“First, there are no absolute, universal, definite rules. The so-called purists –people who toss a contemptuous glance at anyone who adds a little sugar or a drop of milk to a cup of tea, indeed uses a little metal spoon or removes the leaves from the teapot after steeping- turn out to be ignorant, in fact. Everything is potentially possible and respectable when it comes to discovering teas’s infinite savors”. Mariage Frères
We have all heard about the discussion whether milk and sugar should or should not be added to the tea. In my last post I talked about the reason why some teas are better enjoyed without any additives but I think it is important for people to know that, as the quote above says, there is not a definite rule where it comes to enjoy your cup of tea. For instance, in Britain adding milk and sugar is widely spread, in Morocco and other countries of North Africa the addition of mint leaves and sugar is a tradition, while in Tibet, tea is drunk by adding Yak butter and salt. So there is not a “correct” way in which tea must be enjoyed. It is a personal experience and we determine how we would like it to be. However, I decided to write this post just to briefly explain the position of connoisseurs, sommeliers and tea masters about adding milk, sugar or lemon to the tea, so you can then choose and decide whether you would like to add it or not.
In my previous post I mentioned the orthodox teas. These teas are handpicked (usually by women) from tea gardens, choosing only buds and the youngest leaves (sometimes only buds or one bud and one leaf). They are meticulously harvested in specific times and seasons of the year and require a lot of work to produce small quantities as the production is practically artisan. The result is a very special tea from which you are able to distinguish its origin, appreciate its tasting notes and all the particularities the region, the climate, the season and the soil add to it. Consequently, these teas are best appreciated without additives, as pure as possible and should be prepared in accordance to its requirements. That means: an appropriate water temperature and the right steeping time. On the other hand, there are teas whose production is not so artisan but more industrial. These are known as CTC or “unorthodox” teas, as the leaves are cut, tear and curl by machines, resulting in small broken tea leaves and therefore, a crispier and stronger cup of tea. The CTC production is done for black teas and, paradoxically, most of the CTC teas and blends are made to be drunk with milk as they can be too strong, bitter and astringent. So adding a splash of milk can actually turn that tea into the “nice and warm cuppa” you have been enjoying for years. Just the opposite to orthodox teas!
Knowing the difference between an orthodox tea and a CTC tea is important and I don’t think more explanation is needed when it comes to the discussion about whether milk and sugar is appropriate or not. The debate has been based on protocol and etiquette rules but I do not think that should be the centre of the discussion.
I would personally suggest not to add anything if you have a nice tea in your hands. Give it a special treatment, enjoy it as a delicacy, play with it and make a big deal out of it. Choose a nice cup, take time to smell it, taste it and contemplate its simplicity…
Of course the discussion goes on and on but adding “milk and sugar” is a personal choice over something that should be enjoyable and pleasant. If someone tries to make you feel uncomfortable, you have now some arguments to make your point. You already know where everything comes from, so you can then say, “Yes, I know… But I actually like it with milk and sugar”.