Monday, 24 February 2014

How Do You Take Your Tea?


How Do You Take Your Tea?

I will always remember the first time I went to my company lawyers' office in the City. I was swiftly led to a plush meeting room and couldn't resist the warm brownies on display. I started stuffing my face. Yummy! Then our legal team arrived, and before we started discussing the case, I was asked how I wanted to take my tea.
" With a little milk.", I answered.
Do you want the milk before or after the tea? I was asked. I had no idea, and said it didn't matter to me. Silly French me.
The partner of the firm then started a long-winded explanation:

You should put the milk first because you can pour it whilst you wait for the kettle to boil, hence saving time. Furthermore, pouring the milk first gradually warms up the contents of the cup to room temperature while you wait. Pouring the milk last rapidly heats the first drop of milk almost to the temperature of the teapot, denaturing the flavour of the milk and so developing more 'boiled milk' flavour. Putting the milk first is also known to tan more uniformly the milk protein (casein) with the tannin, because if you pour the milk last the first molecules of casein entering the cup will tan more thoroughly than the last ones. There is no reason why this difference should not alter the taste [note: the use of a double negative will get you additional brownie points]
"


Right, I thought. Clearly tea is  so much more than a drink. I knew I had missed something here. One of the more junior lawyers, who was coming from a well heeled family, was feeling a bit rebellious, and started to defend the opposite view. I couldn't believe it.

"
But, my dear [condescending tone] by putting the tea in first and then stirring as you pour the milk, you can exactly control the amount of milk depending on the strength of the tea, whereas if you pour the milk first you might put in too much milk. Furthermore, the practice of putting the milk in first originated when users were in doubt of the quality of the milk, and putting the milk in first was seen as a more effective way of scalding it and killing the bacteria. Asking someone to ‘put the milk first’ when taking tea is therefore a subtle way of criticizing the housekeeping.
"

It is going from  bad to worse, I thought. Why are we having a debate on tea again? Have I missed a trick?

It then dawned on me.

The response, in itself, didn’t matter. What did matter was that the answer was as long as possible, and that they had made their position in the class system abundantly clear by declaring a preference for one way or the other (milk first = working class or 'MIFs - Milk-In-Firsts', milk last  = middle class and upwards)


Right, I said, Shall we review the brief now? 


Next time, I will take black coffee, I thought to myself. Much easier.

32 comments:

  1. Piffle and balderdash. Now I agree that we Brits take our tea drinking as seriously as we take the weather. Probably not as much as the Japanese, seriously all the same tho ! As for this Miffy lark and it being a class thing, I think whoever told you this is talking tommy rot. My beloved Maternal Grandmama was working class and thought putting the milk in first was utterly common.My darling Paternal Grandmama was horribly middle class as you can possibly get and she popped the milk in first. I put it in last and Caro has it black so god only knows what that says about her !
    Remember dear old Noel Coward...
    Every nation in creation has its favourite drink
    France is famous for its wine, it's beer in Germany
    Turkey has its coffee and they serve it blacker than ink
    Russians go for vodka and England loves its tea

    Oh, the factories may be roaring
    With a boom-a-lacka, zoom-a-lacka, wee
    But there isn't any roar when the clock strikes four
    Everything stops for tea

    Oh, a lawyer in the courtroom
    In the middle of an alimony plea
    Has to stop and help 'em pour when the clock strikes four
    Everything stops for tea

    It's a very good English custom
    Though the weather be cold or hot
    When you need a little pick-up, you'll find a little tea cup
    Will always hit the spot

    You remember Cleopatra
    Had a date to meet Mark Anthony at three
    When he came an hour late she said "You'll have to wait"
    For everything stops for tea

    Oh, they may be playing football
    And the crowd is yelling "Kill the referee!"
    But no matter what the score, when the clock strikes four
    Everything stops for tea

    Oh, the golfer may be golfing
    And is just about to make a hole-in-three
    But it always gets them sore when the clock yells "four!"
    Everything stops for tea

    It's a very good English custom
    And a stimulant for the brain
    When you feel a little weary, a cup'll make you cheery
    And it's cheaper than champagne

    Now I know just why Franz Schubert
    Didn't finish his unfinished symphony
    He might have written more but the clock struck four
    And everything stops for tea

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    Replies
    1. Come on, just say it: she has hit the nail on the head. I know it hurts. In fact, apparently Princess Di used to call 'commoners' MIFs (Milk In First). If you don't believe me, have a cup of tea with some barristers or high-ranking civil servants. Muriel, we will never admit it, but you have got us spot on.

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    2. Well, your posts confirm what I suspected: tea is a matter of national pride. Yes, we French love our wine, but we are not as passionate about wine as you are about tea.

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  2. True...I think tea with milk in it is absolutely vile, but love it black, as long as it is not so strong that you could stand a spoon up in it...

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    1. Caro, this is the french way of taking tea. Just saying...

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  3. I don't really drink this type of tea, although I reveal my working class roots by saying I'm a milk first kind of gal. Thank goodness for herbal infusions (and brownies!) xx

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    1. I am a huge fan of ginger tea. No milk required. So much easier, right?

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  4. The only type of tea I use milk with Rooibos Chai. Otherwise just a little raw sugar or honey. BTW, herbal or rooibos teas or much easier to make cause you don't have to worry about scorching the tea.

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    1. So true. that's why I have so much ginger tea. That said, I love Rooibos Chai. Thanks for reminding me of it, I will get myself a cuppa now!

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  5. Just hope his lengthy explanation didn't constitute billable time!

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    1. That was exactly my worry...I suspect it was, which is why I tried to cut it short. That said, trying to stop a lawyer in the middle of such an explanation is hard work.

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  6. It's true that they taste different. A French didn't believe me, so we tried an experiment, and he had to admit I was right. I prefer milk in first, but as I normally make tea in a mug with a tea-bag (Yorkshire), I end up putting it in afterwards, after I've taken the bag out.

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    1. Tea is so complicated, isn't it? That's why I ended up taking mine black. No milk. No sugar.

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  7. Um... their explanation is BS. If you have milk in the cup- and add hot water, the milk heats up and the tea cools. But, since there is more tea coming in than the milk, all the milk gets heated rapidly from whatever temperature (room or fridge) to the near boiling level of the tea.
    Yes, putting the milk in last heats the first part of the milk immediately- and eventually reaches the same temperature, but the hot water that landed on the top of the milk layer did the same thing. And, the tea cup would have cooled the tea temperature down before you added the milk, so it's temperature would be lower.

    (I know that wasn't the point of your blog- but I "love" baloney science.

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    Replies
    1. Why am I not suprised? I told you, eh debate was not about being right, it was a class thing. I will never get it.

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  8. Roy, you are so funny and right of course. I wondered about that during the Great Tea Debate. Lawyers are gang members. The only things these horrid thugs didn't do was dump it in the Thames to show their disapproval of each other.

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    1. I am still puzzled about the great tea debate, as you say. I really didn't understand what it was all about.

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  9. Oh, I had to laugh at such craziness over a cup of tea!!! I drink my tea black. It is interesting, though, because I put cream in my coffee after the coffee and my husband puts it in first, but we both froth the cream so it is hot and foamy before it reaches the coffee or the coffee reaches it. I wonder if they would have any long winded explanations for us?

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    1. I am sure that they would, Suerae, especially if someone else is paying for it.

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  10. Ahahaha... am having tea with milk right now, dear Muriel.. and I don't care if the milk came first or last, just that I don't care if the chicken came before the egg. What matters is the chicken came. And that the milk did too. Just need milk with all forms of tea and coffee.. cheers(smiley face with a large mug of tea) !

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    1. Well, Rohit, this debate didn't have much to do with milk and tea. I could feel that it was about something else, and it took me a while to understand it. As for having tea, well, I think that it should be simple, right?

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  11. Common as muck method to make a cuppa char: 1. Take mug. 2. Put in tea bag (preferably COOP or Yorkshire brew). 3. Add boiling water. 4. Bash teabag around a bit. 5. Either a) delicately remove teabag using spoon (squishing the life out of it against the cup) or b) live dangerously and pull it out with your fingers (generally indicating that tea maker is either out of spoons or too lazy to go to the drawer to get one). 6. Slosh in milk. 7) Check that tea his virulent orange color and spoon stands up unaided. 8)Consume, accompanied with half a packet of Hobnobs.

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    Replies
    1. Well, I am going to follow your step by step right now!

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  12. I was always told that posh people put in tea first, milk after, because their porcelain was good quality, so could take the near boiling water without cracking. The milk in first was best for poor people to preserve their cheap cups! Very snobby...
    I prefer milk after because I can see how strong it has turned out!

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    1. I have no strong views, really. Before this debate, I didn't know that it was such a bone of contention.

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  13. Oh my god, I didn't even know the milk could be put first! I have to talk about that at work tomorrow, I think it will make a great argument in the office :-) I drink coffee so I don't care ( although I get the strange look when I say I don't put milk in it...)

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    1. I am curious to see how it goes...Let me know.

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    2. Everybody was very interested by my "tea questions" this morning and as expected, there was a bit of an argument going on but we had a great laugh ! My very " non-scientific" study consisted of asking 8 of my colleagues and the result was a big majority for milk in last ! Then I explained about the "class" thing and nobody really agreed with the explanation, but we definitely had a great laugh slagging our manager (who puts the milk in first) about it :-)

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    3. It is amazing, isn't it? Once you start talking about tea, there is no stopping...

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  14. As you pointed out, the English can be fussy about their tea and the way they drink it. I never saw adding the milk before or after as a class thing, just took it for granted that it was milk first. However, when I (my generation) moved from a cup to a mug, from a teapot to a tea bag, from a milk jug to direct from a container, it made sense to add milk after the tea changed color. Serving milk first seemed outdated - harking back to the days when tea was more l ritualistic or so I thought until reading your piece..

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    1. Your post confirms what I long suspected, Penelope: I will never get it right...

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  15. Ah yes, the Brits and their tea. I've had a lecture from my friend (yes, the ex) years ago, though not as long and detailed as yours. You're right though about just opting for coffee next time!

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