Milk First, That’s the Question?

In life, there are always those questions that never seem to get answered, and everyone has their own opinion on. One such question I’m asked regularly while working in The Tea Centre shops is, “should the milk go in the cup before the tea, or added to the tea after it’s been poured?”

Most people seem to think that the ‘Poms’ created the style of drinking tea with milk, but this isn’t the case. They may have become synonymous with milk in tea but it would appear that the French introduced milk to tea and created this fashion first.  The French aristocracy, Marquise de Sevigne, being one of the early users.  Some parts of China, Tibet and Himalayan regions of India, are also known to add yak’s milk and a little salt to their tea.

Milk-First-Pic-3In 1919, Dr. Muriel Bristol Roach was a young research scientist living and working in England. She discovered that it was better to add the milk to the cup before pouring the tea, as adding the milk after slightly changed the taste of the brew. Bristol-Roach commented on the difference in taste and was put to the test by her male colleagues. Eight cups of tea were presented to her, four with milk first and four with milk last. Muriel tasted the eight cups of tea and was able to prove her point by correctly indentifying the differences between the cups of tea. In 2011, the ABC’s science program Catalyst set out to investigate how and why Bristol-Roach could tell the difference.

They discovered it was due to milk proteins – especially lactoglobulin which if heated above 75’C, changed flavour.  If the milk is added first, the temperature of the milk never rises above 75’C maintaining flavour. However if the milk is added to the hot tea, the temperature of the milk rises above 75’C for just a moment – long enough to alter the taste. This scientific explanation reveals what Dr. Bristol-Roach’s delicate palate knew long ago – that it is better to add tea to milk, not milk to tea.

If you wish to read the text or view this program go to: 

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