milk and tea

In my American family's home, unless it's a holiday or a barbecue, milk is the drink that you have with meals. (Probably fewer families drink milk with meals today than when I was a child, though.) There is something so refreshing about a glass of milk--yet many of my English acquaintances turn their noses up at the notion. I've never seen an adult (other than myself) in the UK drinking milk with a meal (and as mentioned before, the English are more likely than Americans to have no drink with a meal), and in the antenatal/prenatal ward I had to withstand the most quizzical looks when I requested a glass of milk instead of a cup of tea. (And here was I thinking that pregnant women were supposed to pack in the calcium!)
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But the English do go through a lot of milk--in their tea. Now it's my turn to turn my nose up. English tea, or at least the everyday blends that we refer to in our house as (BrE) bog standard tea, is blended to be strong enough to withstand milk and sugar. Because they're used to very strong tea, the British claim that American tea (typically an orange pekoe) is "like dishwater". Americans are more likely to drink their orange pekoe with lemon than with milk, and it makes nice iced tea. (Don't try to make iced tea with British brands like PG Tips or Typhoo--it turns out incredibly bitter. And don't try to serve nice iced tea to the English--they probably won't appreciate it, though some are starting to drink overly sugared and overpriced flavo(u)red iced teas that come ready-to-drink.) Some British folk insist that Americans would drink more tea if we had "proper" tea like theirs. Faced with the prospect of British tea, however, I've become, for the first time in my life, a coffee drinker. My thinking is that if milk and tea were suited to each other, then tea ice cream would be at least as popular as coffee ice cream. But it isn't, is it? (Mental note: prepare for onslaught of comments and small incendiary devices.)

But I started this post to write about types of milk, having done types of cream some time ago. (It remains one of the most Googled posts here, although the top ones are probably red shoes, no knickers and smacking and spanking, which are Googled late at night by people with something other than dialectal variation on their minds.) Milk with the fat removed is called skimmed milk in BrE, while in AmE it tends to be called skim milk. On the other end of the scale (3-4% fat) is what Americans call whole milk and the British call full fat milk, which is a nice dieting ploy, since I'm too embarrassed to buy it. In between, Americans have options, known as 1% milk and 2% milk, while the British have semi-skimmed milk, which is 1.5-1.8% fat, according to Delia (old-school British TV chef).

When referring to the units of milk you can buy, Americans speak of buying a half-pint, pint, quart, half-gallon (i.e. 2 quarts) or gallon of milk. (Pints aren't that common, though, as we are probably buying it to drink, rather than to splash on our tea. Half-pints are what you get with your [AmE] school lunch/[BrE] school dinner.) In BrE, one always speaks of units of milk in pints (metric system be damned!). So, you can buy a pint of milk, or two-pint, four-pint or six-pint containers. British (Imperial) and American (US) liquid measures are not the same, and a British pint is slightly bigger than an American pint ('Hear, hear!' say the blokes down the pub). But there are such things as Imperial quarts (2 pints) and gallons (8 pints), so I'm not sure why only the term pint is used in measuring milk. By law, the pint-label(l)ed containers now tell you how many (milli)lit{re/er}s they hold, but no one pays any attention.

---Note to homesick Americans within easy reach of south-eastern England. Tallula's tea rooms in Brighton, behind Waitrose, serve a nice iced orange pekoe and very nice American pancakes--although they haven't learned to serve the latter with butter and they put way too much citrus fruit in the glass with the former. When I complained once that all I could taste was orange, and not tea, the waiter said, puzzled, 'But it's orange tea'. No, it's orange pekoe--it's thought to be named after the royals in Holland, not its flavo[u]r or colo[u]r. That said, they take requests for butter and 'not much fruit' without much eyebrow-raising.--

Postscript (15 April): I meant to mention (BrE) builder's tea: very strong, with lots of milk and sugar. So, here we have the way you take your tea linked to your social class...

Post-postscript (March 2010): Tallula's has gone out of business.  I am SO SAD!


  1. Black tea with no milk stains your (my) teeth, which is pretty much the only reason (along with pure habit) that I have milk in my tea. I don't drink floor-sweepings (aka bog-standard) tea though, unless it's an emergency. Yuk. (from the UK)

  2. The problem Britons have with American tea isn't the variety of leaf; it's with the incompetent presentation. Even today, it's virtually impossible to get a cup of tea in an American restaurant where the WATER IS BOILING. Nothing else matters anywhere near so much as this detail.

    Most people, even in people's houses, think that "was boiling several minutes ago" is good enough. It's not, not even close. Worse yet are those 190 degree F taps that some people have put in, and I won't even go into the horror of tea made with hot tap water, which I have seen.

    There's a little ritual with this, all across America: you ask for tea, and you get one of those little metal teapots full of hottish water, and a cup and saucer, and a teabag still in the envelope. You're expected to unwrap it and dunk it in the rapidly cooling water and wait a minute. If you put milk in the pale yellow result, it would go stone cold. Horrible, just horrible.

    Mind you, I've had some pretty wretched cups of coffee in England; quite a few places still seem to believe that instant coffee counts. It doesn't.

  3. I'm one of the few people (I believe) who drinks both tea and coffee regularly.

    I grew up on coffee - plenty of sugar and milk from I was about ten. Dropped first the sugar and since the milk when I didn't burn my tongue anymore. It'll have to be a very very bad cup of coffee before I add milk or cream to it. I do like the occasional cappuchino, though.

    Tea, though, I know because my uncle isn't a coffeedrinker. These days I have two cups of coffee in morning and perhaps another two in the afternoon. But I'll often have a cup of tea or two in the evening or even with a meal.

    For much the same reason I'm now drinking more than just earl grey. Depending of mood, time and occasion I enjoy EG, Darjeeling, Lapsang Souchong and Assam or English Breakfast. I picked up this variety from sampling the bags when I lived in Bath - the English selection is much wider than the Danish in that regard.

    Now, though, I buy my tea coarse-leaved from the speciality shop.

    I never take anything in it, though. With the possible exception of honey if I have a sore throat. I was rather bemused by seeing how the English would plop a bag into their mug with milk before pouring in the boiling water. Seemed very counterproductive to me.

  4. As for Orange Pekoe, this is what Upton Tea says here

    And fnarf is spot on. The xanthene in tea is only readily soluble in boiling water. I only have tea at home. At work it's the cheapest teabags for tea flavored water, and I feel lucky to get that. Only Chinese restaurants serve decent tea - mostly Oolong.

    Recent study showed that the benefits of tea are negated by milk. I grew up with Canadian mom, so hot, winter, drink was milk with some hot tea in. As I got older, I took less and less milk, until I now rarely drink the crap - milk that is. (Always hated milk, as a kid forced to drink it at every meal, Whole Milk ugh.)

    I know where the Indian import shops are, and I get good, loose, tea there.

  5. Real pancakes are of course served with maple syrup, which I suspect is probably nigh onto impossible to get in Britain, right?

  6. Afair, Kate Fox has a chapter on tea in "Watching the English", which is rather enlightening, too. It includes details on different rituals of making tea (like the one where the milk goes in the mug first, then the tea bag, then the water...:)) or the theory that the lower classes tend to like their tea strong and it gets weaker the higher up in class you look.

  7. I've never seen tea ice cream made with black tea, although the Japanese make a nice ice cream flavoured with matcha, the powdered green tea used for the tea ceremony.

    But their used to be (C18th? Regency?) a dessert in Britain called 'tea cream' which was a set cream dessert flavoured with tea - like a tea pannacotta, maybe? I can't remember whether they used gelatine to set it or something else. I doubt if it was made using PG Tips though.

    I generally prefer coffee or other kinds of tea - oolong, green tea - but there are times when a milky cup of strong tea is comforting. It speaks to some kind of deep atavistic part of my Englishness.

  8. dr. tom roche wrote:

    > maple syrup, which I suspect is probably nigh onto impossible to get in Britain, right?

    No -- it's readily available.

  9. Yes, maple syrup is easy to get in the parts of England I've lived in. However, when I was growing up in the US, my family didn't eat maple syrup; we ate the "maple-flavored" brands of syrup based on corn syrup. These are also the syrups that are normal in restaurants that serve pancakes, except very high-end ones. When times were flush we ate Mrs Butterworth's (the brand) and normally we ate store brand syrup.

    I have read that people in Vermont, a state where maple syrup is made, use maple syrup normally, but not the A grade stuff one can buy. The insider syrup is the B grade.

    I developed a taste for maple syrup as an adult, and it's lovely, but if I am looking for the peculiar comfort of something that tastes like what one ate when little, it's Mrs Butterworth's for me.

  10. I recall an Alistair Cooke talk from the mid-70s, when he explained about milk-drinking . If I have the detail correct , Americans were encouraged to partake (in the 1930s ?) partly for health reasons and also to help agriculture . Milk sterilisation had however not started in Britain , and so for health reasons many Brits would not drink it . When city kids were evacuated to the country in 1939 there was widespread TB.
    Milk-drinking by kids was widespread after WW2 (and sterilisation), with 1/3 of a pint given to all school pupils every day until it was done away with on cost grounds [hence the expression "Margaret Thatcher milk snatcher"]... before fat and cholesterol became hot topics .

  11. While maple syrup is available here, it's amazingly expensive--which helps account for the price of American pancakes in restaurants here. I buy locally-tapped syrup whenever I'm visiting my folks (or they give it to me for Christmas) so I have my supply, which I use with butter on crumpets!

    It's not just the presentation of tea in America, I think. If it were, then my mother-in-law wouldn't mind drinking stuff that she can make herself in the US. When she goes there, like many other British folk, she brings her own bags (Waitrose's own, I think).

    But if we're going to get on each other about presentation, I'll have to take the English to task for toast racks! Preciously warm bread, anyone?

  12. Was it ever true that the English only toasted their toast on one side? I don't know where I heard that (if I'm not completely making it up), but you're comment on toast racks reminded me of the idea.

  13. Jhm, I'm willing to bet that it was Sting that told you about that - it's a lyric from "Englishman in New York"! As an Englishman myself, I can't speak for the rest of us, but I've yet to meet someone with that particular quirk.

  14. My mother used to toast bread on one side, spread the other with butter and call it "French toast." Her family are Kentish.

    1. My mum(from southend area)did the same, It wasn't until I was married that I discovered french toast involved eggs.

  15. Toasting: in cafes in the UK I have had toasted teacakes that were toasted only on the inner face, presumably because the outer crust was seen as already cooked. This is really not palatable as it doesn't allow the whole teacake (or hot cross bun in season) to warm through. It's the melted butter that does it! Incidentally, I thought everyone toasted their hot cross buns (which have been on sale in supermarkets since early January, and still are, long after Easter !!!!), but I have friends from New Zealand who eat them 'raw'.
    Milk in tea: the upper classes were reputed to add milk last - perhaps that was because creamy milk floats, while my semi-skimmed seems to sink rapidly.

  16. Incidentally, I often make this iced tea recipe with PG-Tips.

  17. To be honest, the idea of plunking milk, a teabag, and boiling water into a mug seems bizarre to me. I'd never dream of making tea without employing a teapot.

    1. The only way to make properly is, tea 1st boiling water 2nd < it must be boiling and not from a coffee machine,then remove the tea bag if made in a cup then add milk . But still never mix the milk with tea before the boiling water.

  18. Have you seen this yet?

  19. A difference between the North and the South in the US is that in the South one gets 'sweet tea' (in restaurants, they'll ask "sweet or (Southern AmE) unsweet", while in the North, tea is served without sugar or sweetener, and you add it if you want to. The reason why I miss iced tea (though I do import appropriate teabags and make it sometimes) is because it's a flavo(u)red yet calorie- and sweetener-free drink. I miss being able to order it in restaurants, and the new trend for over-sweetened things in cans doesn't help.

    Conuly, yes I've seen that, but it has nothing to do with tea and milk, does it? :) But if you search 'baseball' on this blog, you'll find at least one post about basebally expressions.

  20. dr tom roche said "Real pancakes are of course served with maple syrup "

    No no no. REAL pancakes are thin, slightly crispy around the edges and served with sugar and lemon on pancake day.

  21. I am not a coffee drinker, I prefer a nice hot (but not scalding)pot of tea, with the non-dairy milk in the cup first and then a nice Yorkshire tea to follow. I am from the US and find the way tea is presented in restaurants here an after thought..a cup of hot water, a tiny pot of hot water and some really terrible Lipton blend with a lemon wedge on the side.
    To their credit, the English do have some lovely choices in tea, lots of different kinds from all over, and not all drunk with milk.
    But to jump start the morning...a nice strong british blend does the trick.

  22. LG} I'm not sure why only the term pint is used in measuring milk {LG

    Last time I was back in the UK (ca. 1988) I too noticed this tendency to refer to multiples of small units. I asked for a carton of cigarettes. The clerk said: "Do you mean two hundred?"

    I don't know why we would ask for eight pints of milk instead of a gallon, but asking for 200 cigs instead of a carton may have to do with the austerity and super-taxation of luxuries of the 40s and 50s, when Woodbines were sold in packs of five. In fact, if my memory is not playing tricks on me, I believe there were even packs of three.

    But if austerity is the answer, Germany suffered from it as much as we did, nicht wahr. So why is it that the Germans never had any trouble understanding that 'Eine Stange' means 200, whereas for us Brits the concept of 200 cigarettes demands an understanding of quantum physics.

    1. Nine years is a long time to wait for a response, but here goes.

      You're a Brit who's pretty much American by now, right? Carton in BrE just refers to a cardboard pack, not to a size. It's an uncommon word over here anyway.

      Googling for "cigarette carton" and "cigarette cartons" on UK sites I found: an on-line wholesaler who always specified that a carton was "of ten packs of 20"; a Metro newspaper article that said "One of the most high-profile changes comes in the form of new standardised packaging – which will see all cigarette cartons be the same drab green colour", referring to individual packs of 20; and a Daily Mail on-line webpage on the same topic with 'carton' in the URL but not in the article:

      Clearly in Britain a 'carton' is no more a specific size for cigarette packs than a 'stick' is for butter. We do understand "the concept of 200 cigarettes" though; we just use the same phrase for the thing and the concept.

  23. As for milk-drinking being commonplace in the US-- when I was growing up (in Queens) there was a milk-carton dispensing vending machine in the basement of the apartment building we lived in-- right next to the cigarette machine. A quarter for a quart, if I recall correctly.

  24. "No no no. REAL pancakes are thin, slightly crispy around the edges and served with sugar and lemon on pancake day."

    I am trying to imagine what these things are, and nothing served here comes to mind. When, pray tell, is 'pancake day'?

  25. Pancake Day is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.

    By 'real pancakes' johnb means pancakes in the English style. They are similar to French crêpes.

  26. I discussed the pancake issue in a previous post, here. I'll go back and put a link to it in this post as well.

  27. To mis-quote a bad joke. "Hey! You might think they are crepe, but I quite like them."

    It just bugs me a bit when people assume that their version of something is real and everything else is .. well .. not real?

  28. Lynneguist's tale of trying to get a glass of milk in a hospital antenatal ward reminds me very much of my parallel experience of trying to get a cup of tea with milk in hospital after having a baby in America.

    I found it very odd when I first arrived here, to go round someone's house and be offered tea. I'd be expecting "real" (by my standards) tea - what I would be offered would be a selection of herbal tea bags, amongst which might or might not be a sachet of the leaves of "Camellia sinensis".

    However, even if I use British-bought tea, boil the water and make it in a pot, I still can't create what I would consider a "nice cup of tea" here in the US. I've come to the conclusion that it's the amount of chlorine in the water here in LA (due, I think, to the virulence of the bugs in the Colorado River where most of our water comes from). I've given up and gone native - now I drink herbal tea, without milk, and often even pronounce it without the "h".

  29. the_sybil's experience with using British-bought tea in the US mirrors mine; the treatment of local water can make all the difference in the taste. After many years of experimenting I've found that Tetley's 'British Blend' and Boston water (which is pure and minimally chlorinated) makes a very decent cuppa indeed.

  30. this explains why British childcare guides insist that you sterili{s/z)e baby bottles for the first full year, while the recommendations in American sources are anything from 'don't sterili{s/z} at all' to 6 months.

  31. My Mom insists the reason American tea is so bad is because the Brits haven't let us have the good stuff since we threw it into Boston Harbor.

  32. I've never seen people drink milk with a meal in real life (except maybe a sweet breakfast like pancakes and maple syrup). We always have a glass of water with our meal, just like I did growing up.

    1. I know it's been 9 years, but just thought I'd jump in with an anecdote that many people I know do drink milk with dinner, but mainly if it's a family dinner. When we had guests, or if we go for a fancy meal like thanksgiving with family, it's water, but unless the adults were drinking alcohol with dinner, both my parents and my in laws would have milk. And it was always milk for the kids.

  33. Anonymous said:
    So why is it that the Germans never had any trouble understanding that 'Eine Stange' means 200

    But it doesn't. It means ten packs. The number of cigarettes in a pack may well once have been twenty, and the manufacturers want to pretend that it still is, want no one to notice or talk about the reduction, but in fact the packs now routinely contain eighteen or even just seventeen cigarettes. So a Stange is now only around 180 cigarettes or fewer. Which is in and of itself a good reason for referring to the actual number of cigarettes rather than a stange or carton.

  34. Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday is the British equivalent of Mardi Gras (="Fat Tuesday") or Carnival. It's a bit embarrassing, really. No parties or parades; just a pancake to prepare us for our (mostly fictional) abstinence during Lent.

  35. PS I completely agree regarding British iced tea. It's over-sugared and over-priced. If anyone knows somewhere in London that sells the good American stuff, please tell. It's possible to get unsweetened oolong tea in many East Asian stores, though that's usually a bit too bitter for me.

  36. To go with Builders' Tea is Builders' Sugar - bought in especially by middle class households who wouldn't otherwise have a bag of white granulated in the house.

  37. Well now there is a question...Why wouldn't a house have White Granulated Sugar in it?
    I can't think of ever being in a US house whaich doesn't have a Bag of Granulated Sugar in it...even if it is in the very back of the cupboard, hardened almost to a solid mass...but it is there. Is that a rarity in the UK? Or did I misunderstand the post?

    1. US house. Not a speck of sugar (white, brown, powdered, etc.), ever. Good luck guests who want some in their tea, and guests who want coffee are stuck with the instant variety I keep in the back of the spice cupboard specifically for this purpose, though I've never been asked twice by the same person. I will happily supply some stevia, though. We have both powdered and liquid.

  38. Oh, I suspect that most UK households have a bag of sugar somewhere in the house.

    In some houses it is only there so that guests can have sugar in their tea :)

    It is also considered polite to offer anyone who comes to the house a cup of tea. That includes builders and other workmen who come to the house to do small jobs etc - invariably they ask for tea with two sugars.

    OK, sometimes it three sugars and some don't take sugar at all - but you certainly get strange looks if you offer them sweeteners instead :)

    We still use a small amount of sugar in cooking occasionally, but the last time I used sugar (apart from that) was in a 'cuppa' for the plumber when he was here 3-4 months ago.

  39. I'm surprised no one's mentioned the REAL British working class way of drinking your tea - pour it into the saucer, and drink it from that ... (putting it into a shallow vessel with a wider surface area cools it down more quickly, y'see - the working class have a good understanding of physics. Although I confess I haven't seen tea drunk that way since at least the early 1960s ...)

    JohnB is quite right, since nobody bakes at home any more, and no middle class person would put sugar in their tea or coffee, they don't buy sugar, and they don't have any to offer the "tradesmen" when they call. I once offered a plumber a cup of tea, and realised with horror that the only sugar I had in the house was vanilla sugar, in a jar with a vanilla pod in it, for making pavlova meringues for dinner parties ...

  40. Well then I guess the next question is, why don't people bake anymore?

    It seems to be as popular as ever over here...

  41. The British are big on ready-made foods--in part because their ready-made foods are so good. So, they buy cakes and such. Also, when we say that Americans bake, it must be understood that much of that baking is from packaged mixes. My mother has never made a cake from scratch since I've known her, but if a birthday comes up, she'll bake something from a Betty Crocker box, and that's considered 'home-baked'--though she wouldn't need to have her own sugar for it!

    While the British are big on ready-made foods from the supermarket or deli, Americans are bigger on eating in/from restaurants.

    And sure, there are lots of British who bake (I went to a tea party Saturday and sampled two very impressive homemade cakes), but there's no shame here in buying a cake in a box from a shop here, even for someone's birthday. While in the US you get fresh-baked/decorated cakes in the bakery section of big supermarkets (and those are acceptable bday cakes--though overpriced), you tend not to see mass-produced cakes in boxes in the bread section (Entenmann's is the nearest thing), and, at least in the circles I've travel(l)ed in, you'd not use one of those for your child's or sweetheart's birthday (unless they were an Entenmann's fiend). In Better Half's dad's family, every birthday gets the caterpillar cake from Marks & Spencer.

  42. In Australia, low or no fat milk is usually called "Skinny milk".
    Skinny Milk is in fact a brand of no fat milk that was launch around 1980 with a very successful advertising campaign, but it is now used to refer to all no and low fat milks, regardless of brand. By contrast, whole milk is sometimes humorously called "fat milk".

  43. Lynne, am I right in thinking you do not approve of toast racks? If so, why is that?

  44. Toast racks are evil. The entire point of toast is that it should be warm. That way, the butter melts into it and it's yummy. The toast rack is the most efficient way to make toast cold fast.

    The American way is to serve toast piled up, sometimes wrapped in a cloth napkin in a basket, so that the heat is retained. Many British people find this horrible. They say "but the toast gets soggy!" I do not understand this fear of soggy toast--and I believe that the sogginess of piled-up toast is much exaggerated. (I like it soggy with butter, after all.)

    But cold toast, that is something to be feared!

  45. We do bake occasionally in the UK. I was re-enacting a Civil War battle last weekend and eating freshly baked 17th century reproduction biscuits and Welsh cake (a sort of spicy thick pancake). They were supreb :)

    My wife bakes occasionally - but that probably doesn't count because she is American.

    However, my mother still bakes for special occasions such as Christmas, but less and less each year.

    As Lynne says there is such a large range different high quality baked goods available in the shops, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the time baking.

  46. Yes, that is true about the store bought cakes...
    In the US, store bought cakes are somewhat looked-down upon, unless they are from some sort of fancy bakery, or at the very least custom ordered from the supermarket. You almost have to apologize for bringing/having one otherwise. "Oh I just didn't have time to bake."
    I think, to an extent, that comes from the fact that so few supermarket cakes have good frosting, it usually tastes very artificial (for the lack of a better word.)
    It can be true for other baked goods like cookies, however it is more prevalent with cake. (Mind you that this really only applies to a frosted cake in my mind, as opposed to a pound cake, but I won't get in to the differences between cakes, I am still not sure I understand everything from Lynne's previous post on the distinctions. lol)

  47. I drink loads of milk - probably two pints a day, not including cereal. Partly it's because I like the taste, and partly it's anti-soft drink discipline after my dentist had a go at me.

  48. One thing you definitely don't want is milk in herbal tea - proof that some Brits really don't get h(')erbal tea yet.
    Also, at my maternal grandparents' house, my father and maternal uncle are able to have extremely lengthy private conversations with each other by leaving notes in the white granulated sugar tin. Obviously, the sugar is very, very rarely used - my grandma stopped baking after a stroke, but I have taken up her mantel. I bake the Christmas cake (a good healthy 2-3 months before Christmas), and make various breads 1-2 a week. Baking is cool!

  49. Being originally from a former British colony, I have inherited the penchant for strong tea - in fact it is one of the colonial legacies I'm immensely grateful for! (Note: This has nothing to do with taking milk in the tea, since I enjoy my tea black as well.) So this post was extremely enlightening - I can finally understand why Lipton sold outside the US is perfectly dependable but Lipton sold in the US hardly qualifies as tea, IMHO. I can finally stop railing silently against the supermarkets when I pass the Lipton in the aisles! =) BTW, I have in fact tasted black tea-flavored ice-cream before, and I think there's a plausible reason why it hasn't caught on the way coffee ice-cream has. The tea ice-cream I had simply had a very nondescript flavor, so much so that it was even difficult to tell it was meant to be tea-flavored. It may have been that the maker was afraid of making the tea flavor too strong precisely because of the worry that people might complain it was too 'bitter'.

  50. I can't imagine not keeping sugar in the house! I go through sugar so fast. Other than using it in coffee or tea, I bake at least twice a week, plus my husband puts it in his cereal, plus you often need a little bit for main dishes or side dishes or even pancakes, not to mention jam-making season...

  51. > But cold toast, that is something to be feared!

    The answer, then, Lynne, is to eat it from the rack while it is hot!

    Your fellow-academic Kate Fox discusses differences in 'toast culture' in her Watching the English (2005, p.312-3):

    "The 'toast rack' is a peculiarly English object. My father, who lives in America and has become somewhat American in his tastes and habits, calls it a 'toast cooler' and claims that its sole function is to ensure that one's toast gets stone cold as quickly as possible. English supporters of the toast rack would argue that it keeps toast dry and crisp, that separating the slices of toast and standing them upright stops them becoming soggy, which is what happens to American toast, served hugger-mugger in a humid, perspiring stack on the plate, sometimes even wrapped up in a napkin to retain yet more moisture. The English would rather have their toast cool and dry than warm and damp. American toast lacks reserve and dignity: it is too sweaty and indisceet and emotional."

    I'm of Kate's, rather than of her father's opinion: I hate 'toast sweat'. Still, one man's meat is another man's poison (or even 'poisson'!)

  52. Anonymous -
    Aren't most of us from a former British Colony?

  53. Well, I am, but most Americans aren't, since only 13 of the 50 states can claim to be 'former British colonies', right?

  54. point for Lynne...

    I can too actually, both originally, and where I am from now...

    Gotta love the East Coast.

  55. Reply to Bill - Indeed you are right =) but the States that once were British colonies achieved independence much much earlier than countries that only did so after WWII. For us the memories are fresher – and the tea still stronger... hehe...

  56. I don't know how Irish tea and English tea compare, but when I took a trip to Ireland, I did find I liked the tea better with milk and sugar. But here in the U.S. herbal tea at home, ice tea in restaurants (with a very occasional hot tea).

  57. Regarding your comment about Americans being more likely to drink their orange pekoe with lemon than milk, do you think that could be a regional thing?

    I grew up in on Long Island drinking tea with milk and sugar (not sure if it was orange pekoe or otherwise), and when I moved to Indiana for college, I remember people looking at me so funny for drinking my tea with milk as opposed to lemon, but to me and indeed all my family's friends back in NY, this was entirely normal.

    (I also remember being ridiculed in Indiana for my Long Islander's pronunciation of "dawn," but that's another matter entirely.)

  58. Could be regional, but isn't a general east-coast thing, since I grew up with lemon.

    But milk probably isn't enforced there as it is here. Here, you will be served tea with milk unless you specifically ask for no milk (though lots of restaurants will serve the milk on the side, many do put it in for you, and in people's homes it comes mixed in, typically). Be careful, Americans: unless you specifically order 'black coffee', it comes with milk--not necessarily on the side.

  59. I'm from the middle of the U.S., and I've never heard of hot tea with lemon. Ice tea is usually served with a lemon in restaurants, but I can't recall ever getting one when ordering hot tea. Though I can't vouch for what people do in their homes.

  60. Hi there. Nice blog. I'll definitely be back!

    I'm from South Africa where we drink rooibos tea with either honey and lemon, or milk and sugar, or just on its own. We buy milk in litres or 500ml bottles and not gallons or quarts, whatever those are. I guess we have the best of both world :)

  61. On toast ...

    Toast at breakfast should be eaten cold, from a toast rack.

    Toast at tea-time should be eaten hot, directly from the toasting fork.

    Hot toast at breakfast is WRONG.

  62. My next post is about toast (the Toast Post) you might want to wait to begin the War until then...

  63. The whole milk in Central Iowa was known as homogenized and until the mid1-1990s the labels on top of the gallon jugs said Skim, 1%, 2% and HOMO. Political correctness took over, I guess, and now they say Whole.

    My parents were both English and we have always consumed proper English tea. Dad used to bring Tetley's back from Canada, nowadays it and PG Tips are available locally. Ours is always right off the boil, made in a teapot, milk first into the cup, no sugar. Even the offspring drink it that way, and dropping the sugar is a rite of passage to adulthood.

  64. I didn't want to get into the whole milk first/milk last question, as there are social class markers and all sorts of mythology about why one should/shouldn't put the milk in first. Look up 'tea' on Wikipedia and there's some info...

  65. Herbal teas just don't compare to tea made from tea leaves. They are simply different drinks. Some of the latter require milk, some don't, but no herbal tea should have milk.

    It's a shame that the americans want to drink herbal tea the whole time, and that the Brits all want to drink tea that's of such low quality that it needs disguising with "milk and 2 sugars" before it is drinkable.

    As for orange pekoe, it's nice, but I prefer an oolong or (for a black tea) a darjeeling.

    Whole books could be written on milk in tea I'm sure

  66. My British Husband is always grossed out every time he sees my American self pour a big glass of milk (usually after I've made him his morning tea!) But, we do understand the importance of milk and the nutrients it provides so I have him taking supplements and getting the same nutrients from other food sources.

  67. One dialectal issue I don't think you've covered on this blog yet is the fact that British and Australian people planning to visit America are often warned not to order a white coffee from a black waiter. Apparently, the term "white coffee" being unfamiliar to Americans (who would say "coffee with milk"), it is sometimes misconstrued as "coffee good enough for white people". I don't know how common such misunderstandings really are, but it's commonly reported as a potential hazard.

  68. White coffee is not 100% unfamiliar in the US, I think, since I've been using black coffee/white coffee as an example of opposites in my work for years...I'd have to check whether this example is in my (AmE) dissertation/(BrE) thesis (finished in 1993), but it was only more recently that I discovered that not every American understands it.

    I think these days people would think you meant a special kind of coffee--like white tea can be another kind of tea on a par with green tea or black tea (i.e. referring to the kind of leaves it's made from, rather than what's done with it once it's brewed. But the other difference is that in America you're rarely handed a cup of coffee that already has the milk (or in the US, cream--see the previous discussion of cream) in it--you're left to put it in yourself, which means that you're often expected to drink stuff from those little sealed white plastic cups, which I've only seen in hotel rooms (where you're making your own coffee) in the UK, not anywhere where you're served fresh coffee.

    (Of course, you are served coffee with milk if you order a caffe latte or cappuccino--but you know what I mean.)

    Americans who like black coffee have to learn in the UK to order "black coffee", otherwise it often comes with milk that you've not asked for.

  69. JohnB writes of builders' tea and how it has two sugars. He surely jests. Six sugars more like. Builders' tea inevitably leads to builders' cleavage.

  70. Hmmm... As an Irishman, I rarely put myself in the position of defending British customs, but I am going to make an exception. The Irish way of tea drinking is inherited from the British for obvious reasons. We like strong black tea, with fresh full fat Irish milk, sometimes with sugar sometimes without (without for me please). A pleasant warm energy drink for farmers and laborers alike back "in the day".

    It has stayed that way, unsophisticated, but unbeatable. I detest the horrible warmish stuff I get served in NY and never ever order tea there anymore. I much prefer coffee than that.

    I use loose tea, but I have absolutely no problem drinking a cup of Lyons' or Barry's (tea bags). I grew up on tea bags so I like them almost the same as loose tea. I agree with the earlier point regarding the HOT water...just off the boil, straight into the pot (or mug), leave it alone for a while, and then add a drop of milk.
    A lovely cup of tea.

  71. Americans drink far more milk per head of population than any other country. Even more so when children are taken out of the equation. Most western countries agree that children should have milk, but it's not generally seen as a suitable drink for adults.

    Milk in bottles from your milkman comes in pints (for those few who still have milkmen). More often nowadays in the UK milk comes in litre TetraPak cartons, or two-litre plastic jugs.

    There's a standard colour code for milk and cream packaging in the UK. I thought it was a pan-European thing, but apparently not.
    Red = Skimmed milk (and single cream)
    Green = Semi-skimmed milk (and whipping cream)
    Blue = Full fat milk (and double cream)
    There is also "gold top" milk from the Channel Islands, with its extra-rich creaminess.

    We usually have Assam tea in this house -- good and strong without being bitter. I prefer it with lemon rather than milk, but part of the reason might be that I'm marginally lactose intolerant.

  72. This is totally late, but I'm from central Texas, and I don't know ANYONE who regularly drinks milk with meals any more. Kids might, but that's it. I remember a few families who did growing up, but most of us thought they were weird (I'm 32).

    This may be due to the prevalence of iced tea here. I usually drink water at home with meals, but my family always had iced tea. They put loads of artificial sweetener in it, but I can't stand the stuff because I like to TASTE the tea.

    Presweetened tea in restaurants is a rather new thing in this area, and it annoys me because people tend to assume you want the sweet.

    I lived in Europe for five years (Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic), and I agree that the super sweet stuff called iced tea that people are starting to drink there is NASTY.

    Finally, I don't usually drink hot tea (I'm not much on hot drinks in general except when it's really cold, so that leaves out any time around here!), but when I do, I drink it black. I was traveling with my English friend through Europe this summer and he consistently bitched, especially in France, about the tea being terrible because it wasn't hot enough.

  73. A few comments on comments, so late that they should probably be time-barred:

    First, to the_sybil: As an American, I'm not surprised that you were offered something other than Camellia sinensis. I am surprised, though, that you'd be offered anything while going round someone's house. (I would probably say "around" there, but I'm from New York and regional usage may differ.) If I were visiting friends, I wouldn't expect them to offer me anything until I came inside, or at least sat down on the porch.

    But I agree that "herbal tea" is either a tautology or a contradiction, depending on whether you classify C. sinensis as an herb, and in either case is lexically (as well as, in many of its American variants, gastronomically) horrible. I don't know why the French "infusion," which is perfect in this context, hasn't made inroads into English.

    Also, I wanted to reassure Matt that, in my experience (which I admit is limited almost entirely to southern Ontario), Canadians universally and non-judg(e)mentally refer to non-skim milk as homo milk.

  74. Lynne, there aren't 13 US states that used to be colonies, but 16. Maine was part of Massachusetts in 1776; West Virginia was still part of Virginia, and Vermont was disputed territory on the border between New Hampshire and New York.

    Many other states - Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi were (wholly or largely) nominally claimed by Britain until 1783, but they were never under the practical control of the British. A small fraction of Minnesota falls into this category too.

    Washington and Oregon were also disputed until 1846, but there's no reasonable way to describe them as British colonies at any time.

  75. Absolutely true. Thanks for the correction!

  76. I'm a 40-something American living in southwestern Ohio and I love a cold glass of milk once in a while. As a matter of fact I had one with my dinner tonight. I don't drink milk every day or even every week, but I do buy milk every time I go to the grocery, and sometimes after I've put away the groceries I'll drink a glass of milk straight away.

    And a favorite thing to settle a queasy stomach or to cure a bout of insomnia is a glass of milk with some malted milk mixed in.

  77. I've lived in the US for the last 16 years, and the only American adult I've ever seen drink milk is B. A. Baracus.

  78. Fnarf

    it's virtually impossible to get a cup of tea in an American restaurant where the WATER IS BOILING. Nothing else matters anywhere near so much as this detail.

    The jazz musician Django Bates expressed the British credo beautifully in this song:

    The Importance Of Boiling Water

    (infusion music).

    It's the best drink of the day,
    Whether Assam or Darjeeling or Earl Grey, so
    If you like great tea
    Listen carefully:

    Please put some tealeaves in a pot.
    Don't use a teabag, please do not.
    Boil some water, but you ought ta
    Make sure it's scorching and seething and scalding.

    Now pour the water over the leaves (watch them dancing).
    See what a spell hot water weaves: (taste enhancing).
    But it must be one hundred degrees.

    Now put some milk into a cup (or some lemon),
    Don't fret your tea is coming up (let me demon-
    strate), Give it time: four minutes should be fine.

    Now pour the tea through a strainer.
    Please heed my words, you'll be the gainer.
    Lift the cup to your lips and take three sips...

    It's good, it's good, it's goo---d, it's
    Good (is it not)? And there's more in the pot, yes it's
    Great to drink tea that tastes this good, 'cos it's the
    Best drink of the day so,

    If you want tea that tastes this good, we say the
    Water must be boiling:
    Take it from us it really should.

    You used to be able to stream it from Django's website. Now you'll have to pay to download it from iTunes or Amazon or wherever, but I do recommend it.

    1. It's on YouTube here:
      The music sounds terrible to me - I'm not an enthisiast for jazz! I am, however, an enthusiast for a decent cup of tea, and the advice offered in the lyrics is spot on.

  79. Massachusetts, aged 25, eccentric-

    Even herbal tea is too bitter for my taste. At least a steaming cup of mint tea smells pleasant. Coffee turns my nose at 10 paces!

    Regarding American style pancakes, butter is optional, syrup is required, and if you're in the northeast, maple syrup is the one true syrup.

    I have enough of a sweet tooth that I will use imitation syrup if maple isn't available, but when I do, I know I'm committing sacrilege.

  80. On another thread, Anonymous said

    My Chinese grandfather taught me to make tea with water that was just shy of the boil because boiled water loses oxygen and tends to taste flat. Similarly, he found the British habit of drinking tea with milk and sugar "ridiculous." Just because the British drink a lot of tea doesn't mean they are the authorities on what is "proper," it's just a way to prepare a beverage and preferences are just that...

    British tea drinkers never discovered the merit of adding water before it boiled. However, we did discover long ago the demerits of adding water after it's gone off the boil. That's why we used to insist on carrying the pot to the kettle, never vice versa. I think it dates from when there would be a kettle gently boiling on the hob over the fire. Not nearly as good as your grandfather's tea, but still much, much preferable to the stuff they make in Europe with water that's no longer really hot.

    We don't insist that tea with milk and sugar is 'proper' — just that it's the taste that we grew up with. The classic way to serve tea is from a pot and two jugs — of milk and hot water — and a bowl of sugar. You choose your strength, and whether to have milk and/or sugar. As in some other culture, one person is nominated to mix the drink as requested. You offer to be that person by saying

    Shall I be mother?

  81. For the last year or two, in the UK, you've been able to get 1% milk as well as skimmed, semi-skimmed and full-cream / full-fat. If semi-skimmed is about 1.8%, maybe 1% was introduced as an approximate halfway house between the first two - a gap that had never been filled in the UK before.

  82. In Canada, the full-featured milk is referred to as "homogenized milk" (some people call it homo milk for short), but in my experience nobody chooses to drink it except small children (who need the full nutrients) or those who need it for health reasons. Most people drink 1% or 2%, or *maybe* skim, and everyone has a strong opinion about which is best based on which they Grey up with! (I'm a one-percenter -- skim is too watery, and even 2% feels like drinking table cream to me!)

    Also, our milk comes in cartons and jugs, but in some parts of Canada (not most, as is the common misconception)... in bags! Here in Ontario, we can buy 4 1-litre bags of milk. These come packaged in a disposable bag that contains all 4 packs, but once you open it up, there are individually packaged clear bags of milk. The bag gets placed in a plastic milk jug, the top front corner is snipped off the bag, and then it's pourable. It took some getting used to when I came from a province without bagged milk (and you can still by milk in other forms here) but it's a lot cheaper to get it in bags.

  83. This is many years later (I forget what I came to look up on this blog but, as usual, one post led to another), but I notice, reading through the comments, that nobody has mentioned one very important feature of tea as it is drunk in Britain and Ireland (and, quite probably, many Commonwealth countries) and that is caffeine! Tea contains nearly as much caffeine as coffee, but I very seldom hear people comment on this.

    As for drinking milk, it is, I think, now known that about 75% the global population don't have the gene to permit digestion of lactose once past weaning, so don't use milk and milk products a great deal.

    I don't bake a great deal at home, but it's certainly not unknown, and like to have a 1kg bag of granulated sugar - most recently for making a summer pudding, which you can scarcely describe as baking! However, we had run out of it, and I visited two local supermarkets and in neither could I get hold of a 1kg bag of gran - in the end my husband scored one in a third supermarket, but really!

  84. BrE, Scot, mid 60s. Coming to this post very late, I wonder if Lynne feels that an update is due, Or perhaps a new post. With all the new fashionable ways of buying coffee, try just asking for a black or white coffee in the U.K. these days. I have even asked for a black Americanso, and been asked if I wanted milk with it. I was lead to believe that an Americano was a term used in most of Europe to distinguish from the very small espresso, and was automatically served without milk. Apparently not so in today’s U.K.

    1. Here, I think, an Americano is what the French call a "Café allongé"; an espresso with hot water added to dilute it down a bit. The term merely distinguishes it from filter coffee - and either coffee may or may not have milk added to it according to taste, usually cold milk (whereas your cappucinos and flat whites and so on are made with hot milk).


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)