Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

How Do You Take Your Tea?
I will always remember the first time I went to my company lawyers’ office in the City. I was swiftly led to a plush meeting room and couldn’t resist the warm brownies on display. I started stuffing my face. Yummy! Then our legal team arrived, and before we started discussing the case, I was asked how I wanted to take my tea.
” With a little milk.”, I answered.
Do you want the milk before or after the tea? I was asked. I had no idea, and said it didn’t matter to me. Silly French me.
The partner of the firm then started a long-winded explanation:

You should put the milk first because you can pour it whilst you wait for the kettle to boil, hence saving time. Furthermore, pouring the milk first gradually warms up the contents of the cup to room temperature while you wait. Pouring the milk last rapidly heats the first drop of milk almost to the temperature of the teapot, denaturing the flavour of the milk and so developing more ‘boiled milk’ flavour. Putting the milk first is also known to tan more uniformly the milk protein (casein) with the tannin, because if you pour the milk last the first molecules of casein entering the cup will tan more thoroughly than the last ones. There is no reason why this difference should not alter the taste [note: the use of a double negative will get you additional brownie points]
Right, I thought. Clearly tea is  so much more than a drink. I knew I had missed something here. One of the more junior lawyers, who was coming from a well heeled family, was feeling a bit rebellious, and started to defend the opposite view. I couldn’t believe it.

But, my dear [condescending tone] by putting the tea in first and then stirring as you pour the milk, you can exactly control the amount of milk depending on the strength of the tea, whereas if you pour the milk first you might put in too much milk. Furthermore, the practice of putting the milk in first originated when users were in doubt of the quality of the milk, and putting the milk in first was seen as a more effective way of scalding it and killing the bacteria. Asking someone to ‘put the milk first’ when taking tea is therefore a subtle way of criticizing the housekeeping.
It is going from  bad to worse, I thought. Why are we having a debate on tea again? Have I missed a trick?

It then dawned on me.

The response, in itself, didn’t matter. What did matter was that the answer was as long as possible, and that they had made their position in the class system abundantly clear by declaring a preference for one way or the other (milk first = working class or ‘MIFs – Milk-In-Firsts’, milk last  = middle class and upwards)

Right, I said, Shall we review the brief now? 

Next time, I will take black coffee, I thought to myself. Much easier.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London