diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How much of Britain's milk are we throwing down the drain?

I'm talking tea. When you order tea out and about, somewhere they do tea properly with a pot, the milk invariably comes in a separate container. You dunk your bag in the hot water, you wait, and then you pour the milk into the cup. Forget whether the milk goes in first or second, that's not important. What is important is how much milk is left in the container, and how much of that is thrown away.

I've been to a few café-type places over the last few weeks, and ordered tea, and been surprised by the size of the jug of milk offered alongside my cuppa. It's never ever too small, the jug is always too big, often ridiculously too big. What are people thinking?

At the weekend I took tea in an establishment in Milton Keynes. Notionally it was a restaurant, but with hints of pub, and with a small franchised Costa machine set up behind the bar. After a long hike what I really wanted was a tea, so the bloke behind the bar pushed some buttons and grabbed some crockery and filled a teapot with boiling water. Next the teabag went in, and then he reached down to the bottom shelf for a very normal-looking four pint carton of semi-skimmed. This he proceeded to pour into the regulation Costa jug, proper china no less, and left me to carry the ensemble back to my table. Forget whether pouring boiling water onto leaves is genuinely worth £2.10 for the service provided, that's not important. What is important is how much milk he poured into the container, and how much of that would be thrown away.

My teapot, it turned out, was precisely the right size to completely fill the teacup once. I wasn't complaining, it was definitely a bigger teacup than many establishments provide under similar circumstances. But when I went to pour the milk there was no way I was going to use even a quarter of the liquid in the jug. Not even a milkaholic who liked their tea mostly milk rather than tea could have used up all the milk provided, and so it sat there while I sipped my cuppa and promptly went to waste. Forget whether the waitress who collected my tray could have rescued my excess milk and reused it in some other unsuspecting diner's jug, that was never going to happen. What did happen is that my initial allocation of milk was blatantly surplus to my needs, and almost all of it was thrown away.

Like I said, I've had this tea/milk imbalance issue elsewhere. A café in Norfolk provided hot water sufficient for two cups of tea, but the amount of milk in the jug was beyond proportionate for the scaling up. An independent café in the Olympic Park dished up fairly average tea with an above average amount of milk alongside, despite no corporate edict requiring this. A café in Crouch Hill served me an Earl Grey plus an elegant jug, which although small still contained entirely unnecessary amounts of milk. Forget that you're not supposed to have milk with Earl Grey anyway, I'm a philistine, and the tealady clearly recognised this. What matters is that milk is invariably dispensed in superfluous portions, an unnecessary by-product of a service-led economy, and far too much of it gets thrown away.

I get why milk jugs exist. We don't all like the same amount of milk in our tea, so it's important to be able to control your own personal flow rather than someone else second guessing. And I know that real milk is much much nicer than the ultimate form of portion control, which is those little plastic pots of milk or pretend cream, which are horrible. And I know that those of you who buy coffee never have this problem because the barista pours the right amount of milk into your cup in the first place, because that's how modern coffee works. And forget builder's tea because that's obviously meant to come with milk already added, and plenty of it, and that's not central to my core argument. What does matter is the general premise that those who serve up proper tea in public invariably pour out more milk into jugs than any normal human being might conceivably want, as if it's national policy that litres and litres of milk are going to be thrown away.

On breakfast tables in hotels across the country, jugs of milk stand waiting to be mostly discarded. On thousands of trolleys being pushed into meeting rooms, entire jugfuls are never destined to be drunk, only destroyed. In tea shops that serve clotted cream, in chain coffee shops in local high streets, in country cottages on silver trays, in cafés that do paninis, indeed wherever tea drinkers are given the opportunity to add their own, the equivalent of several herds of cows is being wasted. Forget that this is hardly the most important problem facing society today, merely a minor niggle I've noticed, all be it on a grand scale. What matters is that it really shouldn't be so hard to dish up milk in littler jugs, or less milk in existing jugs, and then Britain's tea drinkers wouldn't throw quite so much milk away.

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