In many cultures around the world, milk is added to the freshly brewed tea in varying quantities. This is most likely due to the ability of milk, as an additive, to cover up the bitterness of the tea.
You may have tried adding milk, cream or sugar to your tea, but have you ever tried making tea without any water by using milk? I have tried using both milk and vegan alternatives to brew tea and here I want to share with you what I have learned.
SHORT ANSWER – Brewing Tea Directly In Milk
Yes, you can brew your tea without water. You can directly brew strong, flavorful teas in regular milk or various alternatives. The resulting tea is very different from tea brewed with water, as the milk will cover up the bitterness and lighter flavors of the tea, perfect for Pu Erh tea and Chai.
There are a few things that you have to bear in mind. With the right methods you will get a delicious tea with low effort, but do not make the same mistakes that I made when first trying this!
Why Would You Brew Tea Without Water?
Brewing tea directly in milk has been a thing for a long time. Many places from eastern Africa to southeast Asia still brew much of their tea this way for cultural and historical reasons. Milk is an accessible and relatively sanitary source of water and nutrients.
I found two reasons for myself to try and experiment with milk tea. One reason is that milk tea is cultural heritage related to tea and in my eyes that makes it inherently worth trying.
Furthermore, many teas like Pu Erh tea and Black tea can get too bitter with harsh brewing methods. With the addition of milk or cream, such teas can be made enjoyable. Milk tea has a unique taste and this experiment would create new experiences with tea.
Choosing The Substitute
To brew tea without any water, you will need to choose a proper alternative. As stated, milk is a more prominent option to brew tea directly from, but other alternatives to milk result in well-tasting teas, too!
I was considering the following “milks” to brew my tea with:
- Regular Cow’s Milk
- Soy Milk
- Oat Milk
- Almond Milk
- Coconut Milk
After some consideration, I chose cows milk and soy milk to experiment with, but I am sure that the others and various nut milks would result in good teas.
Which Tea To Choose?
I have mentioned above that I considered Pu Erh tea and black tea to be the main options for myself in this experiment due to my preferences that day. I could imagine good milk tea resulting from any of the following:
- Pu Erh Tea
- Black Tea
- Darker Oolong Tea
I believe that the strong flavors of highly oxidized or roasted tea is necessary to yield enough taste to not be overwhelmed by the milk. An intense matcha will also work fine.
For this experiment, I chose to use an Assam black tea blend for its strong taste when steeped for 4-5 minutes.
Heating (Burning) Process
For some reason, I thought that it might be a good idea to try heating the soy milk inside a temperature-controlled electric kettle.
The thermometer of that kettle does not seem to be close to the bottom, so the soy milk quickly burned far beyond the 140 °F (60 °C) that I programmed it to. I do not recommend using an electric kettle!
Pot And Stove
Heating both milk and soy milk was fairly easy to do on the stove. This was not a hands-free process though, as soy milk appears to burn much faster than regular cows milk does. Proper stirring is required to not burn the milk. This method results in the best taste.
Convenience Of The Microwave
This is by far the easiest option. Placing the glass (or teacup) in the microwave at high heating for about 2 minutes results in a temperature of 175 °F (80 °C). I did not want to go much higher to avoid the risk of boiling over the milk and having to clean the microwave.
Should You Use Tea Bags Or Sift The Milk Tea
Traditional Sifted Milk Tea
The traditional method requires you to add the tea leaves and spices directly to the milk in a pot. Simmering the milk tea on a stovetop without reaching boiling temperatures will, after about 10 to 15 minutes, result in an intense tea. For this method the steps are:
- Add 2 cups of milk into a pot
- Add 2-3 teaspoons of tea leaves to the mix
- Simmer the milk tea for 10 to 15 minutes
- Sift the tea through a fine sieve
- Serve the milk tea
An alternative to this method that I found to be far more convenient is using the microwave. The heating takes far less time in the microwave, so you get to enjoy your tea faster. Do the following steps with a microwave:
- Add 2 cups of milk to a large cup or glass
- Add 2-3 teaspoons of tea leaves to a paper tea filter (no metal!)
- Heat the tea for 2 minutes on high heating
- Serve the tea
Using Tea Bags For Convenience
Using tea bags will need you to preheat the milk. and seems to result in a more subtle tea taste when compared to the methods involving sifting of the finished milk tea.
If you want to use tea bags, you will need to either use the stove or microwave to heat your milk to 175 °F (80 °C) and then add your tea bag for at least 3-5 minutes. Steeping the tea for a short time will not yield enough tea flavor.
Results From This Experiment
Tea With Cows Milk
Both the traditional method with the stovetop and the microwave resulted in well balanced and tasty milk tea. The tea itself does not have a dominant taste at all, but you can taste the difference with a strong tea brewed in milk.
Using tea bags, the resulting tea was too weak to change the taste of the milk sufficiently. I would not recommend using tea bags over the sifting method for milk tea.
Tea With Soy Milk
Soy milk, other than cows milk, has a very intense taste on its own. The soy milk will be much more dominant when compared to cows milk. For this alternative to work, you will need to use more tea leaves and steep longer. Almond milk and coconut milk may have a more subtle flavor and be more suitable for tea making.
The methods involving tea bags or the microwave will not work if you want to extend the heating time to more than 2-3 minutes. The microwave will boil the soy milk too quickly and the milk with the tea bag will cool off too fast.
I recommend using the simmering method on a stovetop when dealing with soy milk, oat milk or nut milk. This way, you have the option to extend the simmering to 20 minutes or more. You could also keep adding tea leaves until you are satisfied with the result.
There’s a lot more to learn about tea! If you are looking for a good place to start, I highly recommend the book Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. You can check its current price on Amazon here.