True tea is made of the same plant no matter where on Earth you drink it, but tea preparations vary around the world. While the Chinese and Japanese generally prefer their hot tea without dairy, a splash of milk in your afternoon cuppa is quintessentially British. Britons may take milk in their tea for the flavor today, but that wasn't the original intention.
According to Reader's Digest, the first people to add milk to tea were more concerned about their drinking vessels than the beverage itself. The British sipped tea out of delicate china cups, which were prone to cracking under intense heat. This was especially true of cheaper china, which was all that most people could afford. Instead of serving tea at a temperature cooler than steaming hot, they used milk to mellow it. The cold milk went into the cup first, followed by the boiling liquid, which immediately cooled down to a less-destructive state.
If you've ever wondered about the best way to pour your tea, adding the milk first is historically accurate. Science backs up this method as well. If you add cold milk to a hot cup of tea, the dairy will heat unevenly, which can cause the proteins to denature and clump together. This results in an unappetizing film on top of the beverage that's likely to ruin your teatime.
Not everyone agrees that pouring tea first and milk second is the correct way to go. George Orwell came out with a controversial milk-first stances in his famous article on how to make the perfect cup of tea. And of course, many tea-drinkers would turn up their noses at the idea of putting dairy in the drink to begin with. Here are more facts about the beverage.
[h/t Reader's Digest]