Tea with milk (known in Poland as “bawarka”) – some like it as their favorite beverage for a quiet afternoon, others think it’s a nightmarish combination. Why do emotions run so high when it comes to English tea with milk? After all, it seem completely natural to pair milk with coffee. Tea with milk is definitely one of those treats that you either love or hate. And there are as many ways to prepare it as there are houses in England. Actually, not only in England, because milk tea is drunk all over the world, but under different names!
“Bawarka” around the world, i.e. tea with milk not only for the English
The story is vague and a bit complicated, as the beginning of drinking tea with milk in France is most often attributed to the Sicilian owner of a cafe that was famous in the 1980s in the capital of France. He served a milk-tea drink with capillaire syrup, i.e. sweet syrup from maidenhair to the German princes from Bavaria (hence the Polish name: “bawarka”). Contemporary French tea with milk resembles a dessert more than a drink. It is creamy, sometimes pudding-like in texture, mixed with various alcohols and served with ice cream and cakes.
We’ve also had our own tea with milk in Poland! The interwar period mentions a beverage called “ukropek”, made of half a glass of cream and half a glass of boiling water, and a small piece of sugar (cut from the sugar lumps sold at that time). Probably a similar blend had existed hundreds of years earlier, but it was lacking tea until the 18th century and the Four-Year Sejm, when the Polish princes started sipping tea with milk like that in the 17th-century Paris. In Poland, of course, tea was an unusual commodity, even for noblemen, so locally grown and dried herbs were commonly used instead. Tea with milk was prepared with the addition of lilac, linden, chamomile, sage and similar herbs. Wow, I have to try this out!
Looking for the most popular milk drinks outside of Europe, I noticed that milk tea is also popular in Asia. Masala Chai is India’s most popular brew. Black tea plus milk, seasoned with strong spices, sugar and ginger. Each Indian home prepares its own blend of Chai spices, but you can spruce up your milk tea (for which you’ll get the recipe below) with a ready-made set of spices from Drink Me Chai and completely change its face.
The Tibetan milk tea is called po cha. It is Pu Erh tea, whipped in a special device (chandong), with yak milk and butter. It is an exceptionally exotic way to prepare tea, impossible to imitate in our area, mainly due to the absence of yaks…
A completely different story!
Now, think for a moment, maybe you know other non-obvious milk teas? I’ll be happy to add them to the list, so feel free to post your comment!
How to make a perfect “bawarka”?
Although Bavaria is located in Germany, and France is considered the home of milk tea, today it is mostly associated with England. It is in England where tea with milk has definitely been the most popular and the English version is the most similar to what we also drink in Poland. The method of preparing tea with milk would seem trivial: the recipe from the late 20th century states that tea infusion is added into hot milk. Into 1 glass of milk you add half a glass of brewed tea. Simple. Very simple. However, the order in which the ingredients are added is at issue here. In many English homes adding milk to tea would be a faux pas! The dispute is still unsettled. Some people prefer milk with tea, others tea with milk. I’m up for the second option, which is why I’ll give you the perfect recipe for it. 😉
The matter is serious. In 1946, the essay A Nice Cup of Tea made the whole tea world erupt. The author of the essay was not just anybody, it was George Orwell, the writer, who sided with those who poured milk into tea. As the main advantage of this non-standard sequence he gave the fact that by putting tea into the cup first and stirring while pouring, you can adjust the exact amount of milk, while if you do it the other way round, you may end up pouring too much milk. From the essay we will also learn that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones, the best varieties for milk tea are Indian and Ceylon leaves and one should never put sugar in this beverage.
But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it?
Here is a recipe for tea with milk (inspired by Orwell):
- Heat the tea pot (preferably made of porcelain or clay) with boiling water.
- Brew a pot of black tea (necessarily from India or Ceylon – the tea should be strong and full, so let it brew without bags or infusers).
- In a pot, heat the milk so that it is very warm, but not boiling, because then it loses its natural sweetness.
- Take the milkskin off the milk to get rid of some stickiness from your beverage.
- Pour the tea into a mug, preferably a cylindrical one.
- Pour milk into the tea until you get the perfect proportions for you. I like it when tea takes ¾ of the cup and milk ¼, but in order to best define your preferences, I recommend starting with half and a half.
It is important to mix the ingredients in the cup on an ongoing basis, right before drinking. Do not pour milk over a pot of tea right away, and if you are preparing tea with milk for your English guests, you’d better ask which order of pouring they prefer. 😉
Oh, I must admit that I’m surprised at how exciting it was for me to look for the perfect recipe for tea with milk. From a confusing history, through surprising English customs, to a completely serious essay by one of the most famous writers of the 20th century. “Bawarka” will never be just an ordinary drink to me again, and I will share those stories with those who always frown at the sight of combining milk and tea. I suggest you do the same.