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Adding Milk or Sugar to Tea

Victorian lustreware creamer from the Sunderland Pottery. English pottery of the late 1700s and early 1800s often was decorated with popular verse, humorous sayings, slogans or Biblical texts.
Victorian lustreware creamer from the Sunderland Pottery. English pottery of the late 1700s and early 1800s often was decorated with popular verse, humorous sayings, slogans or Biblical texts.

Tea was a relatively new commodity in both the colonies and England and, despite the fact that more and more people were brewing and drinking it, not everyone knew exactly what to do with the leaves.

In a scene reminiscent of that found in the early history of tea in Salem, Massachusetts, the British poet Robert Southey recounted a story in his Commonplace Book of 1850 about “the first pound of tea that ever came into Penrith [in Cumberland]. It was sent as a present without directions how to use it. They boiled the whole at once in a kettle, and sat down to eat the leaves with butter and salt; and they wondered how anybody could like such a dish.”

The tradition of having the lady of the house brew and pour the tea herself continued. Sugar was almost universally taken—refined white sugar for the rich and dark brown unrefined sugar, molasses or treacle for the poor. In 1706, a certain Dr. Duncan explained that “Coffee, Chocolate and Tea were at first us’d only as Medicines while they continued unpleasant, but since they were made delicious with sugar, they are become poison.” François de la Rochefoucauld, writer and traveler, wrote in 1784 in A Frenchman in England: “The high cost of sugar or molasses, of which large quantities are required, does not prevent this custom being a universal one, to which there are no exceptions.”

 

Milk or cream was added to tea by most people who could afford it. In 1748, Swedish Professor and world traveler Pehr Kalm observed in his Account of His Visit to England on his Way to America that, “most people pour a little cream or sweet milk into the teacup when they are about to drink the tea.”

And although in 1782, the traveler John Byng, Lord Torrington, noted in his diary that he drank tea at an inn in Bagshot in Surrey “with the novelty of cream,” the practice seems to have been well established long before. The Viscount obviously found that he much preferred cream to milk and described how he breakfasted one morning with “an indulgence of appetite … by swallowing 3 hot rolls and a pint of cream with my tea.”

More tea blogs from the BTPSM Tea Master.

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Bruce Richardson

MSN calls Bruce Richardson "A leading tea expert involved in tea's American renaissance for over 30 years." The native Kentuckian is a writer, photographer, tea blender, and frequent guest speaker at tea events across the globe. He can often be found appearing on television and radio talk shows, or as a guest speaker at professional seminars such as World Tea Expo or China Global Tea Fair. He is the author of over a dozen books on the subject of tea. Mr. Richardson has designed custom tea blends for The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum The Peabody Essex Museum, The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.

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