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.
Which 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 drip of milk left over 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.
Which 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 cafetier 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!