These two things do go together, sort of. Like this HK style french toast (two slices of deep fried white bread with peanut butter in the middle) and lemon tea.
I normally don’t drink my tea with any sort of sugar, as you can probably imagine. But sometimes I’m reminded why so many people do – it really softens the tannins in the tea, and tannins in tea, when it’s strong, can be pretty nasty.
The point was driven home while I was in Turkey, which, to my surprise, is mostly a tea drinking country, despite the fame of its coffee tradition. Tea was cheaper, and drunk far more often, than coffee. The preferred tea is samovar style – super concentrated concoction watered down. This process makes sense especially in settings where you need to make a lot of tea quickly – you make as strong a brew as possible, without regard for how it tastes, and then you water it down so that it’s more palatable. That’s how tea is made in Hong Kong too in most places – the tea is made super strong, with repeated boilings of leaves with water, and then you finally water it down to the desired strength.
The watering down, however, is also where things go wrong – usually when it’s still too strong when watered down. While in Turkey I sometimes would add a cube of sugar (two always comes with your cup) because they made the tea too strong. While that can be nice, sometimes, when it’s overly strong, it can be pretty unpalatable, since the tea itself isn’t much to write home about. Adding that sugar, however, magically transforms it into a much softer, gentler drink – the tannins are gone. What was a pretty strong and pretty harsh drink is now quite nice, and with one cube, you still only barely taste the sweetness. This is especially true if you then wash it down with some baklavas – or maybe it’s the other way around.
Cream, of course, has a similar effect, but cream influences the way tea tastes far more than sugar does. A small amount of sugar has a fairly neutral effect on the taste, but a small amount of cream is just nasty, making your tea look like sewage, while a large amount will of course change everything. I’m not about to dunk two cubes of sugar in all my tea every day, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded of why most of the rest of the tea drinking public love their sugar with tea.