Tea with Milk & Sugar
An online friend from Italy once asked me "is it true you British people drink tea with milk and sugar?" He was quite grossed out that we added milk to our tea.
European teas are delicate infusions, some very creative infusions use fruits or flower petals. After talking with my friend I tried an Italian rose tea that was made from rose petals, nothing else. With milk it would've been spoilt badly, but with just a spoonful of honey and left to infuse for 3 minutes the flavour of rose petals delicately danced across my tastebuds. I recalled an Italian tea blend called Blue Lady I drank years ago which had a beautiful floral aroma, but since I had been in the habit since a child of drinking tea with milk I automatically did the same and wondered why it was so bland. Now if I were to try it again I would drink it without and with a spoonful of honey.
British black teas mostly come from India or include a blend of Indian tea leafs which taste bitter and astringent due to their high amounts of tannin. Milk helps to tone down the astringency and adds a small amount of sweetness to the tea. Without milk these teas are almost undrinkable as they dry the tongue, although some don't mind drinking it without and prefer the strong bitter flavor.
The exception is a famous black tea blend called Earl Grey. This tea is drinkable both with milk and without. Many have sworn that Earl Grey is better without milk but with a twist and slice of lemon and a teaspoon of honey and can also be served cold over ice. My husband and I tried the experiment ourselves, we didn't have any fresh lemons to hand so we used a teaspoon of lemon juice. We were amazed how the lemon made the tea refreshing and brought out other flavours that would've been nulled by the milk. It's made me think twice about drinking Earl Grey with milk again as this was a tea that was meant to be served as it was.