englishteastore_2159_16335570Everyone has their opinion when it comes to the question of whether to add milk to tea – and that’s fine (there’s also the question of whether the tea is added first or the milk is added first, but that’s another story). I’m a member of the “no milk” camp, but plenty of people like it and that’s fine because we all like what we like.

But in my research on other tea-related issues I’ve found instances of others who were not quite so tolerant of the milk/tea combination. Most recently, in an 1897 article I wrote about that ranted about the evils of tea in general, the author of said piece said the “dilution of the infusion with milk” is folly, though without elaborating on why.

In Delicate Feasting, by Theodore Child, an 1890 book that’s more of a how-to volume than a proper cookbook, the author pulls no punches when it comes to the milk/tea question. He notes that the custom of adding cream or milk to tea originated “in ignorance or bad brewing.” He goes on to assert that if the tea is good the addition of milk spoils the taste and it also makes the milk harder to digest.

The following year a US consul to China tackled the topic in a government report on Chinese tea. Which is considerably livelier than one might expect for a report written by a bureaucrat. He advises not boiling tea, not allowing it to touch metal and refers to green tea as “an abomination and a fraud.” As for milk, he too advises that it “ruins the flavor of the tea, and the combination injures the stomach,” likening the compounds created by this combination to “pure leather.”

Another report with a touch of the bureaucratic about it, an 1898 edition of the Wisconsin Farmers’ Institutes Bulletin, recommends that teapots be earthen or granite but never tin and notes that for medicinal purposes green tea is preferred over black. However, it also points out that some people find tea objectionable for health reasons and that “the addition of milk to tea and coffee makes them more objectionable.”

I suspect that anyone who likes milk in their tea isn’t going to change their mind about their preferences as a result of all this. But from a historical perspective, it is an interesting side note.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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