Can You Brew Coffee With Milk Instead of Water?

When considering different coffee-based beverages, there seems to be one common denominator in drinks other than black coffee – milk. Milk is the most common addition to coffee- it is used to lessen the bitterness of coffee and to add a creamy texture. This leads many to wonder if using milk to brew coffee is plausible.

It is possible to brew coffee with milk instead of water, but not always advisable. Doing so will produce a much less strong cup of coffee, and can cause issues such as curdling milk and clogging your coffee maker. If you want to do this, it is safest to slowly warm the milk and use a french press.

While I know this answer seems daunting, for those who love a creamy, velvet-textured coffee, this can actually be quite nice. It is best to understand each step before committing to this endeavor though. To help you get started, I have outlined a brief process for brewing coffee with milk and why a French Press is the way to go. Let’s take a closer look.

The Process of Brewing Coffee with Milk

While brewing coffee with milk is something I have only done on a rare occasion and do not suggest doing frequently, some may find that they truly enjoy it and actually look forward to this style of a cup of coffee. One of my favorite ways to have this is as an evening drink, similar to hot chocolate. 

Brewing coffee with milk is something that is worth a try at least once, although you might decide that you prefer to add it afterward. Still, there are a few simple steps that you should follow if you plan on brewing coffee with milk (instead of water). To try this out for yourself, just follow these simple steps.

Heating the Milk

Most experts agree that coffee is best brewed between the temperatures of 190 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, milk is prone to burning and curdling due to the sugars and fat within it. Still, these are desirable considering this is what reduces the acidity of your coffee and adds in the sweetness you might be looking for. 

With that said, there are two main ways I suggest heating the milk to the correct temperature without the fear of boiling: 

Similar to making hot chocolate, you can heat the milk by placing it in the microwave (I suggest using a pyrex) and removing and stirring every 20-40 seconds to prevent curdling. You can also heat it in a saucepan on low while stirring frequently. 

With either of these options, you are going for a slow and steady increase in heat that will not disrupt or distort the contents of the milk (aka separate the different components). After all, you want your coffee to come out smooth and silky, not chunky. Even the thought of that would leave a distaste in your mouth.

Brewing the Coffee

While I have seen many people struggle to properly heat up the milk, actually brewing the coffee is what I find the most difficult in a milk-brew. Milk seems to cool down faster and steep slower than normal brews for my coffee. So, to find the right balance, consider using a french press.

Once the milk is heated to the appropriate temperature, then you can add it to the french press. The normal amount of time for coffee to steep in a french press is about 4 minutes. I suggest upping the amount of coffee grounds and doing slightly less if possible, as the milk will cool very fast. 

Once this is finished you will be able to pour and enjoy almost immediately as the cooling will largely take place during the brewing. Because of the short life of the milk-brewed coffee compared to using water to brew it, it is best to make only as much as you will drink in one sitting since milk-brewed coffee will not last the same as water-brewed coffee.

How Much Coffee Grounds to Use

The amount of coffee grounds to use in a milk-brew is a very difficult thing to master. Milk is not the same as water, so you may not achieve your desired flavor by using the same amount of grounds as you would with a normal brew. You also have to keep in mind that different brands of milk, as well as different measured levels of fat will play a large role in how the brew turns out. Consequently, choosing and measuring how much coffee grounds to use can be a trial and error task.

Milk tends to remove a lot of the coffee flavor and bitterness from the drink. If you want that coffee flavor, it is best to use a dark or even espresso roast or to double up the normal amount of coffee grounds you usually use. Be cautious with this if you are sensitive to caffeine. 

While this is ambiguous, I find it is best to use a darker roast, which helps bring out the coffee flavor and also has less caffeine (light roast coffee has more caffeine than dark roast). When you are using more grounds with a milk brew, you can opt for a dark brew so that adding more grounds will not be as much of an issue when doing this. Plus, then you will not have to worry about your coffee being overly strong in terms of caffeine, but it can still have a robust coffee flavor.

Why Only Use a French Press?

When someone first wants to attempt to brew coffee with milk, they may only have a certain type of machine. Commonly this would be a drip machine, single-cup maker, or a pour-over. While there may be an impulse to want to use one of these – I suggest against it. There is a reason that these are designed to be used with water in the first place.

Using a machine to brew coffee with milk will cause more issues than it is worth. The calcium in milk can cause calcium deposits and clog the machine. If you have ever seen hard water issues, this is largely due to calcium, so even cleaning the machine with water after would likely leave you prone to greater concerns. 

On top of this, cleaning the machine from milk would be nearly impossible and would spoil future brews. This is to say that if you were to try brewing coffee with milk in the coffee maker that you typically brew your morning cup of Joe in, you can expect to never get the same results again without some serious cleanup efforts.

Alternatively, using a pour-over will likely lead to an improper filtration – your milk could get stuck, or it could take an incredibly long time to finish. At this point, you would have a cold, not full mug of filtered milk. Again, this does not sound like the most appetizing cup of coffee, right?

So, this leaves you with using a french press to brew coffee with milk instead of water. A french press is not the only possibility, but it is the easiest. You could make something similar to cowboy coffee, and then filter it after with a strainer – but even this will lead to a tougher cleanup and lost milk or gritty coffee. 

Using a french press when using milk will still require you to be careful and mindful of the differences between using coffee and milk. You will want to brew the coffee as quickly as possible (while still maintaining a high level of effectiveness). Yet, you will need to be sure to thoroughly clean your french press after you are finished to avoid the issues with brewing coffee with milk as described above.

An Easier Way to Brew Coffee with Milk

There is an easier way to brew coffee with milk, although the coffee might not be as appealing to many coffee enthusiasts. Still, if you are wanting to test out brewing coffee with milk, this alternative is going to be much easier than using fresh grounds or even incorporating a french press.

Similar to making hot cocoa (in pouring a mixture into the warm milk), you can use instant coffee to brew coffee with milk. This makes life a lot easier for many reasons. You can heat just the right amount of milk by heating it in a mug, you will be able to control both flavor and caffeine accurately by measuring it out (or adding decaf for increased flavor without the effects), and you will have a much easier cleanup. 

The downside is, of course, losing out on the flavor of the fresh coffee you would likely otherwise opt for. I do not see this as much of an issue since using milk to brew coffee means you will not get the same bitter, fresh bean flavor that you are used to. You can read more about the difference between instant vs ground coffee here. Either way, the choice is yours in which areas feel and are more of a sacrifice and which efforts will prove worth it in the end.

Tim S.

Tim loves roasting, brewing, and experimenting with coffee. After years of perfecting this craft, working as a barista, and owning a small coffee service in college, he has decided to share his knowledge with the world.

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