Tea. Milk in First or Last?
Proper tea in a proper teapot
If you are British and of a certain age, you will have had drummed into you the rules for making the perfect cup of tea. It must be made in a teapot that must never be washed out, only rinsed. There must be a teaspoonful of loose tea per person, plus one extra "for the pot", and the water must be straight off the boil and never reboiled. The tea and the water must be allowed to get to know each other for three minutes before it is neatly poured into a china tea cup with matching saucer.
Okay, that's the theory. Realistically, and I apologise to my British granny in advance, the average cup of tea is made from a teabag and served in a mug. The water will have been boiled and reboiled several times and if you are particularly busy, the tea may even have gone cold and then been nuked in a microwave oven. Frankly, one can reach a stage in the day where it doesn't matter what the drink is like as long as it is still wet and warm.
Somewhere between these two extremes comes the thorny question of when to add milk. A 2007 study* found that adding milk negates the health advantages offered by black tea (source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6241139.stm) so if you are only drinking tea for the health of your heart, leave out the milk, full stop. Drinking black tea, however, can leave you with some nasty staining of the teeth (and mugs), not to mention the more bitter taste. If you just want to enjoy your cuppa you probably want to add the milk.
There is no denying that adding the milk to the tea gives greater control than adding tea to milk. Just keep adding milk drop by drop until it reaches the perfect colour for your tastes. However, the purists recommend adding tea to milk for good reasons.
In the china cup scenario, the milk was always added first. Primarily, it readied the fragile cup for the addition of a hot liquid. At a time when china was expensive, this was important. As we now tend to use hefty mugs, readily available for 50p per mug, this is not a consideration any more. Having said that, once or twice in my life I have had a mug break on me mid-sip and it isn't a pleasant experience. Especially if you are at the computer at the time.
Fragile crockery aside, tea catechins react with the calcium carbonates in the water. If you live in a nice, soft water area like Yorkshire this is not a problem. The dissolved minerals in the water do not produce much of an effect and I'll bet your bottle of shampoo lasts forever, too. For those of us living in a hard water area, however, the effect on our cup of tea is striking. Pour tea into the cup and watch as a layer of scummy limescale forms a series of floating islands. Now add the milk and you can see just how revolting those scum islands are. If you'd added the milk first, those islands would be dissolved and you'd have enjoyed your tea for more. Try it.
So that is why the milk should go in first. If you really don't want to or your granny is peering over your shoulder to ensure you are doing it properly, invest in a water softener or move to Yorkshire. That way, you can reap the benefits of using teeny tiny amounts of shampoo and washing powder, plus the tea will be delicious. Otherwise, remember to always put the milk in first. Enjoy your cuppa.
*This was a German study and I can already hear Granny point out that they are not famed for their tea drinking culture.