It is a common practice amongst the English to drink their tea with some milk and sugar. While this might be an English tradition, it is certainly not the way tea has been traditionally enjoyed.
The benefits for doing this seem obvious. Adding the milk cools the hot tea quickly, making it more readily enjoyable, and it makes for a thicker mouth texture that some find comforting. Likewise, adding the sugar sweetens the tea, making the beverage taste tolerable regardless of how well it is prepared.
So why not do this? In order to answer this question, we will have to briefly consider some of the lore surrounding this British tradition, dispelling the myths along the way.
Nobody is quite certain why the British started drinking their tea with milk and sugar in the first place, but there are many theories as to why it was practiced.
Tea and aesthetics were always intertwined with another, and this was no less true in the 17th century. British merchants in China and Japan were introduced to tea through traditional forms of preparation, such as the tea bowl and porcelain cups.
Tea drinking was therefore inseparable from the aesthetic of tea preparation, and as a result, it was not uncommon for tea to be shipped with porcelain tea cups for preparing it. The most elegant teaware seemed to be the Jingdezhen porcelain, where artists created teawares that were so thin and lightweight that they exhibited a kind of luminescence when light would strike them.
Some of our teaware selection, especially in our masterfully crafted Treasure Collection, can give you an idea of what this looked like.
If one were to use inferior porcelain to make hot tea, which was often prepared with boiling water, and one failed to pre-heat the tea cups, it would result in the porcelain cracking or breaking. Some concluded that using the milk to cool the water could help prevent this from happening. It was additionally believed that the milk could help prevent the tannins in the tea from staining their porcelain.
Inferior teaware is always a problem, which is why we do our best to curate some of the highest quality products available. Some of them are even hand-crafted by up-and-coming, promising artists who demonstrate superior knowledge of their craft or well-established pottery masters in pursuit of the harmony between creativity and precision. The solution to avoiding broken teaware is to exercise great care in preparing your loose leaf tea and to select the right teaware.
As for the other issue, tea stains are an inevitable result from using your teaware. But that’s precisely part of the beauty of teaware.
Now that we have discussed why there is not a need to add milk to your tea, we can now take the time to mention an important drawback: milk prevents you from tasting the true flavor of the tea.
Every tea is unique in flavor, as discussed in our tea tasting guide. This is true even with respect to the same kinds of teas. The pinewood smoked flavor of Lapsang Souchong black tea is going to be very different from our full-bodied and floral Yunnan Gold Tips black tea. The malty and chocolate flavor of Sichuan Imperial black tea offers an experience that is very different from the mellow, stonefruit flavors of our Keemun Fragrant Snail black tea.
To put it as simply as possible: adding milk just dilutes the tea drinking experience.
But even though we don’t recommend it, if you’re going to do it, just remember to add your milk to your tea first!