There’s a book, “The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century,” by David Salsburg, that dealt with this issue. The story goes that an English lady insisted she could taste the difference between “Milk In First” and “Tea In First.” An early statistician put her to the test. As it turned out, the lady COULD taste the difference.
I’ve heard that milk in first is marginally less likely to curdle, since the temperature change is more gradual. Perhaps it results in a slightly different flavor in any case.
There are as many explanations for “milk in first/second” as there are tea drinkers, and I don’t believe ANY of them! It is a class marker: if you want to appear posh, pour the tea in first. I love Miss Manners, but she is on the wrong side of the pond. Here, you let your guest add milk and sugar. I can see an elegant tea party - the lady of the house pours the tea and hands each cup to the guests, one by one. Milk and sugar is on the table. In a less genteel household (or transport café), milk is poured into ten mugs on the counter, and then the (very strong) tea is poured into them in a continuous stream from a giant teapot. Messy, you say? The mugs are standing on a kind of grille, and the extra tea goes down the drain. You add sugar yourself, and stir it with the teaspoon supplied, which is attached to the grille arrangement by a chain, so that nobody nicks it. PS Nobody can agree on how to make the perfect cup of tea, either. PPS Teabags have rendered these antique arrangements obsolete. PPPS I’m channelling Miss Manners, now.
George Orwell says tea first. He gives a practical reason, as you would imagine he would.
I love Mr. Orwell, but I put the milk in first. That way it stirs itself when I add the tea.
Actually, in England, it’s a class thing. Them and Us.
I don’t put milk in tea, but I do add it to coffee at my office. When I make coffee in my office, I put the milk in first, then add the coffee. It has nothing to do with the flavor. I add the milk first because it gets mixed in with the coffee as the coffee is poured into the cup. This way, I don’t have to look for something to stir my coffee.
I have hard water, and I find that, when making tea with a teabag in a mug, if I put milk in first, with the teabag, it stops tannin scum from forming on the surface of the tea.
As a scientist I know that I should put milk in afterwards, so the water isn’t cooled down for the brewing process, but I prefer the taste and appearance if I put milk in first, so I do that.
I was told by my British BF that not using milk at all was a class indicator. Apparently the really hoity-toity sorts don’t – and the upper class often drink a lighter and more delicate brew that doesn’t go well with milk. You use lemon or sugar.
Which is why his family teased the hell out of me. I hate milk in my tea. Blech.
That said, he could’ve pulled THAT reason out of his ass.
For what it’s worth, here’s Douglas Adams’s take on it:
The story is that someone (forgot the name) put a woman who claimed she could taste the difference to the test… she was correct on all accounts, which had a probability of 5% of being just coincidence. The story is that this is where the common - in certain fields - 95% confidence level originated.
I find it amusing that Orwell derides those who add sugar to tea, as masking the One True Tea Flavor, but nonetheless advocates adding milk, which has a much more blatant flavor than sugar. I drink my tea with a spoonful of sugar and nothing else, precisely because I do enjoy the flavor of tea.
I would not take the British advice on anything that has to do with food or beverage. British tea for the longest time was ground to a powdered and not whole leaf. You want tea, you ask the Chinese or Japanese how to make tea. They don’t add milk to their tea.
I kind of agree with Adams on the milk point. Not that I like milk in my tea. Or lemon. I don’t like either. But if you do and people try to tell you it’s wrong, “Screw them. I like it with milk.” is a perfectly valid response.
I would go one step further on the boilING versus boilED point. If possible I prefer to put the tea in the kettle while the water is at a full boil and leave it boiling for a minute or two.
I was raised near my great grandmother who lived to over 100 and came over from England as an adult. Tea started at a young age for me. As a youth it was milk tea with the majority being milk. Around 5 it would have been mostly milk with milk content going down as I aged. It was tea with training wheels. She didn’t make a big deal out of when the milk went in but ISTR she wasn’t big on milk herself. If you are brewing in the cup itself milk before isn’t an effective option anyway due to the water temp issue. The scalding issue fades with time from brew anyway as tea in a pot (although brewed at the proper temp) cools.
Things she was particular about:
- Proper temp of the water as discussed in the D Adams link.
- Water gets poured on the tea not tea put in the water. This was her biggest issue. “Bruise the leaves” or it’s not right. IME it makes a difference especially with tea bags. Adams follows this order but doesn’t make a point of it.
- Remove the tea after the appropriate steep time (which can vary depending on the tea.) As the steep continues the flavor pulled from the tea changes.
I’m generally a milk after guy out of simple habit. I need a little milk with darker/stronger teas or my stomach rebels. Lighter brews I tend to go without. I bruise the leaves though. I learned my lesson early on that one.
I agree with him on milk in last. It does taste different.
What no-one has mentioned yet is the type of cup. Tea in fine bone china tastes completely different to tea in a heavy earthenware mug. This to the point that earthenware mug tea is nearly undrinkable.
Other vessels vary in taste, with enamel mugs being O.K. but not wonderful. Plastic/Paper cups? Eucch!!
I also don’t like tea made and served with a teabag still in. Perhaps because this is usually in some joint where they serve it in small heavy ceramic cups or plastic/paper cups - such as transport cafes and railway stations. Also perhaps because milk interferes with tea steeping and so the brew is always too weak
Not quite true. A number of locations use unfermented or semi-fermented teas with milk. Agreed these are not China proper and the result is not really tea as we know it. I’ve seen it in Thailand. There is also “Milk Oolong” (Nai Xiang) which occasionally has milk-powder added to make it creamier - an example of Chinese food fakery.
I’m not sure what type of tea is used in Tibet. It may be an unfermented tea? It’s mixed with Yak butter and salt.
There is also a coffee version - milk and sugar in first or coffee in first. I seem to recall that it is supposedly less bitter if you put the milk in first.
I am lazy, I put the milk and splenda in first and let the coffee do the stirring. Though I have a specific mug, and the milk goes to a molding line in the mug [um, the mug has a narrower base than top.]
Related, and a good thread on physics:
Which cools hot coffee quicker: milk into coffee, or vice versa?
(URL not in-line because my browser is acting up.)