For those who take tea with milk, opinion seems very much divided about whether to add milk to the cup before the tea or vice versa. I have seen some suggestions relating to the milk protecting the fine china when the hot tea was poured, and even suggestions relating to killing bacteria in suspect milk. My personal preference is to pour the milk in after the tea, and I do believe there is a difference in taste but I wonder whether this is simply a case of being able to more accurately gauge the quantity of milk being added, as the colour of the the tea serves as a guide.

Is there a measurable (ie scientific) difference between the processes of (i) adding milk to the tea, and (ii) adding tea to the milk that will lead to a different flavour outcome?

This question touches on the issue, but doesn't quite give the answer I am looking for.


3 Answers 3


I had the chance to ask a tea scientist this very question about 25 years ago, and he said:

  • if you put the tea in first, over decades your cups will be more stained than if you put the milk in first
  • if you put the milk in first, you cannot add less milk on discovering that the tea is weak or there is less of it than you thought

He further reported that the Royal Family always put the tea in first. So, despite being raised milk-first, I am a tea-first person (the milkiness of my tea being more important than possible stains to my cups) and my mother tolerates this when she visits.

Killing bacteria in the milk is really not an issue now and probably never was; even if it were the temperature difference is not important between the two approaches. A little cold milk in a room temperature cup probably won't prevent thermal shock either: many people claim leaving the spoon in serves this purpose, but I think it's just to avoid putting the spoon down on the counter and leaving a dribble.

  • 2
    And may your teacups be pleasantly stained, but appropriately milky.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Dec 3, 2013 at 17:23
  • 2
    I've never met a tea stain that a combination of green scrubby and brother-in-law can't take care of. (If the former can't clean it, the latter is likely to drop it and thus obviate the need for any further cleaning efforts.)
    – Marti
    Dec 3, 2013 at 17:31
  • 4
    exactly. A teacup is an inaminate object I owe nothing to. If it gets stained I will clean it, replace it, or drink from a stained cup. In the meantime I don't want to drink overmilked tea. Dec 3, 2013 at 17:33
  • 1
    And yet icream my coffee first, being an old NY deli guy. Sugar and cream to the bottom of the cup, add coffee. less stirring required!
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Dec 3, 2013 at 17:43

There may be a difference:

Some milk sugars are very sensitive to heat and will burn at near boiling temperatures.

If you are adding tea to the milk, it is possible that you lose some of milk sugars as the boiling tea (~95°C) makes direct contact with the milk.

If you are adding milk to the tea, the tea is no longer near boiling since the cup + time has absorbed a fair bit of the heat (~95°C -> ~70°C) and you are adding milk to a 70°C cup that will not burn the milk sugars.

If you can taste the difference (not many people do), experiment with adding milk at various stages of pouring tea and see if there is a clear crossover.

When it comes to cleaning the tea stain, just use something like an URNEX Cafiza or Tabz Tea Clean. I don't think Tea stain chemically bonds to porcelain and have always been able to bring original look (minus the metal spoon scratches) back.

Finally, you may also want to not use milk altogether per this article.

  • I do believe I can taste a difference, but clearly need to do this as a controlled experiment adding the same volumes at the same temperature, varying the moment of mixing. Very interesting final link... I hope it's not true!
    – long
    Dec 4, 2013 at 1:56
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    I think that people adding tea to milk are probably pouring from a teapot, so it's going to have cooled and certainly won't be near 95C. Making tea by pouring boiling water into a mug containing milk and a teabag is yet another scenario, which conventional wisdom holds will produce weak tea because the milk clogs the pores of the teabag. Dec 4, 2013 at 9:34

I always assummed something a bit the oppsite of MandoMando; When pouring tea into milk, when only a bit of tea has entered the cup, the milk/tea ratio are similar, so the tea can only heat the milk up a bit, then more tea being added brings the temperature up.

Dumping the milk in hot tea moves the milk immediately into a large vessel of hot tea, heating it up faster, perhaps giving it a boiled taste.

I do like the theory of not being able to subtract milk if put in first though!

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