In Tea, Milk Comes First

In tea, there is often a proper order to things (like the Byrds song “Turn Turn Turn”). Grow the tea, then harvest it. Process the tea, then package it. Stock the tea, then sell it. Buy the tea, then enjoy it. The enjoyment can also have a certain order. Heat the water, then steep the tea. Pour the tea, then drink the tea. This may seem obvious, but this tea drinker is sad to say she has seen some people try to do at least one of these steps before its logical predecessor. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to which ones and what order.

CAUTION: I’m going to talk about something that many of you tea drinkers might consider totally repulsive — milk in tea! Many tea drinkers in the U.S. and other parts of the world find this totally abhorrent. Read on if you dare. Ha ha ha ha ha! (evil laugh)

Anyone who drinks tea British style, that is, with milk in it, knows that milk goes in the cup first. This is a hard and fast rule. Break it and the tea police will show up at your door. (No, not really!) It’s more of a tradition. However, there are a couple of really really really important reasons for this order, just as there are some really important rules for how to handle plutonium (hint: juggling is not allowed).

Pour the milk in first to:

  • Protect your teacup from the possibility of cracking when it’s hit by the hot tea, especially if the teacup is made from fine bone china or is one of the more delicate glass ones.
  • Assure that the milk mixes better with the tea, as some tea drinkers claim and my personal experience has shown.

Of course, Britain isn’t the only country where milk is an essential part of tea enjoyment. India is another. However, there the milk is used to steep the tea, not just smooth it in the cup. Actually, they steep their tea in a mix of water and milk, in ratios ranging from 1 part milk and 3 parts water to 3 parts milk and 2 parts water. The kind of milk varies, too. While we in the U.S. drink cow’s milk almost exclusively, in India and other countries they drink milk from goats, etc.

In Taiwan and other Asian countries, a cold tea with milk and tapioca balls is a favorite. It’s called “Bubble Tea” (and several other names). The tea is steeped first, chilled, and then poured into a glass where milk, flavoring, and those all important chewy tapioca balls are added in.

So, I guess milk doesn’t always come first. Dang! There goes my whole sense of some kind of order in the universe. My world has just been thrown into chaos and disarray (sort of like my hair after a night of tossing and turning). Better have some tea. Thank goodness there’s some breakfast blend left in the teapot. Hubby, pour me a cuppa — milk first, please!

When you visit A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, the homepage comes first.

8 thoughts on “In Tea, Milk Comes First

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  7. I love milk in my lapsang souchong. It tends to mellow the smokiness. Call me odd. It’s okay. As for Earl Grey, I lost my taste for it awhile ago. I would never dream of putting milk in my more delicate teas. But in some oolongs, darjeelings, and even pu-erh it’s definitely good.

  8. Meghan O

    I love milk in tea, but only certain kinds. I find the ones with extra flavors don’t tend to mix well. In the name of experimentation, I can say the smokiness of lapsang souchong and the bite of Earl Gray are horrid with milk. I just use milk when I want to mellow my super-strong Irish/Scottish/English breakfast teas.

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