Here’s Why the Brits Put Milk in Their Tea

It's not about the taste.

With the weather turning cooler, most people turn to hot cocoa, PSLs, and other cozy drinks. Personally, though, I prefer a piping hot cup of tea—whether it’s green, herbal, or black, I can’t think of a better way to wake up for the day. Plus, it has tons of health benefits.

The one thing I can’t get behind, though, is adding milk to my tea—despite my family’s love of chai. However, it got me thinking—why put milk in tea, anyway? Turns out, it’s a very British thing to do, and it has nothing to with the taste. Here’s why the British drink so much tea in the first place.

Why put milk in tea?

The British have their own way of doing things (like driving on the opposite side of the road compared to Americans), and that includes how they prepare their tea. The Brits’ habit of putting milk in tea extends all the way back to the 18th century, from the time when tea was brewed in pots. Tea was a big deal at the time, and people tended to drink it out of china cups. However, most people couldn’t afford fancy fine bone china, and the cups available would crack from the heat of the boiling hot tea.

The solution? Pour milk into the cup first, then add the tea. The cold milk cooled down the tea enough to keep the china from breaking, and, well, the reduced bitterness was just an added benefit! According to some sources, tea was also incredibly valuable at the time, so families who couldn’t afford large amounts would add a large amount of milk and a splash of tea, while well-off families tended to do the opposite.

Is there a right way to drink your tea with milk?

This is something you may wonder about after reading this, but the answer is: Not really. You can add as little or as much as you please—though adding milk first and then pouring the tea on top might make it taste better. This is because when you add hot tea to cold milk, you’re bringing the milk to the temperature of the tea, distributing the flavor more evenly. However, if you add milk to tea, you’re cooling the tea down, and it may not taste as good.

Speaking of milk: Here’s how long milk really lasts and how to make it last longer.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home

Amrita Thakkar
Amrita is an Assistant Digital Editor at Taste of Home. As a writer and amateur photographer, she often ends up applying these skills to her one great love: food. She can usually be found researching global cuisines, at the farmers market, doing yoga, or looking up new places to travel to.