Do You Take Milk?

This silver-gilt and enamel milk jug is part of a set made in Russia by Pavel Ovchinnikov between 1896 and 1908 and decorated with scrolling pastel-coloured enamel flower and leaf patterns. Photograph courtesy of The Chitra Collection,

A history of jugs and creamers

Text by Jane Pettigrew

Many people assume that the British have always drunk their tea with milk. However, when tea drinking first became popular among the upper classes in the 1660s, there is no evidence that milk was added to the small Chinese porcelain bowls that graced aristocratic tea tables. Indeed, a letter written by Rachel Lady Russell to her daughter suggests that adding milk to tea only became fashionable right at the end of the 17th century. Lady Rachel’s words, written in 1698, express her surprise when she explains, “Yesterday, I met with little bottles to pour milk out for tea; they call them milk bottles. I was much delighted with them, and so put them up to a present for you.”

The fact that the British decided, at the turn of the 18th century, that tea was improved by adding a few drops of milk to the hot brew, raises the question as to where the idea came from. Perhaps, it was quite simply a matter of taste. Or perhaps the English adopted the notion from other parts of Europe.