Do You Take Milk?

Do You Take Milk?
Chinese export porcelain milk jug, circa 1740 to 1780, with floral decoration added in London and silver chain embellishment attached to keep lid and jug together. Photograph courtesy of Drove House Antiques, drovehouseantiques.com.

Or perhaps, the preference for tea with milk during the rule of the Chinese Manchu Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1800) influenced the Dutch, who traded directly with them. Dutchman Jean Nieuhoff described his experience of a great feast the Manchu emperor gave in honour of the Dutch trade delegation in 1655: “At the beginning of the Dinner, they were served several bottles of The or Tea, served to the Table, whereof they drank to the Embassadors, bidding them welcome: This drink is made of the Herb The or Cha, after this manner: They infuse half a handful of the Herb The or Cha in fair water, which afterwards they boil till a third part be consumed, to which they adde warm milk about a fourth part, with a little salt, and then they drink it as hot as they can well endure.” And perhaps Thomas Garraway, 17th-century London tea and coffee merchant, learned about this from the Dutch East India Company, who brought the first tea into London. For, in his 1660 advertising broadsheet, An Exact Description of the Growth, Quality and Vertues of the Leaf TEA, Garraway wrote that tea “prepared and drank with Milk and Water strengtheneth the inward parts, and prevents Consumptions.…”

Do You Take Milk?
Chinese export underglaze blue cream jug with double-strap handle and decorated with a scene of pavilions set amongst trees around a lake, and with a boat crossing the lake. Photograph courtesy of Drove House Antiques, drovehouseantiques.com.

By 1702, vessels for milk were known as “milk potts,” and the London Assay Office listed silver jugs as “milk ewers” and charged one penny per pot for each assay. The earliest silver jugs, from the first decade of the 18th century, stood 5 or 6 inches tall, had D-shaped handles, spouts like beaks, and hinged domed lids, for the fashion at this time was for hot milk in tea. (This rather undermines the commonly held idea that cold milk was added to the tea bowl before the tea in order to prevent the porcelain from cracking.) In keeping with the new trend, the Duke of Grafton had a set of tea wares made in 1712, and the milk jug that was included with the teapot and sugar bowl had an ivory handle, a sharp spout, and a high domed lid. As the trend for milk in tea grew, the demand for jugs made of silver, porcelain, or pottery also increased. According to Colin Spencer, author of British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History, “The East India Company’s sales of oriental porcelain included milk pots, with or without covers, in 1706, but not earlier.” The fashion for hot milk does not seem to have lasted very long for, after around 1720, tiny, elegant jugs for cream or cold milk had no lid, were curvaceous and pear shaped or squat and boat shaped, with wide generous spouts, and three or four claw feet or a solid round base. In 1728, in TheJournal of a Modern Lady, Jonathan Swift described a typical morning in the home of the eponymous modern lady, whom we find, “Now, loit’ring o’er her tea and cream.…” By the middle of the 18th century, milk or cream was being added to tea by most people who could afford it. In 1748, Per Kalm, Swedish traveller and explorer, in Account of His Visit to England on his Way to America, observed that “most people pour a little cream or sweet milk into the teacup when they are about to drink the tea.” Cream or milk was purchased from dairy maids, who would knock at kitchen doors each morning, and as Scottish diarist James Boswell noted in his London Diary, written during the reign of George III (1760 to 1820), arrangements were made specially for milk for the king’s tea to be delivered to the royal palace every day.