The Unsavory Reason You Should Avoid Mixing Milk And Lemon In Tea

From strawberries to pineapples, tangy fruits with milky tea result in some of the best boba flavors you can find. Logic may suggest that other popular tart additions like lemon would also pair well with milk and tea, but the reality is anything but. How well lemon and milk complement each other in terms of pure flavor might be a matter of personal preference, but combining fresh citrus and dairy will most likely leave you with a cup full of curdled milk and disappointment.

If your first thought is that the high acidity of lemons might have something to do with it, you'd be correct. What we know as curdling is actually the process of casein proteins in milk clumping together into solid chunks. Normally, the proteins are suspended in spherical formations that repel one another so as to stay evenly distributed throughout the liquid milk. The introduction of acid — or excessive heat — compromises those formations, causing them to cling to each other and coagulate into curds while leaving the liquid whey behind.

How to mix lemon and dairy in tea without curdling

While curdled milk is mainly associated with spoilage, it isn't inherently indicative of unsafe food. Expired milk curdles because the harmful bacteria produces excess amounts of lactic acid, resulting in the proteins clumping the same way they would when intentionally introduced to acid. This is the main reason why dairy products like cheese and yogurt are perfectly safe to eat despite ostensibly going through the same chemical process. In a similar vein, a milky tea accidentally curdled with citrus poses no health risk; it's just unreasonably unpleasant from a drinker's standpoint.

Fortunately, it's not impossible to enjoy a nice cup of creamy tea with lemon. First and foremost, the dried lemon flavoring from tea bags will most likely have very little effect on any added milk. If you want to use fresh citrus, however, the key is temperature control. Because cold temperatures slow down the curdling process, carefully mixing cold milk into lemon iced tea should leave you with a completely liquid and drinkable mixture. If you want to combine milk and tea into a hot tea, however, you'll want to follow some of the steps you'd have to take to stop cream from curdling in soups: Temper your milk by gradually mixing small amounts of hot tea, and consider using heavy cream instead for its extra resistance to curdling.