If you’re serious about your coffee, you know how difficult it can be to get the mixture just right. You need to ensure that the ingredients and temperature are perfectly balanced – get it wrong, and you’re liable to see some pretty distasteful effects.
Case in point, the curious case of almond milk curdling in your coffee.
Done right, almond milk can be a sweet, healthy additive to your tea or coffee.
Done wrong, and it can curdle, quickly transforming your morning cup into lumpy, foul, sour swill.
So how can you enjoy your almond milk and coffee without having to worry about it curdling?
Almond Milk 101
For those not in the know, almond milk is a plant-based alternative to traditional dairy milk. If you can’t drink milk due to lactose intolerance or other dietary issues, or simply want to cut it out of your diet but still want to enjoy a glass of milky goodness, almond milk is a viable alternative.
Almond milk tends to have a lighter, nuttier taste than dairy milk.
In addition to dietary and lifestyle reasons such as veganism, almond milk has also made a name for itself as a milk alternative that’s packed with minerals and vitamins, especially Vitamin E. It is also lower in calories, fat, sugar, and carbohydrates, making it an all-around great choice for those looking for a health-conscious breakfast beverage.
The popularity of non-dairy milk versus dairy milk has surged in recent years, with the former climbing to 15% of American milk sales in 2017. Almond milk sales in particular rose by 9% in that year, while dairy milk sales went down by 6%.
Why Almond Milk Curdles
The cause of curdling in almond milk can be traced to several factors, each of which will have to be addressed if you are going to reverse that curdling curse.
First and foremost, there’s the heat. This is one of the prime factors that causes regular milk to curdle, and it’s true of almond milk as well.
In addition, the acidity of a cup of coffee can cause almond milk to curdle. This, combined with the heat, pose the two biggest challenges to solving your curdling question.
Part of the reason acidity is so problematic for almond milk in general is due to its protein content. When the protein comes in contact with the acidity of coffee, it starts to coagulate.
You might wonder why you’ve never had this problem with dairy milk in coffee. Sure, if you leave it in there too long when it’s too hot it doesn’t curdle, but dairy milk doesn’t curdle on contact with acidic coffee, otherwise milk-in-coffee mixtures would hardly be a mainstay of cafés and breakfasts everywhere.
This is indeed actually one area in which dairy milk has an advantage over almond milk, and it’s due to the fact that almond milk has a much higher acidity rate than dairy milk.
Curdling Fix #1: Rethink the Heat
The simple equation of “hot coffee equals curdling” is one of the first things to consider when trying to cure that curdled almond milk quandary. If the coffee is too hot, simply brew and serve it at a lower temperature.
How hot one likes their coffee is a matter of personal taste, though the National Coffee Association recommends 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. If that’s too hot for your almond milk, however, you might consider lowering things to as cool as 104 degrees.
Now, the effectiveness fixing the heat-related issue of almond milk curdling in coffee is one thing, but do you really want to actually lower the temperature of your coffee? Besides its ability to heat you up on a cold day, the heat at which coffee is prepared does have an impact on the way coffee tastes.
That being said, if you’re willing to consume your coffee at a lower temperature anyway, this may be the easiest fix to stop your almond milk from curdling.
Curdling Fix #2: Add the Milk First
If you are a coffee aficionado, there’s a fair chance you may have choked in your mocha reading that heading. While the question of whether to add milk or tea first is a major controversy among tea drinkers and coffee fans alike, enough so that The Guardian weighed in on the matter, there may actually be some method to what so many consider madness.
By pouring dairy or almond milk into your tea or coffee first, you essentially allow it to rise in temperature with the tea and coffee once they are added. On the other hand, when you add tea or coffee first and then milk, you’re pouring a cooler substance into a hotter one, which can produce a more noticeable change in both, including distasteful ones such as curdling.
Curdling Fix #3: Try Another Coffee
If the issue with the coffee in question is that it’s too acidic, a simple solution may be to just try another coffee. While all coffees will have some level of acidity, some are more acidic and thus less suited to almond milk than others.
For example, most coffees sit around 5 on the pH scale, while low acidity options around 5.74 can alleviate the acidity-almond milk issue. However, this can come with its own problem, as at 5.5 pH the enamel of your teeth can start to be slowly stripped away if you drink too much.
As with anything in life, the pH scale visa vi coffee consumption is a balancing act. You might decide a less acidic coffee with almond milk is good one day, and a more traditionally acidic coffee without almond milk the next.
As William Cowper put it, “Variety is the spice of life,” and these coffee-acidity variations with or without your almond milk can spice up your coffee drinking habits.
Curdling Fix #4: Preheat the Milk Itself
If you don’t want to alter your coffee, you might try tinkering with the almond milk itself. For example, you might try preheating it gently before introducing the coffee itself so it’s less of a temperature shock.
A good place to start is 104 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (40 to 50 Celsius).
Curdling Fix #5: Dilute the Coffee
It’s not an option people typically want to contemplate (make your caffeine-laden coffee weaker? No way!), but it might be one of the easiest ways to stop your almond milk from curdling. The thinking here is simple – if your coffee is too acidic, diluting it may solve the matter.
Curdling Fix #6: See a Barista
If all else fails, why not leave things in the hands of those who know best?
For as much as society likes to mock baristas, the fact remains that they do honest work in providing us with the coffee and tea we all love, and deserve more respect.
Especially in these hard COVID-ridden times, if it’s safe and acceptable for you to visit a coffee house with accepted safety guidelines, they could certainly use your patronage, and you can enjoy some expertly-mixed almond milk coffee blends.
Coffee and almond milk are a winning combination, as long as you mix them properly. Following any combination of these methods can provide you with a healthier, tastier beverage for breakfast time and beyond.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.