Got milk?

If you’re American, you may not realise that milk is a very important part of British culture. From the 1946 School Milk Act (an addendum to the Education Act 1944) to Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher and from breast milk ice cream to the order in which one adds tea and milk to a mug, milk seems to be more than just another beverage.

This is what this post is about: Tea. Or rather, milky tea.

In the states, coffee tends to be the hot beverage of choice. And not that instant stuff, either. Tea drinkers are a minority group. And then, they’re more likely to want honey and lemon than milk. Oh, and if people do want to lighten/whiten up their coffee or tea, they’re more likely to use half-and-half, not milk. (And then there’s the non-dairy creamer group, but this isn’t about what Americans do, so we’ll just “skim” over that. Skim. Get it? No? Oh, well. Never mind …)

In the UK, however, tea is the winning beverage. It’s very much a part of the culture (more so, I think, that coffee is part of American culture) and it seems that more people use milk here than don’t. I don’t; I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar and I drink my tea medium and black with no sugar.

And here’s the problem: Since I don’t use milk (with the rare exception of baking or a splurge purchase of sugary breakfast cereal) I never have the stuff in my fridge. Which is OK until someone comes into my home. You see, as part of the UK’s tea obsession, it is customary to offer guests in your home a cuppa. And I’m pretty good at doing that. But the moment I say “Would you like a cup of tea?” I find myself remembering that I can’t offer them milk for that tea.

The first time it happened, I was lucky because the friend in question (whilst a bit confused as to my lack of milk) was happy to have Earl Grey tea instead – which apparently doesn’t require milk as vocally as black tea does. The next time it happened, I was lucky enough to have the smallest little drop of milk leftover from something I baked the day before. And when everyone came over for Thanksgiving, I made certain that I had milk on hand. Of course, I was then a bit cheeky and let my guests add their own milk and sugar so that I didn’t over (or under) do it.

This brings me to today. I’ve been having a bit of trouble with the hot water in my flat, so a workman came around to fix it. Now, I don’t know if you’re meant to offer workmen tea, but it seemed rude not to, so I did – since I was making myself a cup of coffee anyhow. And the moment I asked I regretted it because then I had to follow that up with “Oh, but I don’t have any milk.”

And my no milk meant that he changed his order to a cup of coffee instead – black; two sugars. I didn’t think it was fair to keep him waiting whilst I made a cafetière of coffee, so I grabbed the instant stuff (that’s not an insult here as it is in America) and fixed a cup for him. With no milk.

I wonder if it’s socially acceptable to offer guests shelf-stable milk for their tea?

So, tell me how you take your tea or coffee. Or better still, tell me what your views are in regards to serving tea or coffee to company!

12 Replies to “Got milk?”

  1. I don’t usually put milk in my tea, but I have. It works well with a nutmeg type flavored tea. I don’t drink the plane Jane tea, I drink flavored tea so the flavor has to go well with milk. I generally use just sugar or honey and a lot of it!
    I use lots of sugar in my coffee or I can’t stand it. I always use milk. Sometimes I splurge and get flavored powdered creamer and sometimes I really splurge and get the flavored liquid. But I’m just a when-the-mood-hits coffee drinker, not a must-have-every-day coffee drinker. I love some of the instant coffee’s (flavored of course).
    I think my hot beverage of choice is generally hot chocolate. I prefer making it with milk instead of water. For some reason, the water-based ones give me a horrible stomach ache. When I was younger, I used to love making buttered toast and dipping it in the hot chocolate. Yum!
    Then of course, I LOVE a giant glass of really cold milk. I think I drink at least a half-gallon a day. That’s why it really surprised me that I became vitamin D deficient. But that’s arthritis for you. Sucks it right out of the bones! I still love to use a little (ok, a lot) of Hershey’s chocolate syrup in my milk too.
    They don’t offer tea here in the south, but they still almost always offer anyone something to drink right as they walk in.

    1. Usually iced tea or a pop… which they call coke here. Sweet tea is often served in restaurants here as an option instead of iced. It’s just pre-sweetened.

    2. Oh, you also have to ask for water here. They don’t bring it to you right away like in Washington before you order. The only time they ask if you want it is if you don’t order anything to drink or if you order a milk shake or coffee.

    3. Sharon, I used to drink a glass of milk every day when I was growing up, and sometimes I find myself really wanting a glass, but I tend to just drink water these days–other than my 1-2 cups of coffee. After that, I might have a mint tea if I’m really wanting a hot beverage. But, no milk. And I especially don’t like the flavoured creamers. My sisters do though.

  2. Really interesting to read this! I had never really considered this perspective before. Even though it’s all true!

  3. I am an unusual American! I drink tea daily, usually in the afternoon. The green tea I don’t add anything to, but when I drink English or Irish breakfast tea, I add 1/2 & 1/2. I also drink morning coffee. At work I just drink it black, but if I’m home or at a restaurant I use cream. What can I say, I like to mix it up a bit!:)

    1. It seems like a lot of people in the states are drinking green teas and herbal teas now. And I suppose coffee drinking in the UK is on the rise (thanks to Starbucks?).
      Me? Strong black coffee in the morning and maybe a mint tea in the afternoon.

  4. The only problem with shelf-stable milk is that once it’s opened, it has to be refrigerated the same as regular milk.

    1. I thought about getting a couple of small 1/4 pint ones to have in the cupboard–that way I had something to offer guests on the spot. I wouldn’t mind throwing out the rest if needed, and I could just always make sure I had a couple in ‘just in case’. Throwing away a little bit once a month or so on the off chance I need it is better than always keeping fresh milk in that goes off before it ever gets used is OK with me!

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