adventures in clumpy coffee

This is totally-sort-of science.

Bad Milk, Man
I make coffee every morning and most of the time my wife gets to drink some too. This morning she informed me that a couple of days ago, after heating her coffee in the microwave at work, it became lumpy, like the milk was spoiled (or maybe she put cottage cheese in her coffee by accident?).

Anyway, I decided to try and discover what the heck was happening and why.

Q: Why does milk get curdled anyway?
A: Essentially, there is a bacteria in milk that helps spoilage. Most of this bacteria is killed when the milk is pasteurized (I think it may even be illegal to sell non-pasteurized, or “raw,” milk in the US). Anyway, back to yummy lumpy milk. The bacteria basically eat milk sugars and poop lactic acid. Mmmm, poopy milk. The change in pH causes the proteins in the milk to coagulate with the fat and you get nice bunches of slightly acidic milk balls. So, yeah, there we have it. The surprising bit is that you can still eat it. You can even make cheese — search for how to make paneer, for example.

So, essentially my only theory is that my wife’s coffee mug has not been properly cleaned lately… she isn’t a messy person, but she has been known to leave bits of milk lying around the apartment. So my guess is that there are remnants of these cute little bacteria and/or lactic acid hiding somewhere in her mug, essentially making it into a petri dish (a petri dish, by the way, which has “World’s Best Everything” scrawled on the side in permanent marker).

Update: I’ve been notified that the mug has now officially been cleaned, so let’s hope that solved the mystery of the lump-riddled coffee. I’ll keep you up to date.


Alien Nation, 1989
Oh and while we’re on the subject, what about that show from the nineties, Alien Nation, which was about aliens that looked pretty much like humans had mated with dalmatians? They got drunk after drinking spoiled milk. It’s a pretty clever sci-fi idea, actually. After all, humans get drunk on fermented sugars, so why wouldn’t it be possible for some other life form to get inebriated through a similar biological process? Instead of turning sugars into ethanol, milk sugars are turned into lactic acid, a substance that is also used to make things like cottage cheese, sourdough bread, and is used in the production some beer and wines.

Digression over (you may consider this entire blog post a digression if you wish, thank you very much).