January 13, 2016

It's water before milk - Making the perfect cup of tea.

Making the perfect cup of tea

Pouring tea [^cf1]
How many of you drink tea?
How many of you drink tea from teabags?
How many of you that drink tea from teabags, put the teabag in the cup, add milk, boil the water then add the water?
Well I am here to tell you you’re doing it all wrong. But first:


  • Back in the mists of time travellers used to bring back loose leaf tea from India and Ceylon. This was sold to households who would either put the tea bags in a teapot or they would use something which hung over the edge of the cup and allowed the water to wash over it. Milk was added to the cup either before or afterwards.
  • Somebody then decided that they would put these loose leaves into a bag. People could drop the bag directly into the cup and pour the water on it. Hey Presto! No more loose leaves in the tea disrupting peoples enjoyment of the beverage,

So what?

The problem with this is that the switch from loose leaves to teabags obscured the fundamental principle of making tea:
The flavour of the tea is caused by boiling water scalding the leaves.
If boiling (or almost boiling) water doesn’t come directly into contact with the leaves the flavour of the tea is not produced correctly.
Back in the day when teapots were used, hot water was dropped directly onto the leaves. They were allowed to percolate in the hot water (or ‘mash’) until strong enough. The resultant tea was poured into cups with (or without) milk in the bottom. The flavor of the tea was produced as it was intended
Back when china cups were more delicate than they are now, milk was used to ensure that the boiling water from the tea didn’t crack the delicate crockery.
Nowadays, if you are putting milk in your cup or mug and adding a tea bag you are not getting the full flavour of the tea and, therefore, you are doing it wrong. The milk is acting as a barrier between the leaves and tea. The water which is then playing over the leaves is no longer boiling and the tea cannot be produced in the correct manner.
There’s a reason the best tea companies in the world have their tea served with no milk and no sugar. Nothing should affect the flavour of the leaves.

The correct way

  • Whatever happens, the milk and the teabag should not come into contact. If you are using a teapot all is well. You can put your bag or your leaves into the teapot and add milk to the cup to your heart’s content
  • If you are using a mug or cup then always put the teabag in without the milk. Add the boiling water, stir, remove the bag then add the milk.
Remember this next time somebody asks you ‘milk first or tea first?”
[^cf1]: Photo Credit: Juavenita ♥ via Compfight cc