milk in first? MIF


twelfth in a  controversy touching series of  Thursday posts about taking tiffin with (black) tea  in the NW USA.

Thursday Tiffin #12 milk in first?   (MIF)

Lets start by assuming you have a pot of brewed, not stewed, tea a china cup and some real milk.    As we have established this may not always be possible because one or several of the required utensils or ingredients may well be missing in a NW USA homestead or diner.  

What next?   Do you pour the tea into the cup then add the milk or do you pour the milk into the cup then add the tea?   This is a none-trivial and highly controversial step in the tea making process.   There is a class based distinction aligned with the choice to put the Milk in first.   Traditionally only lower classes put the milk in first.   It is a sign of good breeding (classiness) to pour the tea into the cup and then add the milk.   Obviously,   I discovered this the hard way when pouring tea for someone who knew better and kindly pointed out my ill-bread ways.   The term MIF is used as a derrogatory referent to people,   indicating their lack of refined manners.   The classic text on experiemental design (Fisher, 1935)  uses an example of a person who could determine from the taste of the tea whether the milk had been put in first.

The Dailey Telegraph (Tabloid)  reports that scientists have solved the MIF controversy  based on taste (of the tea).   Excerpts:

The finding that a cuppa tastes better if the tea is poured on to the milk appeared to have settled a debate that has long preoccupied a nation of tea drinkers.

However, only hours after the Royal Society of Chemistry unveiled its findings amid the sort of secrecy usually reserved for the Budget, a row was brewing within the scientific community.  

The Royal Society of Chemistry results reported suggest that a good cup of tea requires:

using soft water, warming the pot before filling and allowing the tea to brew for three minutes. It was also essential to use loose-leaf Assam tea rather than tea bags – “they slow down the infusion”.

This report has not solved the controversey.   The Daily Telegraph article  quotes a phycisist as citing reasons of wealth  determining whether the milk is poured before or after the tea:

Putting the milk in first was a cultural quirk that “has nothing to do with taste”, she said. “It is a habit we have retained from the times when only the rich could afford porcelain which, because it isn’t as porous as china, could withstand the hot tea being poured in directly.   “Those of us with cheap china had to put the milk in first to cool the tea slightly to prevent our cups cracking.”

In a school leaving Physics examination (Oxford University, 1980,  GCE  ‘O’ level) I completed a question that used adding milk to tea as a way of assessing my understanding of “Specific Heat Capacity“.   It seems that English Physicists and Chemists have been emboiled in this debate for a long time.  The issues appear to be:

Milk in first advantages:    reduces the liklihood of cracking a non-china cup,   pleases members of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Tea in first  advantages:   the milk is less likely to curdle, people with good breeding will recognise your good taste,   has the George Orwell seal of approval.

Given the strong opinions and class related issues surrounding this decision when pouring tea on behalf of an English person it is wise to ask “milk in first?” before pouring.    Of course I may have got this slightly wrong, maybe you should ask “Tea in first?“,   maybe you should ask if they are a Physicist or Chemist first.   Gosh it’s all so complicated.        

Wendy recommends that you ask the tea drinker if they want their ‘milk in first’ before pouring tea on their behalf.

Disclaimer:   Dr. Wendy  accepts no responsibility for any offence or heated arguments caused by asking guests ‘Milk in first?

milk in first? MIF
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