I like to drink my coffee with milk, but my new place of work has no refrigerator I can use. Is there any milk or milk-substitute I can use that will not taste funny around 15 o'clock, when I remove it from my home fridge at 8?

What if I buy 1L of long-lasting milk and bring in ca 100ml in a airtight container a day for coffee, will that be OK? Maybe a substitute like almond, soy, rice or oatmilk will keep better? Will it taste good? Another option I can see is powder milk, but that does seems like a hassle.

Bonus points for minimal amount of waste.

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    Why would powder milk be a hassle? it seems the option that will taste better and never spoil, plus you can keep a kilo of it in the office, no need to bring it every day. – Luciano Jul 10 '19 at 10:31
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    Is there any reason you can't use a small vacuum/capsule flask? You can get them as small as 150ml if not smaller/ – Spagirl Jul 10 '19 at 10:37
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    You can just add the powder after pouring the coffee... the order is not important. All you need is a spoon - unless you don't even have that. – Luciano Jul 10 '19 at 12:35
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    @Ivana : I don't know about powdered milk in hot coffee, but for almost all cases of dissolving powders in liquids, it's better to start with just a little bit of the liquid, form a paste, then slowly thin it out with the liquid (add some liquid, stir, add more liquid,stir, etc.). It might take a little bit longer, but it's reliably lump-free. – Joe Jul 10 '19 at 13:16
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    @Joe: I beg to disagree: soluble powders (such as milk powder as opposed to e.g. flour) don't require a paste. Small lumps of milk powder dissolve on their own within a few minutes in cold water. In hot water (or coffee) I'd be wary of heat coagulation/precipitation of the protein - this would transform a perfectly soluble powder into lumps of unsoluble goo - and it won't even become soluble again when getting cold. Even the paste technique won't be able to do much about this. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 11 '19 at 16:00

15 Answers 15


I would invest in a small thermos bottle, about the size of what you need for one day. They are not only designed to keep hot food hot, they can also keep cold food cold. Choose a size that will be as full as possible when you start, it will keep better.

This is what the small B&B we‘re currently staying at supplies to their guests. If it’s good for an early morning tea, it’ll be good for afternoon coffee as well:

thermos at B&B

If you want to go all the way, you can pre-chill the container, then fill it with well-chilled milk from your home fridge. You could even freeze some milk as ice cubes, if you find that it doesn’t stay cold enough until the end of your work day or your last coffee break. Store the thermos away from heat sources and not in warm sunlight, of course.

Note that you also have the “two-hours in the danger zone” buffer and that “unsafe” doesn’t automatically mean “spoiled”. Especially when the milk is still quite cold and only shortly after the two-hour window the risk for a healthy adult should be small. No recommendation, just a thought.

Switching to milk alternatives won’t change anything where food safety is concerned.

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    I would not put milk in a thermos bottle: if it ever goes bad, it's in my experience practically impossible to get that taste out of the lid/seal. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 10 '19 at 16:57
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    cbeleites you're probably thinking of 'thermos' as a generic name for vacuum containers. A real Thermos container is much better than that, no plastic parts to spoil, the metal can be thoroughly cleaned. – user57361 Jul 10 '19 at 17:34
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    @GeorgeM: while it's true that I think of thermos as generic name that doesn't matter here. The stainless steel is not the problem (nor the old-fashioned glass in the glass varieties). What I'm talking about is the lid and seal. And judging from the images here thermos.com/technology/screw-top-lid/… also Thermos uses plastic/silicone for that. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 10 '19 at 18:38
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    I'd also recommend the OP dispose of any excess milk and wash, or at least thoroughly rinse, the thermos immediately after the last cup of coffee they intend to drink in the day. Be sure to get a thermos which they can thoroughly sterilize, rather than just wash/rince. Putting it through a dishwasher that is set to sanitize is usually sufficient, but a container and lid which can be boiled would be beneficial. This should be done between every use (i.e. every day), which may require having more than one container. The issue isn't just the single use, but having bacteria grow between uses. – Makyen Jul 10 '19 at 21:03
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    @cbeleites The idea is that the milk would never go bad. That would be an anomaly. It should never happen. If it does, buy a new one. A thermos solves the problem. – Rob Jul 11 '19 at 10:44

Your best bet for longevity is UHT milk - in individual portions.
It's the same stuff you get in hotel rooms.

enter image description here

Pic from Amazon, anonymised.
Though it doesn't taste the same as 'real' milk it's virtually indestructible, almost inert, & will survive unopened & unrefrigerated for 6 - 9 months.

As soon as it's opened, you have to treat it just like real milk, so large cartons would not be suitable.

There are dozens of brands - this was just one that Google found near the top of the list - Amazon UK - UHT MILK PORTIONS 1 x 120 portions (10ML)

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    @Ivana once you open the package you expose the milk to air and then it will spoil the same as regular milk. – Luciano Jul 10 '19 at 10:33
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    Urgh. While a valid suggestion, it tastes horrible IMHO, and the amount of plastic garbage created by the tiny Individual packages makes me cringe. – Stephie Jul 10 '19 at 10:56
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    Maybe it depends on brand? This milk is common where I live, and I've never noticed a huge taste difference. Many restaurants serve it for kids because it is shelf stable (normally served cold tho). – JPhi1618 Jul 10 '19 at 19:10
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    I agree with @Jphi1618 that some brands of UHT milk taste better than others. (Of course, it's possible that where you live none of it is good). To me, it tastes like regular milk that has been briefly boiled. Not the same as fresh milk, but quite acceptable in coffee. – AndyB Jul 11 '19 at 2:09
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    @orlp but that answer explicitly suggest small packaging units because they won’t create the problem of how to store the open packs - the two-hours-in-the-danger-zone rule applies. – Stephie Jul 11 '19 at 8:38

In a similar situation in a previous job we successfully used an old camping trick: Wrap the bottle containing the day's milk in a damp cloth, and stand it in a bowl of water, in the draught from an open window. The evaporative cooling produced that way is really quite effective. Either buy a small bottle in the way in or transport it insulated.

Another camping style approach is a cool bag with an ice pack - put your bottle of milk in an insulated bag along with ice. You can either buy ice packs and freeze them, or 2/3 fill a drinks bottle with water and freeze that. Either way its effective enough that you might need to prevent the ice pack touching the container of milk to avoid freezing some milk

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    This works well in low humidity (though it basically doesn't help in high humidity conditions) – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 11 '19 at 15:48
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    It should work perfectly well in any office where the temperature and humidity are comfortable to work in. – Michael Kay Jul 12 '19 at 11:17
  • This is sometimes called a Swamp Cooler (added for search engines) – Criggie Jul 13 '19 at 3:42
  • @MichaelKay Why wouldn't it? – gerrit Jul 13 '19 at 15:35
  • @gerrit: a rainy summer over here may have temperatures around 20 °C with relative humidity > 80 °C. No need to have AC on (if it exists in the office), so no AC-dried air. And under those conditions, the cooling effect will be nominal at best. Wet-bulb temperature (i.e. the coldest you can get provided ideal air exchange around the evaporation cooler) of 10 °C in 20 °C air temp requires relative humiditiy as low as ≈25 %. At 60 %, you can get 20 °C -> ≈ 15 °C at most (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychrometrics#/media/…), and that's not even very humid. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 18 '19 at 15:28

As an alternative to the (very good) vacuum bottle suggestions, Insulated lunchboxes with an ice-pack are great. My kids use them for school and the ice-pack is often still partially frozen at the end of the day, even when kept outside in hot weather.

As a bonus, you can put your other snacks/lunch in there to keep cool as well.

  • If OP doesn't know what 'ice-pack' means, this link offers an example. They are $1 or so at supermarkets or drug stores, and they do a great job. Freezing a small container of the milk would help if a bit extra time is needed. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jul 11 '19 at 16:26
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    This strategy is essentially how I get my almond milk shipped to me from a reputable company. It ships over two days, but the ice packs are still cold upon arrival, due to being shipped in an isolated box. If it can survive two days, the half-day of the Questioner is probably perfectly fine. – trlkly Jul 13 '19 at 7:29

I don't know if this is possible for you at work but it hasn't been mentioned as an option: you can use a mini fridge to keep your milk cool / cold.

Here's an image of one

(I left the image out on purpose, because I'm not trying to advertise a specific product.)

I'm not affiliated with the manufacturer or seller, but I do have one of these fridges. I find it works well for small loads and is easy to carry if there's a need.

  • I'm guessing this is a little peltier based cooler. They do work to keep things cooler for longer, but are functionally little more than a cooler because they struggle to make things cooler; they just delay the warming. Still better than nothing, and they can run on 12V from a car lighter socket. Mine is dual-mode mains voltage and 12V and I run it on longer 4WD trips. – Criggie Jul 13 '19 at 3:45
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    Yes, it has a little fan in the back and a metal plate on the inside. Mine keeps things pretty cold; ice regularly forms on the plate that I have to remove. I use it at work so it's plugged in. – xxbbcc Jul 31 '19 at 8:52

First of all, it's not air that makes the milk spoil but microbes that fall in and grow there. So keeping it cool is one thing, the other thing is not getting the microbes in there.

I have milk in my office outside the fridge up to about 20 °C over the working day without problems (I do have a fridge, though where I put it if I won't finish the package same day). The milk packs here come with screw caps, so I close them again immediately and compared to the cut open packages we had before this makes the milk last much longer.
I've also kept milk etc. on the outside window sill of the office when it's cooler outside.

My experience with UHT milk is: it does taste somewhat different from microfiltrated/ESL/"fresh" milk but there also seem to be differences - I've never understood people talking about revolting taste until I once had a revolting tasting UHT milk (French brand bought in Italy). Message is: it may be worth while shopping a bit around and trying whether you find UHT milk that is to your taste for the coffee. Fun fact: there are also people who like UHT milk better than "fresh" milk - e.g. for my father fresh milk always had an association of being spoilt, he said because their milk was spoilt/beginning to spoil so often when he was a kid.

While 1 l is the standard milk package size here, milk is also sold in smaller packages (I've seen 500, 250, 200 ml). There is also evaporated milk. The variety we have here is without added sugar, so unrefrigerated it lasts only marginally longer than normal milk. But you may be able to get it in small (e.g. 150 ml) packages even if you cannot find small milk packages.

Another solution (with UHT in normal packages) would be to pool up with some coworkers and speedily use up one package after the other instead of having n open milk packages spoiling in parallel. Most of the groups I've been in so far had this approach (even though we had a fridge in every place).

There are car cool boxes that double as tiny refrigerator - would that be a solution?

  • Today i tested what happens if i keep a small bottle of milk closed and unrefrigerated. At 4 in the afternoon the milk was still ok to drink, it did not curdle in the coffee but it did smell kind of funny. – Ivana Jul 13 '19 at 0:02
  • @Ivana while an interesting experiment, you need to remember that there’s a difference between food safety and actually spoilt milk. The latter is a subset of the former and unfortunately not all kinds of contaminations can be detected by smell or curdling. – Stephie Jul 13 '19 at 10:50
  • @Ivana: "Funny smell" is where I'd throw that milk away, if milk has been rather long outside the fridge, I'll also taste a teaspoon full first (where it can be spit out again in case): off-taste (usually bitter or sour) is another indicator that it's not good any more. In my experience, both taste and smell changes in my experience happen far earlier than curdling. Curdling of milk needs a pH below ≈ 4.5 (at 20 - 25 °C), that's rather far. BTW: as it's hard to decide whether unusually sour taste in coffee with milk is due to the milk or due to the coffee, I check the milk itself. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 18 '19 at 10:45
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    @Stephie: you are perfectly right. But we do have a couple of factors in our favor here: first of all, starting with UHT (or even "only" pasteurized/microfiltrated) milk, some of the really dangerous contaminants are not in the milk we stark with (thinking tuberculosis, listeria - both of them, btw. grow slowly with roughly 1 doubling per day at 20 °C compared to, say, salmonella or E coli). An urban office should be a food desert for the microbes that are of concern here, so there aren't as many of them that can get into the milk as, say, in rural settings with poultry etc. are around. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 18 '19 at 14:02
  • Humans also are quite good at recognizing that the milk isn't good any more many other microbes that come along but are (because we recognize the milk is bad) not of that much concern. One factor that is favorable in my office, but not necessarily in OP's: I'm north of 50 °N latitude in Europe. Unless you have some place that specifally favors flies (slaughter, farm) nearby even our summers don't favor flies as, say, a mediterranean climate does. Thus, contamination via flies bringing in E coli, salmonella, ... is not much of a problem here - this may be totally different where OP is. AC in – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 18 '19 at 14:11

Insulated Stainless steel double-walled vacuum bottles, like these. Make sure to pick one with a wide mouth so that you can use a bottle brush to clean it. Just keep it out of direct sun light. Keeps cold up to 24 hours, hot up to 12 hours. Many brands, colors, sizes, configurations. No waste, reusable, will last for years. It gets really hot here in Texas and these will still have ice at the end of the day. Of course, the milk needs to be cold when you fill the bottle.

  • Indeed, i have one for my kid from Klean Kanteen and it keeps the inside really cool even if its only 500 ml. (Donk know why i hadnt thought of buying one for work, maybe its the price) – Ivana Jul 11 '19 at 7:32

Use powdered milk designed to be added directly to coffee or tea. This will remove the hassle of pre-mixing your dried milk with water to form milk.

I keep a can of Coffee Mate around for this purpose. These are quite often termed as whiteners rather than powdered milk.

For coffee, it is like having heavy milk or cream added. To use, you spoon one spoonful of powder into your hot drink and stir.

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    Coffee Mate is not milk. At all. – user57361 Jul 10 '19 at 17:35
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    In addition it's bad for you: trans-fats. topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/consumer-products/… – jcollum Jul 10 '19 at 20:12
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    @GeorgeM a Milk Alternative was asked for and it qualifies at that (at least kind of). – TafT Jul 11 '19 at 11:06
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    @jcollum OP did not ask about how healthy it was and this is a cooking exchange not a health and fitness one. If we worried about health everyone would be encouraged to eat only raw vegetables and boiled chicken in every post. – TafT Jul 11 '19 at 11:07
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    OP asked "will not taste funny around 15 o'clock, when I remove it from my home fridge at 8?" Powder Creaners will have a consistent taste from 08:00 until the end of time! – TafT Jul 12 '19 at 13:23

I've taken tetrapacks of almond milk on week-long backcountry camping trips. It doesn't taste like cow's milk, but it's far enough from the uncanny valley that it doesn't ruin the coffee, it just gives it a different flavour. Unopened they last like UHT milk and once opened they're good for at least a couple of days.

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    But even plant milks should be refrigerated after opening? At least I never came across one that didn’t state so on the packaging. – Stephie Jul 10 '19 at 20:46
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    Almond milk does need to be refrigerated, but it doesn't spoil nearly as fast as regular milk. I have sometimes left a carton of almond milk out all day, and it was still good. (This is in cool weather, 60°F/15°C). – AndyB Jul 11 '19 at 2:17
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    @AndyB I suspect proper handling also plays a large role. Even bottles of bacterial culture medium (literally the perfect environment for the buggers) can last a couple days on a shelf as long as you spray the lid with alcohol and only open it in a clean area. Camping is definitely not a lab environment, but almond/oat milk also isn't a culture medium... – mbrig Jul 11 '19 at 4:52
  • I am going to try this, as regular milk starts to smell after a day at room temperature. – Ivana Jul 13 '19 at 0:03

I would say almond milk might be best. It doesn’t have the exact same taste as normal milk, but it is healthier as well!

  • Do not attempt to make instant pudding with almond milk. From my experience, it appears that milk's whey proteins are needed for the pudding to set. It stirs into coffee a bit funny too. This may bother you, or not. It is great for smoothies. – Wayfaring Stranger Jul 20 '19 at 2:01

Not technically an answer to the question but a solution nonetheless...

Wean yourself off milk.

I once couldn't drink coffee without cream (I used too much), saying "no sugar is tolerable, but if there's no milk, there's no coffee."

I became frustrated over spoiled cream and wasted money. Purchasing creamer in a quart size, I couldn't use it all before well past the expiration date. The smaller pint was generally gone before it went bad, but the price was significantly higher. More annoying (shouldn't have let it bother me, but it did) was the fact that pints always seemed to have dates further in the future than quarts.

So I began using less and less cream in my coffee, and now I don't mind it black. It took a couple months of being more mindful with the dose.

The bonus is that I now consume less fat (and once a year when I go to the doctor for a checkup, I needn't abstain from coffee prior to blood work).

I still splurge now and then with a bit of almond milk (or at a coffee shop I may still get a latte), but being able to drink black coffee is far more convenient, less mess, fewer utensils to wash, less money, less fuss for friends when I'm a guest.

Most important of all, it's a tiny bit less fat every morning in my diet. Every little bit helps.


  • I really do like this answer, +1 for thinking out of the box, but i'm going with a different solution all the same. – Ivana Aug 23 '19 at 23:04
  • Why thanks! Glad you liked it. What did you end up deciding? – zedmelon Aug 26 '19 at 23:00

Nestle has a product creatively called "Coffee and Milk" which is a pre-mix of sweetened condensed milk and coffee. Available in tins or in tubes, its absolutely nothing like coffee.

enter image description here

Since there's nothing to chill, there's no need for a fridge. Downside is the drink is boiling hot. This stuff is also the taste of tramping/hiking trips for me.

There are other Sweetened Condensed milk products which may be more accessible, but they tend to come in cans for baking purposes. If you like the taste then its a viable alternative. And some of them recommend refrigeration after opening, so check the label.

  • How do you solve the problem of no refrigeration? Condensed milk will need to be stored in a fridge once the can is open - and as it’s concentrated, the asker will use even less in their coffee compared to regular milk. – Stephie Jul 13 '19 at 4:29
  • @Stephie The product in the tube does not need refrigeration after opening. I was unaware the canned product was different. Will remove that part. – Criggie Jul 13 '19 at 5:53
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    @Stephie: the sweet condensed milk in tubes doesn't need to be refrigerated because of the sugar (same principle as jam/marmalade: lots of hygroscopic sugar, few water available for microorganisms, so slow growth). This doesn't apply to evaporated milk without added sugar, though - so I'd always check with the label. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jul 18 '19 at 15:08

When I lived in China, the milk was sold in what could easily be described as a "juice box" and it was never refrigerated. Before moving there I was under the impression that milk always needed to be chilled, and this is simply not the case. As some of the answers above have mentioned it can stay at room temp. so long as it is unopened for up to 6 months (there are a few variables). However, depending on the container and the milk you are using (what % of M.F) it can stay opened for up to 8. I would have no issue, even then, tossing it into a hot cup of coffee.

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    Surely that's UHT milk? Many people find that tastes revolting. – David Richerby Jul 10 '19 at 16:55
  • Being a westerner I bought my milk from a store that carried western goods. The milk I bought was from Australia and was homogenized (only option available). I can't remember the Aussie brand anymore (I moved back to Canada 18 months ago), but I googled it and emailed them and they checked out. It was actual milk. – J Crosby Jul 10 '19 at 16:57
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    Homogenized isn't relevant: it just means that it's pumped through a fine mesh to make the fat globules small enough that the cream stays in the body of the milk and doesn't separate out and float to the top. Pretty much all milk sold in the UK and US these days is homogenized; probably the same goes for many other countries, too. – David Richerby Jul 10 '19 at 17:01
  • Also, note that even a hot cup of coffee usually isn't hot enough to kill bacteria that may be partying in your room-temperature milk. – David Richerby Jul 11 '19 at 13:20

Based on Stephen M. Webbs suggestion and cbeleites insights I experimented with a almond and oat milk, in a clean glass container. There seem to be no problems in keeping the milk from going off during the day. Personally i like oat-milk better than almond-milk. During the past weeks i have brought about 120 ml of oat milk with me daily without any adverse health effects or any funny changes in taste.

The glass container is a 130 ml glass bottle, easy to clean and dishwasher safe. (It was originally bought for storing breast milk.) This has benefits over a vaccuum flask in that 1) it is smaller and therefore easier to fit in a laptop bag, 2) it is easy to keep clean even for a disorganised person like me who leaves it in the bag overnight sometimes and finally 3) luke warm milk does not cool my coffee too much.

I may decide to store the bottle in a can-cooler or in an insulated lunchbox/bag, but it really does not seem neccesary.

Thanks everyone for this huge response to this particular 1st world problem.


There is no problem. Most of supermarkets stores milk in the outside of fridge. Milk shouldn't contact sunlight. You have to store it without sunlight

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    Most supermarkets do NOT store fresh milk outside of fridges. UHT milk, yes, but that tastes significantly different. – Baldrickk Jul 11 '19 at 9:28
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    UTH milk containers, once opened, are also stored in a fridge. But yes sunlight will spoil milk very fast, as in under 1 hour, in my experience. – Ivana Jul 11 '19 at 11:11
  • In defense of the OP, in some countries 100% of milk sold is UHT, so people who are only exposed to shops in those countries will believe milk is normally sold outside of the fridge, and having not tasted fresh milk, will also not know it tastes differently. – gerrit Jul 13 '19 at 15:39

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