Me and Tea.

Friends, I have given up putting milk in my tea.

Why? Because as I wrote a few days ago, putting milk in my tea gives rise to annual methane emissions equivalent to almost a third of tonne of carbon dioxide.

On balance, I would rather avoid those emissions than experience the pleasure of putting milk in my tea.

My life in tea

I can still hazily remember being served milky tea with sugar as a child – perhaps I was 6 or 7.

Later on, drinking tea became a habit, and when I was probably 11 or 12, I gave up putting sugar in my tea.

And I have been drinking large amounts of tea each day – maybe 6 cups – ever since.

Around 12 years ago, I was concerned about my son’s seemingly unbreakable attachment to his iPod. To my surprise, he agreed to surrender his iPod if I gave up tea. I agreed, pleased we had reached an amicable bargain.

However I gave him back his iPod after 3 days, because in truth I was – and am – addicted to tea!

So changing the way I drink my tea is changing a life-long habit.

Life-long habits

Carbon dioxide and methane emissions are not very obvious – we generally don’t see them: the gases are invisible and have no smell. And they frequently take place at distant locations such as power stations or farms.

But the emissions are nonetheless real and their long term damage is on a scale that it is scarcely possible to imagine.

Additionally these emissions are entwined with our familiar ways of living.

  • Gas boilers keep us warm.
  • Cars provide mobility.
  • Aeroplanes take us on holiday.
  • Milk and Cheese and Butter taste great.
  • Tea with milk is ‘how normal people have tea’.

So acknowledging the reality of the emissions we give rise to and the harm they cause is hard both intellectually and emotionally.

Writing the article last week it became clear to me that I had to overcome my emotional attachment to milk in my tea.

Breaking these life-long habits is something we will all have to do if we want to create a way of living which does not damage the climate of our children’s future more than we already have.

More than milk

After 10 days I am happy to report that I am enjoying my milk-free tea and have now almost stopped reflexive visits to the fridge each time I make a cup!

I think I taste the tea itself rather more, but it is a very different kind of drink.

I have also been reducing use of butter and cheese and I have found alternatives that are perfectly acceptable in most recipes.

I find it hard to believe my use of dairy products will ever reach zero. But I can easily imagine reducing consumption by 90% or so.

Life is a long journey, and I never thought my journey would take me here: milk-free tea and minimising use of cheese and butter which I love!

It feels strange and unfamiliar.

But here I am.

13 Responses to “Me and Tea.”

  1. 171indianroad Says:

    You are pushing hard up against the Pareto law.

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      I have just looked up “Pareto Law”:

      I was puzzled at first but I guess you mean that 80% of the emissions reductions come from 20% of the causes.

      And having tackled them I am left with 80% of the things I do which only caused 20% of the emissions.

      So I guess your point is that it will become harder and harder to find ways to reduce emissions without making my whole life miserable for very little benefit!

      It’s a good point and I agree.

  2. Jessica Says:

    Welcome to the black tea club Michael! I was going to suggest it as we too couldn’t stand the alternatives. My husband also couldn’t be bothered with the milk club at work. I’m not sure the alternatives are much better in terms of carbon offsetting anyway – especially coconut milk!

  3. Jon Says:

    Michael, I follow your blog keenly and you generally speak a lot of sense. However, this talk of giving up cheese is too far. The planet will shrivel up and die before that’ll happen for me 😉

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:


      I know how you feel, I honestly do. It sort of surprises me that I can feel that strongly about fermented milk, but I do!

      But of course the problem is that the planet is shrivelling up and dying! I wish it were different.

      For the moment I am reconciled to just eating less cheese and trying to enjoy it more when I do!

      Best wishes


      • TheDuchess Says:

        Michael – you have gained another keen follower. I am enjoying reading your journey. Thank you for sharing.

        Regarding your milk musings – you may be interested to learn that most calculations use the US milk production norm of intensively reared barn housed dairy cattle where barns are of recent construction and all water for consumption is treated, potable water – often trucked in – and all sewerage outputs need to be processed and removed. Apparently this is how most milk is produced in the US.

        Luckily in the U.K. it is very normal for cattle to be raised outdoors, on carbon storing pasture fields, they drink water that falls from the sky and much of their output is recycled through the earth without any additional processing. Organically raised cattle with local distribution sales points can be the least carbon intensive option when compared to nut and plant milks.

        It requires a degree of socio-economic privilege, but purchasing locally produced, organic milk and dairy products including artisan cheese is compatible with a low carbon lifestyle.

        I also drink my Earl Grey black and have stopped buying large blocks of delicious cheddar and supermarket eggs and chicken. I still support my local organic dairy farm though.

        If all small dairy farmers went bust their pasture land would be ploughed for food production, releasing huge quantities of carbon into the atmosphere and requiring further intensive carbon inputs for alternative use. Britain doesn’t have the soil quality to switch to vegan farming just yet. Our large swathes of pasture land aren’t suitable for woodlands or arable crops and can only be used for raising grazing animals.

      • protonsforbreakfast Says:

        Dear TheDuchess, thank you for your kind comments.

        I am now pretty much converted to tea and coffee without milk – and I like it. It’s been more than a year now and I think this habit will stick. But when occasionally by mistake I am offered tea or coffee with milk I realise why people like it so much: it is delicious.

        I guess I use a little bit less butter and cheese – but I am a long way from eliminating these from my diet.

        What I take from your comment is this. Climate change is critically important, but so are other things. And as a proxy for CO2/CH4 emission measurements, if an activity is locally sustainable, then it is probably not too bad.

        Best wishes


  4. Ross Says:

    But what about the colonies? We’ll go broke. Every rural road has a cow or 500,000. What will we do? And the price the farmers are going to get this year in their payout per kg is about $9!! An un…herd…of return given the bottomed out price for the last 10 or more years. It’s not only methane from the burps that the rest of the country is up in arms about but the shitty creeks and rivers that are now normal across the country. So many irrigation systems have been put in that the water table is dropping way down. Woe woe woe.
    I was brought up on free school milk. But I do like my cheese. Speaking of but….what about good old NZ Creamery Butter? Are you chucking that too??? I dunno Mike….Bloody do gooder.

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:


      I do think of you!

      More seriously, I have enjoyed the association of dairy foods with my somewhat romantic vision of dairy farms. I really like the fact that butter some from cows milk – and nothing else – and just by churning it. It’s simple and taste’s better than any alternative. And it feels like a loss even though – as you point out – farming is not quite as ‘green’ as the grass it fertilises.

      I can’t imagine never eating cheese or butter: it tastes so good! But I think I can cut back dramatically – and just try to enjoy the small amounts more!

      Like I said, I never expected to be in this position. But I don’t know what else to do!

      Best wishes


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