Why do the British add milk to tea?
You may have noticed that here in the UK, most people like to have their tea with a dash of milk. But have you ever wondered, why?
Actually, there are a few opinions about why milk is added to this most British of brews.
Most of these opinions are based around the fact that in the 17th century, tea was served in china porcelain cups.
Given its delicacy, the porcelain would often crack due to the high water temperature. Therefore, people started adding milk to cool down the cup.
Another popular theory is that milk was used to balance the natural bitterness of tea, giving it a smoother, more delicate flavour.
Nevertheless, one question still remains…
When should you add milk - before or after the Tea?
This simple gesture, much devalued today, was said to tell a lot about where you came from.
Actually, tea—unlike milk—used to be an expensive drink - affordable only to the upper classes.
Poorer folk filled their cups with milk and after added just a dash of tea. On the contrary, the richest added a dash of milk to the tea in order to reduce its bitterness and to cool it down; just like we explored earlier.
In fact, in those days, this simple difference could give away your social background.
The Scientific answer
Well, Science is clear: MILK FIRST!
But why you ask? It's simple - when milk is added after the tea, it will heat unevenly, making the proteins “denaturate” - protein denaturation can strongly affect the taste, as once denatured, the proteins in the milk lose their structure and become clustered - this is the reason you see the all too familiar skin on the top of your cuppa.
Amazingly, this process can be avoided simply by adding the milk first!