Many teas taste delicious with milk, particularly stronger teas such as Assam, where the milk tempers the strong flavour. Generally, the lighter the tea, the less likely it is that it needs milk. Green, white and yellow teas as well as aromatic and floral teas should be drunk without milk.
The big question when making tea is this: do you put the milk in first or last? Putting the milk in last was considered to be the ‘correct’ thing to do in refined social circles, but the reason for this is often forgotten. In the early days of tea-drinking, poor-quality cups were inclined to crack when hot tea was poured into them, and putting the milk in first helped to prevent this. When finer and stronger materials came into use, this was no longer necessary – so putting the milk in last became a way of showing that one had the finest china on one’s table.
Having said that, there is a good reason for adding the milk last – if you are drinking an unfamiliar tea, it is easier to judge the correct amount of milk to add once you have seen the strength and colour of the tea. On the other hand, putting the milk in first means that the fat in the milk emulsifies in a different way when the tea is poured, which does change the flavour of the tea, giving it a more even, creamier flavour. It also cools the tea slightly to a more acceptable drinking temperature.
This is the main argument of the Milk in First Society, which was founded in Rochdale in 1896 on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Co-operative movement. The MiFS believe that putting the milk in first shows working class values when drinking tea and have been affiliated to the Labour Party ever since.
This is an extract from the book 40 Strange Groups