The Historic Reason People Add Milk To Hot Tea

Whether you prefer the taste of a soothing, caffeine-free herbal tea, a pleasant and refreshing cup of green tea, or a rich, flavorful mug of black tea to kick off your morning, there is just something satisfying about settling down with a cup of your favorite tea variety. And while some tea purists might need nothing more than a cup of boiling water and a bag of tea, others prefer to sweeten their mug with a little bit of milk and sugar. 

Milk is a great way to adjust the flavor of a cup of tea by adding a hint of sweetness and thickness to the beverage, and many people prefer to take their tea that way. But while the practice of adding tea is an old one, dating all the way back to 18th century Britain, the tradition actually had nothing to do with changing the taste or texture of the drink when it first began.

Milk was poured first to prevent delicate teacups from cracking

Back in the day, tea was prepared in big pots of boiling water, and then poured into small china cups for individual consumption. However, the liquid was so hot, it risked cracking the delicate china, so tea drinkers devised an ingenious solution. By pouring cold milk into the teacup first, they cooled the temperature down enough to then be able to pour out the boiling tea into the cup without breaking the porcelain, according to Taste of Home. And while the practice may have begun in Britain, it was popularized by a French society woman named Madame de la Sablière, who began adding milk to the tea she served in her Parisian salon, according to Tea Happiness.

But while the tradition might dictate that milk be added before tea, more modern formal etiquette says the milk should be added after pouring out the tea, in order to ensure that the right amount of milk is added to correctly complement the strength of the tea, according to Boston Tea Party Ship. Additionally, milk should only be added to black teas from places like India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya, and never added to green, white, or oolong teas.

Milk is best added to strong, bold tea varieties

These days, most people's decision to add milk to their tea is simply a matter of personal taste and preference. However, that doesn't mean there are no rules left when it comes to tea drinking. According to The Spruce Eats, some tea snobs remain insistent that drinking a cup of tea as is, with no additives of any kind, is the only proper way to enjoy the delicate, complex flavors of the beverage. But even somewhat less strict tea connoisseurs may still adhere to certain guidelines around which types of tea require milk and sugar, and which should be enjoyed on their own. 

In general, heavier, stronger black or red teas or bold tea blends like Earl Grey, are best paired with milk and sugar, while lighter varieties like green tea may benefit from just a little bit of sugar. Other, more delicate or complex blends, such as white or oolong teas, are best enjoyed without any additives at all. Of course, while learning about these rules and traditions may be fun, there is only one really correct way to enjoy a cup of tea: by adding whatever ingredients you like best.