How Do You Take Your Tea?
When tea was first drunk it was unadulterated by milk, sugar, lemon or any of the additives that are so popular today. The milk and sugar habits began in the early 18th century, as cheap sugar cane from the Caribbean colonies became more readily available in Britain.
By the turn of the 19th century, the average person in the UK consumed more than a kilogram of tea, and nearly 8kg of of sugar, per year. Lemon became another popular addition, and the traditional choice between milk or lemon developed in the 18th century. When they were first introduced, they were a sign of wealth. Being able to offer your guests ice, milk, sugar or even tea itself was a luxury.
(If they are added together the acid in the lemon can curdle the milk, but lemon and sugar together has been popular in Russia, Arab countries and Africa at various points during history. These days it is mainly Earl Grey that is drunk with Lemon.)
At a time of unreliable shipping and storage, tea could be of a lower quality than we get today, and the additives masked the poor flavour. These days the trend is reversed, with having lots of sugar in your tea a sign of lack of sophistication, with pure, unadulterated white tea the mark of high taste.