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Milk Jiggers

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Since time immemorial, humans have needed milk for their tea1. Well, that or lemon juice - but, let's face it, that's just silly. However, the exact amount of milk for the perfect cup of tea - how do you gauge that?

It’s quite possibly an individual thing. But in a modern convenience-based society having a small, easily accessible amount of milk for your tea, in an equally small and conversely inaccessible plastic container with a foil top, is tantamount to the euphoria of actually having five minutes to yourself to enjoy said cup of tea.

So what should these little pots of milk be called? Enter quite possibly the single-most ridiculously named measure of volume: the 'jigger'.


As anyone who’s worked serving alcohol will tell you (or should be able to tell you - if not, don't ask them for anything more complex than a pint of bitter), a jigger is a measuring tool for dosing out shots of liquor.

These are shaped like an hourglass (or two egg cups joined together, one slightly smaller than the other). The name comes from the larger cup which measures out 1.5 fl oz (44ml) - a 'jigger'. The other, smaller cup measures out about 1 fl oz (30ml). There are different sized jiggers available, but all measure a larger amount and a smaller amount (for doubles or singles).

So, now that we have a name for a small measure of liquid, such as the amount of milk needed to turn a cup of tea from tasting like hot water with herbs in it into an ambrosia worthy of the gods, the second stage is putting this amount into a suitable receptacle.

A Spot of Milk

The average-sized milk jigger2 holds about a ½ ounce (14ml) of either fresh or UHT (Ultra-Heat Treatment) milk. This is available in a variety of forms: full-fat, half-fat, semi-skimmed, skimmed, lactose-free, gluten-free, nut-free, taste-free. The choice is yours.

Milk jiggers are commonly used by the hospitality industry (cafés, restaurants, hotels etc) to provide individual milk portions to patrons. Usually either dark-brown or white in colour, they have corrugated vertical sides leading to a lip at the top of the pot. Over this is a foil covering which can be peeled back to allow access to the liquid inside. That's the theory anyway.

All Jiggery-Pokery

Milk jiggers are notoriously difficult to open. At the underside of the foil top you can find a nub, which is a feeble excuse for a pouring lip. This can be bent, and the plastic 'cracked', so that you can then pull at the foil and peel it backwards to open the jigger - if you're lucky.

In most cases the plastic nub just comes off in your hand, leaving you with a little foil-topped pot which you can't get into. Piercing the foil lid with a fork (or another suitably sharp implement) may gain access to the milk. But if you want your milk any quicker than the steady drip of water from a stalactite, it's perhaps better to try to peel back the foil completely from the pot.

Besides simply forcing a digit through the foil, you can run either a fingernail or something else with a reasonably sharpish edge around the rim of the pot to loosen the foil. You should then be able to find a section that’s weaker than the rest where you can gently and slowly peel back the foil. Simple really.


It’s worth noting that if milk jiggers are left out of the fridge and in a hot place for too long the small amount of air contained in the pot can warm, leading to increased pressure inside the jigger. This is evident by light 'doming' of the foil top. Steer clear of jiggers displaying this doming, as upon opening they’re liable to explode in your face like a milk bomb.

Past Your Eyes

Milk jiggers can be found in a variety of places, but most commonly their empty and crushed remains are to be seen littered around boardrooms and meeting tables near listlessly placed dirty cups, used teabags and the hot water urn. Piles upon piles of them are discarded in a careless manner, dribbles of milk leaking from their spent shells. Train and aircraft seats can also hide an astonishing amount of discarded jiggers, the crevices home to them for weeks on end, with some even harnessing the ability to grow their own mould.

Milk Dud?

Milk poured from a jigger will generally glug slowly and feebly into your drink. This isn’t only to ensure none spills onto you, but to give you time to think about how utterly insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things.

Enjoy your tea.

1Or coffee.2Not to be confused with Mick Jagger - you wouldn't want to hazard a guess at his milk volume.

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