There is nothing good or bad morally about drinking tea with or without milk unless you happen to believe that God invented cows especially for the purpose. It is just a matter of personal taste and what you have been brought up with which determines whether you will prefer to use milk or not. There are some historical factors which are very important in where you stand on this matter. Some of them are:

Mongolians drank tea with milk. Chinese did not. The simple fact is that China was never traditionally a country where cows grazed in vast numbers.

Milk was available in England in the countryside and it was common to drink Chinese black tea with milk even before Indian tea arrived in the 1840s. The opening of the London model dairy in 1855 meant that tea with milk could be easily drunk in London from that time and the habit spread. Previously it had been quite common to drink tea with hot or cold cream. When the small leaf black teas arrived in England and Ireland at the end of the 19th century they were brewed following the same idiotic advice that was given with large leaf teas to brew for 3 to 5 minutes. Of course the result was strong and bitter and required milk and sugar to be palatable. If the tea gurus of the day had stopped to think about the problem they would have recommended a much shorter brewing time.

All the British Commonwealth countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa were brought up with Ceylon and Indian black tea which was bitter. Milk and sugar made it a much more pleasant drink. Even Hong Kong drinks tea with milk and sugar and I have even been to a contest in Hong Kong where contestants vied to make the best milk tea. It is starting to become common even through China.

The United States was kept out of the Black tea market to a large extent and like Europe drank mainly Chinese and Japanese teas which traditionally were not drunk with milk. The habit of drinking tea without milk in the United States stems from these early days. Europe traditionally also drank tea without milk and this is why most of the tea there is a large leaf and weak in flavor.

 

[bctt tweet=”Of course the result was strong and bitter and required milk and sugar to be palatable. “]

 

There has probably been more rubbish written about whether the milk should be put into the cup first before the tea or after the tea than any other tea question. It would be a brave person who would bet money that they can detect whether the milk has put been put in first or last in spite of university research determining which is preferable. The theory that the milk boils does not appear to make the tea different in practice.

Research discussing milk with coffee has determined that the milk lines the stomach and slows the absorption of caffeine. There seems little doubt that milk with tea would have the same properties.

A milky iced green tea.
Creamy iced green tea

Basically it comes down to where you were born and the customs in the house that you were brought up with which determine whether you will have milk with your tea or not. Chinese typically do not drink green tea in any variety with milk although there seems to be no reason not to. I am pretty sure that I have seen ice tea drinks made from green tea with milk and sugar in supermarkets.

 

[bctt tweet=” It would be a brave person who would bet money that they can detect whether the milk has put been put in first or last in spite of university research determining which is preferable.”]

 

If tea can be served iced with milk then there would appear to be no reasons why the same drink could not be served hot except custom. Herein lies the problem. Most of the people who are giving advice on how to drink tea are purists and somehow think that there are divine qualities to be ingested by following tradition and that the product will be spoiled if you actually make it more enjoyable to drink. My advice is to make it the way you like and drink it the way you like. I have never seen a recipe for Darjeeling tea which gave any advice except to brew large leaf tea for five or six minutes and to drink it without milk. I can assure you from personal experience that by using Darjeeling fannings and dust and brewing for 30 seconds it is absolutely delicious with milk and sugar. Enjoy.

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13 Comments

  1. Tell me more about the tradition to drink tea with milk in different parts of India. I`ll be very grateful! What are the latest tea-drinking trends there?

  2. Interesting article – thank you!

    I would have thought the most straight-forward answer would be “… it depends on the tea”.
    I certainly would not add milk to the Darjeeling teas I have tasted*; I feel the flavours are ‘smothered’ by the milk. I don’t drink a great deal of Assam, but I have tasted some without milk that were wonderful, and others that really ‘needed’ milk to smooth off the edges! As you say, it’s all a matter of personal choice.

    *One exception… I once had a free Darjeeling sample that I feel was ‘dustier’ than it should have been. After steeping, it was much darker in colour and taste, and more bitter than it ought to have been. Milk may have been an option there!

  3. I never thought of adding milk to fannings to make them more palatable! Good idea!

    In my opinion, you should NEVER add milk to tea… without tasting it first without it. People who say “I always take ___ milk and ___ sugar in my tea” clearly haven’t tried enough teas to realize they’re all different.

  4. Madhuri Agarwal Reply

    Ian, have you any idea of how the tea is brewed street-side in most of India? Tea leaves, milk and Sugar are boiled and simmered for sometime and then strained and served.

    • Completely agree. If you add milk like how its done here in India in many tea shops, the tea may taste tangy and sour with the constant cooking of tea leaves, milk and sugar.
      I agree its safer to add milk later. And I don’t boil the leaves just put them in just boiled hot water and cover to allow the water to take in the taste. Adding milk before spoils the deliciousness for me.

  5. maj tg menon Reply

    Always have it without milk & sugar to relish the real taste.

  6. Venkatesh Anantanarayana Reply

    First bring water to the boiling point, add CTC leaves, switch off the flame, add a pinch of sugar, stir, pour the tea after two minutes, and finally add milk and sugar to taste.

  7. I am Indian and this is how I like my tea- boil water- when it comes to a boil turn off the heat, add tea leaves (black, fermented tea) and cover the vessel- once the tea leaves settle to the bottom strain the tea and add milk till the colour is ‘right’. There you are! Nothing scientific about it but this gives me a cup just the way I like it.
    Kind regards,
    Aditya

  8. Obviously i add milk to tea. but when ever i drink green tea than i use only some amount of water with a tea spoon of green tea leaves.

  9. Well, I might be one of the few here that feels this way but, I like to have milk with my tea. I for one do not like the flavours of my tea leaves to be too strong and I find that the milk helps provide the perfect balance. It honestly comes down to the tea you are using though. I find that with my tea, prepared from Pride of Cows milk does a wonderful job at enhancing the flavour of the entire cup of tea. Trial and error is what works best when it comes to whether you should use milk or not in your tea!

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