Orwell puts it very well:
Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.However the RSC counters with:
Milk should be added before the tea, because denaturation (degradation) of milk proteins is liable to occur if milk encounters temperatures above 75°C. If milk is poured into hot tea, individual drops separate from the bulk of the milk and come into contact with the high temperatures of the tea for enough time for significant denaturation to occur. This is much less likely to happen if hot water is added to the milk.Perhaps wisely, ISO 3103, the international standardized method for brewing tea, sits on the fence with this issue, stating that "milk can be added before or after pouring the infused tea".
However, I think its time for us to realise that times have changed, and perhaps there are more important problems to tackle in the world of tea. Consider this:
- Most of the cups of tea made today are made with a teabag in the cup, not with a teapot
- In a frighteneing number of instances, milk is going into the tea straight after the teabag
Yes, milk is going in straight after the teabag. Even worse, the main perpetrators of this crime are the supposedly beverage-worshiping cafes that pretend to understand the importance of tea, and charge you £1.50 (or whatever) for sampling their expertise. Tea needs hot water to brew in. If the milk goes in right after the teabag, the water is cooled and you are left with a forlorn luke-warm teabag swimming in a pale tea of disappointment.
When you've got to the front of the queue and they are making your tea, when they ask you if you want milk, be careful what you say. I've found that 'Yes, but not yet' is quite a good answer. If you simply say 'Yes', you are in danger of ending up with tea like this: