Milk in tea: the origin story

Milk in tea: the origin story

Bangers and mash, fish and chips, Laurel and Hardy – some partnerships are just made for one another. Like the love affair between tea and milk. These two liquid lovers have been in cahoots for centuries and milk tea is now amongst the most popular beverages on the planet. However, the union between tea and milk didn’t always exist. So, before you add a splash of delicious dairy to your morning tea, explore the past of this famous pairing in Britain.

Where did it all begin?

Tea first arrived in Britain back in the 17th century, imported from China, where it was already a popular drink. However, before it became a kitchen staple across the nation, tea was something only the very rich could afford. Pouring a cuppa was something one did to show off and tea in Britain could only really be found within the royal household.

The first ladies’ tea shop opened its doors in 1717 and in the decades after, British love for the stuff got into full swing.

Boiling water for tea was a healthy way of consuming good, old-fashioned H2O – the act of heating up the liquid cleansed it of any water-borne diseases. This sense of cleanliness made tea a very popular beverage and not just for the sense of decadence attached to it.

Tea and milk – a love affair for the ages Though they may seem inseparable, tea and milk haven’t always co-existed in the same mug – least of all in Britain.

The idea of adding dairy to your cuppa is thought to have first originated on the Himalayan foothills of Tibet. Tibetans would traditionally add yak’s butter to their brew as a means of packing extra calories into their diets – vital during cold winters in the mountains.

A milky morning tea is said to have popped up in France before making its way over the Channel, with a small jug often served alongside a teapot in the tea salons of 17th century Paris. Not only was adding milk seen as a means of cooling the tea down and improving on the bitterness of the beverage, it also prevented the boiling water from cracking the porcelain mugs.


What comes first – milk or tea?

If there’s one debate that splits family and friends, it’s the age-old argument around what enters the mug first – tea or milk?

Historically, milk was the first addition to your tea as a means of keeping your best China looking fresh. Modern mugs don’t need this, so normally milk is now added after the tea to soften the sometimes bitter flavours.


How to make the perfect morning tea

Everyone has their own methods when it comes to making the perfect morning tea. From milk first to bag left in during drinking. There’s nothing quite like this bastion of British culture when it comes to kickstarting the day and bringing folk together for a biscuit and a chat.

Check out our handy guide to creating the ultimate morning brew here.