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Q: Tea ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Tea
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: rai130-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 22 Jul 2004 08:15 PDT
Expires: 21 Aug 2004 08:15 PDT
Question ID: 377601
Why do the English/British put milk in their tea? Doesn't seem all
that common anywhere else...
Subject: Re: Tea
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 22 Jul 2004 12:16 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
I am not British, but I put milk in my tea. It seems to take the edge
off the slightly bitter taste that black tea often has. It had never
occurred to me that there might be a reason other than taste, but I've
learned that there's an interesting theory involving milk as a

"This tea is best enjoyed with milk since the casein in milk renders
the tannins in tea insoluble and reduces the characteristic bitterness
of strong teas...
Regarding the addition of milk, there is the age old argument of when
to add the milk to the cup - before you add the tea or after.
Milk-firsters argue that adding milk last scalds the milk noticeably
and therefore the milk should be warmed slowly with the addition of
tea. Milk-lasters argue that adding milk after the tea has been poured
is the only way of judging the proper amount of milk to add by
watching the color of the tea change. Nonusers of milk regard the
whole issue as silly."

Harvest Fields: Black Tea Profiles

"Two points that tea drinkers often struggle with is the question of
milk! The first is the question of, 'with or without Milk'? First of
all, Green teas and Mint Teas do not go with milk. They are kept well
away from that sort of thing. Milk goes with Black Tea to dilute its
often bitter and harsh taste and has stemmed from there into an
everyday requirement. The second is that of milk before or after
pouring the tea into the cup? Does one pour the milk in first and then
the tea, or the tea first and then top up with milk? Each to his/her
own way, I say, but there is a rather more rooted reason for milk
first. Milk was originally placed in the cup first to prevent the
gentle porcelain from cracking when the hot tea was poured into it."

Seamania: Tea Time at Sea

"I dont know whether 'we' were first to put milk in tea but I do know
'we' put the milk in the cup first because old china tea cups way back
in the 18th century would crack under the heat of the boiling water
used to make tea. So putting milk into the cup first instantly cooled
the tea and prevented the cup from breaking. Hence it is proper to put
your milk in before adding your tea."

Times Educational Supplement: Further Education forum

"The British Standards Institute has proclaimed that milk is best
poured before the tea, though this is debated by some tea lovers.
Those in favor say that the hot water scalds the milk, which brings
out the tea's flavor. (And they never use cream, as it masks the tea's
taste.) Others have speculated that the milk-first theory prevents the
china from cracking in reaction to the boiling water. However, Queen
Elizabeth II reportedly enjoys her tea by adding the milk afterward."

WWWiz: Tea Types

"Putting the milk in first has nothing to do with taste. It is a habit
we have retained from the times when only the rich could afford
porcelain - which, because it isn't as porous as china, could
withstand the hot tea being poured in directly. Those of us with cheap
china had to put the milk in first to cool the tea slightly to prevent
our cups from cracking. So in this case our taste has been moulded by
the physics rather than the chemistry."

Institute of Physics: Trouble is brewing

Why use milk as a coolant, rather than cold water? We're back to taste
again. Water merely dilutes the tea, thus giving it less flavor. Milk
adds a unique flavor of its own; the sweetness of the lactose and
smoothness of the casein in milk help to balance the sharpness of the
polyphenols in a strong cup of black tea.

My late grandmother, who was a member of the Daughters of the American
Revolution (DAR), had a theory that she said had been passed down
through the DAR for generations. This theory explained why Americans
typically do not put milk in their tea, as Britons do. According to my
grandmother's tale, the absence of milk in American tea is related to
a tea shortage that resulted from the tea embargo in the late 18th
century (think "Boston Tea Party"). When tea became scarce, pots of
tea were brewed weaker, in order to conserve tea. Since the tea was
already somewhat pale and anemic, adding milk would have wiped out
what flavor it had. Thus the colonists drank it straight. The habit
persisted after the tea shortage had ended.

My Google search strategy:

Google Web Search: milk "in tea" OR "in their tea" british OR english
OR britons +why

Thanks for an enjoyable question! If anything more is needed, please
request clarification; I'll be glad to offer further assistance before
you rate my answer.

Best wishes,
rai130-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Thanks pink. My mother would always insist that putting milk in first
was 'common' (different generation!) and I suppose that explains
why... posh people had good china that wouldn't crack so there was no
need to put the milk in first. Does anyone have any idea what the
c.17th/18th century Chinese/Indian view of these odd Englishmen's
habit is?

Subject: Re: Tea
From: archae0pteryx-ga on 22 Jul 2004 23:40 PDT
I acquired the habit from the Canadian side of my family.

I like to use a strong tea and steep it until it is nearly black and
then add enough cream to make it just the right color.  I use cream,
not milk, for the richness, and make the tea strong enough so that it
needs a little masking.

Since I use a tea bag rather than brewing in a teapot, I can't put
milk or cream into the cup (or mug) first because it would cool the
water too much for steeping.  Also, how would I ever pour the right
amount?  The right color corresponds to the right taste, and what it
takes to achieve that will depend on the proportions, controlled by
cup size and amount of liquid and strength of the tea.


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