Milk First, Last, or Never in Your Tea?

Milk is truly a matter of taste! (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
Milk is truly a matter of taste! (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Awhile back I wrote adamantly that, if one uses milk in one’s tea, it should go in first, since it not only keeps those eggshell thin bone china teacups from cracking when the hot tea is poured in but it also assures a more even mixing of tea and milk. Others say it should go in last, since the amount of milk used cannot always be known ahead of the pouring of the tea. And many shudder at the idea of milk in their tea altogether, and not just in teas like sencha but also in a hearty Assam or black Ceylon or Kenyan. It’s one of those “debates” (as much as the discussion of different tastes can be called a debate) in the world of tea that seems totally ongoing.

Year’s ago I started drinking my tea in what many call the “British style,” that is, a strong black tea with milk and sweetener (oddly enough, this is also known as “builders tea”). The reason was mainly my delicate tummy, which seemed to be affected by tea in an adverse fashion when I drank it without milk but not when I used milk in it. (Yes, some teas such as pu-erhs and wuyi oolongs are said to be gentle on the stomach, but a few decades ago when I started drinking tea daily I didn’t even know such teas existed; my daily cuppa or two or three was good old orange pekoe.) In recent years as my taste for, and knowledge of, other types of tea grew, I no longer automatically reach for the milk when having a cuppa.

Generally speaking, any tea other than a strong black tea is not a good option for milk. I say generally because there are recipes for bubble tea that start with green and even oolong teas. The wonderful world of tea: no hard and fast rules, just strong guidelines!

Teas That Can Take Some Milk Without Flinching

  • Autumn Flush Darjeeling steeped strong — No, I’m not nutty. While Spring and Summer flushes have a flavor that is too delicate and fruity for milk, the Autumn flush can be steeped up stronger (use about 50% more tea leaves than normal and steep at least 5 minutes in water that has been heated to a boil). I prefer a bit of sweetener added in, too, since it enhances that fruity Muscatel quality in the liquid.
  • Black tea steeped 5 minutes (not that wimpy 3 minutes some cold tea drinking Tea Guy recommends) — Whether the tea is from Assam, Ceylon, or China, or a blend containing any of those and some from African countries, the flavor will be bold even with milk added. Again, I like a touch of sweetener, as it combines with the milk’s natural sugar (lactose) and the tea to create a character that gets described by some as malty/caramelly. Yum!

Stylish Milk and Tea Performance

Having seen the video of this vendor on a street in a Thai city, I was quite mesmerized by the show (thanks to some Facebook “friends” for the link). Also, this video shows that milk in one’s tea is not solely a British tradition. Thomas Kasper, a great tea vendor in Thailand, commented that it was the sweetened condensed milk that made the style of fancy pouring possible. I’m sure it did, since the milk has a high fat content. Fat cells tend to form globules and can also act as a binder.

Health Concerns

Health benefit claims abound about tea. However, all bets are supposedly off if you dare to put milk in the tea. Apparently, those nasty milk molecules don’t like to let your tummy absorb all that good stuff in the tea. Also, those who are lactose intolerant will want to avoid that moo juice, too. For me and possibly many others, milk in the tea protects the tummy, and as Elise Nuding recently pointed out in one of her articles, milk in tea can make that tea seem more substantial and satisfying (psst! it’s the fat in the milk). When it’s a flavored tea such as Pumpkin Spice or Angel’s Dream Tea, that tea can be dessert in a cup, saving you from high-calorie pies and cakes and so much more. Sounds healthy to me!

Bottom Line

At this stage in my learning about tea, I have concluded that whether you put milk first, last, or never in your tea is totally up to you. Slurp — ah!

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3 thoughts on “Milk First, Last, or Never in Your Tea?

  1. Pingback: The Best of the English Tea Store Tea Blog in 2013 | Tea Blog

  2. Pingback: Is Milk in Tea a Flavoring? | Tea Blog

  3. Pingback: Adding Milk to Tea | Tea Blog

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