Who would think, that something as elegant as taking afternoon tea, would spark furious debate over the centuries, and prompt scientific experiments?!
An article in the Guardian newspaper tells us the milk should go in first. It is all to do with denaturing milk proteins, according to Dr Andrew Stapley, a chemical engineer from Loughborough University. Dr Stapley is adamant. "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 - degradation - to occur. This is much less likely to happen if hot water is added to the milk."
George Orwell wrote an essay on the subject in 1946, and amongst eleven detailed points, covering the type of tea, the best way to warm the teapot, and what sort of cup to use, declares that tea should go in first, and milk be added afterwards. His logic, is as follows:
“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.”
Fortnum and Mason give us some guidance on the “milk or tea first?” debate, along with some instructions on how to brew the perfect cup of tea:
“If you are drinking an unfamiliar tea, it is easier to judge the correct amount of milk to add once you have seen the strength and colour of the tea. On the other hand, putting the milk in first means that the fat in the milk emulsifies in a different way when the tea is poured, which does change the flavour of the tea, giving it a more even, creamier flavour. It also cools the tea slightly to a more acceptable drinking temperature. So, now that the days when one’s social position was judged by this sort of thing are long gone, you may pour your tea however you choose.”
As you will see when you are browsing through Fortnum’s teas, different leaves require different treatment. Some need boiling water, some slightly cooler water, and all need to be infused for a different length of time. However, if we are talking about a traditional black tea, the process goes something like this:
1. Warm the teapot by rinsing it out with hot water.
2. Fill the kettle with fresh water from the tap. Water that has been boiled already will affect the taste of the tea.
3. Put into the teapot one rounded teaspoon (or caddy spoon) of tealeaves for each person and one extra spoonful 'for the pot'.
4. Turn off the kettle (or remove it from the stove) just before the water boils and pour into the pot. It doesn’t need to be stirred.
5. Leave to infuse for three to five minutes, depending on taste. Serve, using a tea strainer.
Milk or no milk?
Many teas taste delicious with milk, particularly stronger teas such as Assam, where the milk tempers the strong flavour. Generally, the lighter the tea, the less likely it is that it needs milk. Green, white and yellow teas as well as aromatic and floral teas should be drunk without milk, so that it does not spoil the delicate flavour. Very light teas such as Darjeeling can easily be overwhelmed by milk. If you are not used to drinking your tea ‘black’, do try it – you will be surprised by the difference.
How to keep your tea in perfect condition
Loose-leaf tea will keep very well in an airtight container for up to a year. Nevertheless, it is best to buy a small quantity and use it up quickly, rather than leave it at the back of the pantry from one year to the next.
The right kind of cup
Tea is best served in bone china cups. Keen tea-drinkers maintain that it tastes better, and the delicacy of the cup does seem to enhance the delicacy of the tea within.
How to hold the cup
The usual way is to hold the handle between your thumb and fingers, rather than curling your fingers through the handle. Holding the little finger out is often thought to be the done thing, but in fact it’s not required.
Stirring a cup of tea
It is best to move the spoon gently back and forth from front to back, rather than round and round, and to avoid clinking the side of the cup. “
In summary (courtesy of www.allabouttea.co.uk)
· If you are meeting your boyfriend's/girlfriend's parents, and they happen to live in a castle and/or the 1930s, put the milk in last.
· If you trust yourself to put exactly the right amount of milk in, put it in first.
· If you're not quite confident, or unsure, or making it for someone else, put it in last.
· If you are serving a group of people, it's usually best to pour first, then ask them if they'd like milk and sugar.
· If you forget any of this, don't worry - it really doesn't matter very much.