Are you putting milk in tea–yay or nay?
It might seem normal to you or downright crazy, but one thing’s for sure: it divides tea lovers everywhere!
Where does the preference come from, and why do we do it?
There are a few reasons why we put milk in tea, and we’ll explore them, covering taste, health, and other benefits. First, let’s check out where this favorite comes from.
What’s the Deal With Putting Milk in Tea?
You might associate putting milk in tea with good old Great Britain, and you’d be right. This notorious tea-loving nation brews up 165 million cups per day – that’s more than three for every person!
By far the most popular variety is black tea, the strong taste of which lends itself to milk, as we’ll see. What happened to make this such a phenomenon and standard practice?
Just like in tea’s historic homes of China and India, when tea made its way over to Britain during the days of the Empire, it became a part of culture and tradition.
As it grew in popularity, drinking tea was adopted by the upper classes. With it came one of the biggest debates surrounding putting milk in tea: before or after the water?
In English society, adding the milk second was a way to show that you were serving out of the most delicate china. This is because it was believed better quality crockery wouldn’t crack with the addition of boiling water, whereas cheaper cups needed to be cooled with milk.
This is still a big question, with polls and scientific studies devoted to it – Brits take their tea seriously!
Other than the order and the ritual, why has putting milk in tea has become so popular? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits.
Is adding milk to tea bad?
While some may tell you that adding milk to tea reduces all of the health benefits of tea, that answer is not entirely correct. Research shows that while adding milk to your tea may slow your body’s absorption of antioxidants from the tea leaves, it does not take away from the actual health benefits of tea. If anything, adding milk to your tea adds all of the health benefits of milk into your drink.
By adding milk, you are not only consuming helpful antioxidants, but you are also consuming extra protein, calcium, and other essential vitamins and minerals. The antioxidants in tea aid in controlling free radicals in the body, reducing the overall effects of free radicals. Meanwhile, milk will help to build strong muscles, fight against osteoporosis, and lower blood pressure.
While adding milk to tea is not necessarily bad, adding it is based on personal preference. You may hate milk in your tea, or you may love it. But regardless, adding it to your tea will not affect the overall health benefits of this beverage.
What teas go with milk?
Some types of tea pair better with milk than others, including the following options:
- Black tea is one of the best teas to pair with milk because it has a strong flavor. Adding milk to black tea helps to soften the tones and overall flavor of the tea.
- Masala Chai is another excellent milk/tea combination; for this type of tea, milk is an essential addition to this sweet and spicy Indian favorite. Adding milk reduces some of the spicinesses and also adds a creamy element to Masala Chai.
- While some herbal teas do not pair well with milk, peppermint, rooibos, and chamomile are excellent options to pair with milk. Peppermint tea is especially significant to pair with coconut or almond milk, while rooibos and chamomile can be served with any type of milk.
How much milk to add to tea?
How to add milk to tea is based mainly on your personal preference. But, in general, we suggest adding a ratio of 1/4 milk to a serving of tea.
For example, if you are brewing one cup of tea, we suggest adding 1/4 cup of milk to your tea. If you’re curious about when to add milk to tea, this is also based on personal preference. We suggest brewing your tea to the desired strength and then adding milk to it after you’ve transferred your tea into another cup. Doing so allows the water to be fully infused from the tea leaves; however, this is based on personal preference, and you can choose to add milk at a different step if so desired.
Can you put milk in herbal tea?
While you can certainly choose to add milk to any type of tea, herbal teas are not as good to pair with milk as other teas. If you choose to have herbal tea with milk, avoid delicate herbal teas as milk will overpower the taste of these types of teas. That said, there are a few types of herbal teas that do pair well with milk.
The following types of herbal teas do pair well with a little milk if so desired:
- Rooibos: This type of tea has a buttery and nutty taste, making it a great herbal tea with milk option.
- Daffodil, Chamomile, and Valerian: These teas are stronger than other types of herbal tea, meaning they can handle the creaminess of the milk.
The following types of herbal teas are best left without milk:
- Japanese Green Tea: This tea is too complex to add milk.
- Oolong Tea: This tea is also too complex to add milk.
- White Teas: These teas are too delicate for the overpowering creaminess of the milk.
- Green Tea: This tea is also too delicate for milk.
- Fruit Teas: These teas are hit or miss as it primarily depends on what you prefer. While fruit teas are strong enough to handle milk, adding, it may turn the taste of the tea sour.
If you choose to add milk to tea, we suggest adding less than you would to other types of teas. We suggest 1/4 cup of milk to one cup of regular tea, and we recommend adding just a few teaspoons of milk to herbal teas. Adding less than normal will help to preserve the overall flavor of your selected herbal tea.
Benefits of Milk in Tea
It may have been considered ‘proper’ in the days of yore, but there are lots of reasons for putting milk in tea.
Perhaps a primary reason, especially with milk being so popular in black tea, is for taste. Milk softens those strong, malty flavors, cutting through the potential bitterness.
Of course, the taste is very subjective, and there are lots of variables, including the variety of tea itself. Some teas are just naturally stronger or weaker, and it also depends on how long you steep the leaves or bag.
TIP: Take a look at our guides for best brewing times for taste. A standard is three minutes.
Tea made with a tea bag will always taste different from that made with some of our favorite loose leaves in a teapot, and even the cup itself could change things.
Back to our debate on when to add milk. When it comes to taste:
- Adding milk second allows you to regulate better your brew’s color, which is essential to taste. However, according to chemistry, it also causes the milk to heat unevenly, and the proteins break down, which can cause curdling and affect the taste.
- Most people seem to agree that milk should never sit in the cup with a teabag before you add water. This is because the milk will reduce the temperature of the water and affect the infusion. Here’s more on the optimum temperatures for brewing tea.
However, whether or not you like it as an addition, the milk is there to make the taste smoother.
Most tea is hot! And aside from not being able to enjoy it at high temperatures, it could be unsafe.
Putting milk in tea is a great way to cool it down – we all want to enjoy it as soon as possible, right?!
Just be careful not to add too much milk to cool the drink down as it could ruin the whole tea drinking experience.
TIP: Cool your tea by leaving a teaspoon in it. The metal will help by conducting the heat, leaving you to add milk or not to your taste.
As with all brews, we expect some of the benefits of milk in tea to be health-related. The substances in tea leaves contain antioxidants called catechins. Antioxidants can help combat health conditions, such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Antioxidants fight against premature cell aging and death, which can lead to these issues. Tea alone won’t cure or prevent them, but it can be part of a healthy diet.
What about putting milk in tea? Does that affect the potential health benefits? Some research into how milk binds with these catechins makes them more complex and challenging for our bodies to absorb.
However, as with many health pluses and minuses, there is no significant evidence that the small amount of milk we add to tea has a major effect. Some scientists think it merely slows the process of absorption, if anything.
Other than that, adding some milk to your tea will bring you all the health benefits of milk, such as extra calcium and protein.
By now, we know where some of the reasons for putting milk in tea come from and why we might do it. Let’s find out which teas go best with this popular dairy addition.
What Kind of Tea Do You Put Milk In?
As we know, some types of tea are well-known companions of milk. What are the main varieties that work well?
- Black tea: the bold, astringent, and malty flavors of Assam and Ceylon are softened by the milk
- Blends: where the tea has already been mixed, milk can add to the variety. The creaminess of the milk works with sweeter flavors in black tea such as chocolate and vanilla. Even Earl Grey, with its citrus-like bergamot, can be complemented by milk.
- Masala Chai: milk is integral to this sweet and spicy Indian favorite. It creates creaminess and offsets the spices.
Find out which tea suits you with this quiz.
Herbal Tea With Milk
Some people would be even less likely to add milk to herbal teas than ‘true’, Camellia sinensis varieties, but it can work.
You’ll want to avoid any with really delicate flavors, as milk will overpower them and those flavors should be enjoyed on their own. The grassy flavors of green tea are a prime example.
Here are some ideas for what works for herbal tea with milk:
- Chamomile, daffodil, and valerian: these are sweet and balmy yet have strength so that they can handle milk’s creaminess.
- Rooibos: this nutty and buttery tea is quite sweet already, and those are flavors that go well with milk in food.
In general, never add milk to Japanese green teas or oolong as it is too complex. White teas are also too delicate.
Fruit teas are tricky as they’re strong enough, but the sweetness is sharp, resulting in a sour taste when combined with milk.
Here are some great herbal teas to enjoy without milk.
What’s Best, Milk or Cream in Tea?
If you like the idea of milk in tea, a lot of its appeal has to do with its creaminess, especially when it comes to complementing those stronger flavors.
But does that mean cream works just as well? Let’s find out.
Back to merry England, a popular item called a ‘cream tea’ but beware! This is about the whole afternoon, with scones, cream, and jelly. They don’t put cream in the tea.
In the northwest German region of East Friesland, you might encounter something called East Frisian tea. It’s a small serving of strongly brewed Assam, about the size of an espresso shot. To this is added heavy cream and sugar.
In Hong Kong, too, they have a sweetened condensed milk tea, but not cream specifically. And we’re familiar with the very milky Masala Chai and bubble teas – but no cream.
It seems it’s not a standard idea, but undoubtedly there will be those that enjoy cream in tea. Just take note that if milk can overpower subtle flavors with its creaminess, the cream will do this ten times over! It may also curdle in hot drinks.
What’s the Best Milk for Tea?
Now that we know we’re mostly putting milk in tea instead of any other dairy product, which works best?
Considering how much milk can affect the taste of tea, its fat content is essential as this is what gives that creamy taste.
Here’s our guide to the different types and the best milk for tea:
- Non-fat won’t offer any milky taste to cut intense flavors and may just water down the tea
- 2% gives the best balance of soft creaminess and subtlety
- 3.5% is probably the limit before the cream will overpower any tea flavors
If you don’t take dairy but still like the balance milk gives, there are some excellent options:
- Soya milk is a good go-to as it has a lighter flavor so that it won’t affect the taste of the tea too much
- Oat milk is sweet, but again, it’s a subtle flavor. Consider having it with teas that already offer sweet flavors, so it doesn’t clash
What’s the Verdict With Putting Milk in Tea?
Now you know the ‘rules, benefits, customs, and debates around putting milk in tea, you might have even more ways to enjoy your favorite beverage!
This mainly is a matter of taste, so with the minimal amounts of milk typically used, you can’t go far wrong in terms of health. Always follow any professional medical advice that you’ve been given.
There are some consistency considerations, and it’s worth thinking about getting your brewing technique right so the tea’s ready for milk.
All in all, whether you like it creamy, sweet, milky, strong, or just as it is, it is up to you.
What are your rules for putting milk in tea?
Tell us in the comments below!