Could adding milk BEFORE boiling water enhance your tea? One British scientist thinks so

Professor Alan Mackie of Leeds University
Professor Alan Mackie of Leeds University

Brits have been drinking their tea a certain way for centuries. The fundamentals include a mug, tea bag, boiling hot water and milk. So why disrupt a centuries old tradition?

Well, because, according to a British scientist, it really will enhance the flavor.

Professor Alan Mackie of Leeds University says individuals living in regions with hard water should use the ‘milk first’ method.   

This particular method includes pouring milk on a tea bag before adding boiling water. According to Mackie, this is the best way to get the tastiest cup of tea. His theory is based on research, which found pouring milk on a teabag counteracts hard water - an issue more than half of Britons are prone to.

Milk being poured over tea bag

“Flavour by and large is produced by the different compounds in tea including tannins in particular,” Mackie said. “The more minerals present in water the more difficult it is for these compounds to develop the flavour - resulting in the dull cuppas you get in hard water areas.”

Mackie’s research, partnered with with INTU, a manufacturer of boiling water taps, discovered minerals in hard water which inhibit flavor compounds forming. Hard water, similar to that found in London, is often rich in magnesium and calcium.

Mackie says proteins in the milk lower the mineral content of the water, which adds extra flavor - particularly when the water is hard.

Boiling tap water

According to Aquacure, a U.K. company specializing in water filter products, as the level of minerals increase, water increases in hardness, with more than 350 parts per million (ppm) deemed to be ‘aggressively hard.’

Water above 101ppm is hard, to different degrees. Anything below 100ppm is considered soft.

‘Making tea the traditional way - steeping a bag in hot water before removing it and adding milk - results in the tannins turning into solids before they can develop the flavour properly,” Mackie said.

‘But, if the milk is added at the start of the steeping process then its proteins can bind to the tannins and other minerals in the water - preventing them from turning solid - which in turn gives you a far superior flavour.’

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