by Emeric Harney November 07, 2019 4 min read 10 Comments

If hot dogs and apple pie are American icons, milk tea is a British hallmark. Whether you take yours with milk or not, there is a long tradition of the marriage of these two beverages, as well as some differing opinions: tea’s version of the Hatfields and McCoys.

A Cloudy History

Who knew milk in tea could be such a partisan topic? The debate starts with the origin of the practice. Did it start with the Mongolians in the 1300s with the addition of butter and curd? (Yes, butter and curd and tea, oh my.) Did it come to favor in the late 1600s to offset the bitterness of imported Chinese teas whose flavor suffered on long sea voyages? Or was it the French? It is documented that one Madame de la Sabliere served tea with milk at her famous Paris salon in 1680 and then, in some 1680s version of the Kardashians, got wildly popular for no reason whatsoever.

No matter how it started, milk in tea is now an undeniably British tradition. And while the vast majority of Brits may take their tea with milk, they are of two minds about one very key aspect.

Are You a Miffy or a Tiffy?

A miffy is a person who believes in pouring in the milk first, then the tea. It is believed that this practice began when drinking tea out of fragile china cups was commonplace. The hot tea sometimes caused the porcelain to crack, but if the cold milk was poured into the cup first it would help temper the tea, thus saving the loss of countless innocent china cups.

A tiffy is a person who believes in pouring the tea first, then the milk. A tiffy will argue that you cannot know the proper amount of milk-to-tea ratio without adding the milk last; going milk-first might mean an over-serving of milk. Once you’ve put the milk in, you could very well end up having milk with tea instead of tea with milk.

There are other milk first v. tea first theories out there as well. Some say tea-first is an upper-class practice, as their cups were made of finer porcelain that would not crack or stain as easily as cheaper cups. Also, lower quality teas tend to have a more bitter flavor, so those who could not afford higher quality tea added milk or cream to offset the bitterness (milk contains binding agents that can dilute more astringent flavors).

We won’t say there’s bitterness between the miffys and the tiffys, but there are definitely strong differences of opinion. We say whatever floats your teabag is the way to go!

(BTW, we’re pretty sure Santa does not take milk with his tea—he drinks enough milk on one night to last an entire year!)

Milk Tea Goes Wild

If you haven’t had milk in your tea, it may sound strange or even wrong. But for many across the globe, tea isn’t tea without milk. Several cultures have their own spin on tea with milk. Here are a few:

  • Classic British: a quintessential black tea like Earl Grey or  English Breakfast tea with milk will give you a good stiff upper lip to get through your day. Add the milk before or after the tea; we don’t judge.
  • Bubble Tea: If you haven’t tried bubble tea, it’s an experience. With Taiwanese origins, this unique tea (also known as Boba tea and pearl milk tea) is made with black tea (our Paris tea would make a tasty bubble tea), milk and tapioca pearls. Served iced, bubble tea comes in many varieteas. Feeling adventurous? Try our Bubble Tea Set.
  • Masala Chai: When in India (or wherever you are)… have Masala Chai! This signature Indian tea is simple: just add milk to a spiced black tea like Harney’s Chai. Add additional spices to your liking.
  • Thai Tea: Another milky spiced tea is Thai Tea. Start with an Assam or Ceylon tea and add cane or brown sugar as well as condensed milk. Top with coconut or dairy milk and serve this creamy treat hot or cold.
  • Hokkaido Milk Tea: While we usually think of Japanese green teas, when it comes to adding milk, Japan turns to Hokkaido or royal milk tea. Add milk and brown sugar or caramel syrup to a Japanese black tea, like our  Japanese Whisky.
  • Hong Kong Milk Tea: Yet another black tea and milk concoction, what makes this tea different is how it’s brewed: you use a large tea sock to strain the tea. Try our  Pu-Erh tea in this truly unique brewing adventure (recipe below).
  • Tibetan Butter Tea: Yep, it’s a real thing. If you’ve got some yak milk sitting around that you need to use up, this is the perfect opportunity. If not, no worries; you just need some black tea, salt, butter and half and half or milk. Tibetans use a churn to put everything together, but you can use a blender. Serve hot and mark that off your bucket list.

Got Dairy/Soy/Nut/Coconut/Oat/Lactose-Free Milk?

Moooove over, dairy. There are some new milk sheriffs in town.

Whether it’s due to a food allergy, dietary restrictions or preferences, non-traditional milk alternatives have become big business. You’ll find non-dairy options at nearly every tea and coffee establishment, ready to cater to today’s more discerning clientele.

Truth is, if you like milk in your tea, you’ll like whatever milk you like in your tea. There are no rules here—if you like it, then use it. Here at Harney, we generally just milk tea puns for all they’re worth! 

Have we convinced you to try a milk tea? Here are a few recipes to try, from the mainstream to the unconventional.

Masala Chai

Golden Milk Latte

London Fog Latte (try it with our London Fog tea!)

Hong Kong Milk Tea (simplified; pantyhose not required!)

Emeric Harney
Emeric Harney


10 Responses

Linda P.
Linda P.

November 27, 2019

Putting milk in tea depends on the tea I’m drinking. Right now I’m drinking black currant-no milk. When I drink Earl Grey, English breakfast or Darjeeling I use milk. Pomegranate oolong, chocolate chai, black currant-no milk.

Beverly Francis
Beverly Francis

November 16, 2019

My mother was of Irish heritage and my father was of English heritage. My mother was horrified to see people put milk in their tea. Udder sacrilege!! However, I do put milk in my tea.

Michael Harney
Michael Harney

November 16, 2019

After hearing about the big dairy bankruptcy and all the dairy farmer problems, please give an extra splash of milk!

Fredrick Tarrant
Fredrick Tarrant

November 14, 2019

I love nothing more than a splash of half-and-half in my black tea every morning and every afternoon. As I make precisely the same amount of tea for myself every time (16 oz.), I pour my milk first for the practical benefit of not having to dirty another spoon. When I serve tea to company, however, I always let them add their own milk and/or sugar after I pour it, and they do not receive 16-oz. mugs.

Bruce H.
Bruce H.

November 14, 2019

My theory (that I have not read/heard elsewhere) is that since British tea style includes leaving the tea in the pot and straining it as you pour into a cup with a strainer. Since the Brits typically are drinking tea from India, I find that it gets bitter (astringent) after about 2-2 1/2 min. So leaving the leaves in the pot results in automatic bitter tea. Hence the practice of adding milk came about to offset this bitter cup to make it acceptable to drink. Hopefully I’m not offending anyone but it makes sense to me as these two practices (leaves left in the pot and adding milk to tea) come from the Brits! :)

LS
LS

November 14, 2019

I’m in the perhaps fairly unusual position of only having tea milk for breakfast-but since that’s usually my only item for breakfast, I have at least four cups. And that’s with ALL my teas-from delicate white teas to robust breakfast teas to various vegetal green teas! For me tea first, then milk. What varies then is the sweeteners, since very strong caffeinated mixtures need much more honey to have the same (at least perceived) level of sweetness (to cover the strength of a brisk tea).

John R. Montgomery
John R. Montgomery

November 14, 2019

Your sense of humor is contagious. :^D I have been quiet about my particular habit of preparing tea, because I was sure it would offend ‘proper’ tea connoisseurs. But, thanks to your delightful news pop=ups, I learn that there are other tea-lovers out there with gregarious appetite.
My usual sequence is (I’m still embarrassed to say) to overload the tea ball (strong!), warm the teapot first, insert the tea ball hanging the hook in the spout so I don’t lose it, then pour boiling water (I know, too hot) and go take the garbage out (I know, too long). Upon return, I love to inhale the comforting vapor, sort of a mini-sauna; even has a cleansing effect on the eyes. Warm the mug (vs cup, no pun intended) and almost fill with the very strong brew. Now, I stir in honey (from a local bee keeper), and while the tea is still spinning (yeah, I play with my food too) I like to watch how real cream (not milk or 1/2&1/2) makes the most inviting cloud formation. It’s worth mentioning here that the cream should not be real cold, so take it out of the refrig first; it mixes on its own better.
So, that’s it; I have revealed my gluttonous nature. But, it makes warm conversation spontaneous. Bless y’all

Melanie
Melanie

November 07, 2019

“our Paris tea would make a tasty bubble tea” – You could remove the words “bubble tea” here and replace them with just about anything: latte, frappuccino, souffle. That stuff is amazing!

Also, it’s worth noting that milk substitues often need to be heated before adding them to tea. Many alternative milks (such as almond), will separate if poured in hot tea while cold.

Debbie Fisher
Debbie Fisher

November 07, 2019

I have been a life-long tea drinker, but my tea drinking has risen to a whole new level with the discovery of Harney & Sons teas. They are like a piece of heaven here on earth. I was not one to ever put milk in my tea, as I am not fond of milk. However, recently, I decided to try it in your Chocolate Chai Supreme. I sweetened it with stevia, and used toasted coconut/almond milk. It’s like drinking dessert! So I branched out to try some other flavors. I am beginning to see the attraction. Once again, my tea horizons have been expanded, thanks to Harney and Sons.

Lisa H
Lisa H

November 07, 2019

I absolutely love British tea with milk! However being dairy free has made that experience hit and miss.
I recently stumbled upon a wonderful seasonal combination of your Hot Cinnamon Spice tea with a healthy splash of (non dairy-plant based) Pumpkin Spice creamer. Warm, tasty and delicious and no extra sugar added. It makes me feel as if I am at a fancy tea/coffee shop instead of working from my home office!

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