have to remove the bags before adding the sugar and spices)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 6 cardamom pods (crushed)
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1 cup whole milk (room-temperature)

Pretty simple to make. (I modified things a bit to fit my personal experience with this style of tea making.) Boil 7 cups of water in a large saucepan on the stove. Steep the Earl Grey, remove the bags (if you’re using loose leaf tea instead, leave the tea leaves in the water). Add in the brown sugar and spices. Boil for 5-6 minutes, then strain into a teapot or other heat-bearing vessel. Stir in the milk slowly and serve.

Give it a go, and let us know the results.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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