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