One teaspoon or two? Hot milk or cold? And why is it even called Milo? Kim Knight on our first hot drink.
Before cans, there were tins. Before we fizzed and popped, we scooped. After school tasted like a sweet secret. Mum and Dad both worked late and a latchkey generation smoked cigarettes, siphoned vodka - and ate Milo by the illicit spoonful.
We were in-between and it was our malt-chocolate security blanket. One day, we would drink coffee but in the interim, during the transition, we would assert our independence by stealing Milo and refusing to mix it with milk or boiling water.
Milo was a gateway to adulthood. Our first hot drink in a proper cup. Eventually, we would debate the relative merits of a Chemex pour-over versus a French Press plunger but before coffee, we had a large, milky mug with a teaspoon to retrieve the crunchy bits.
Remember the jingle? M-I-L-O! The drink for jumping Jacks and netball Jills that was once considered so medicinal it was sold by chemists. Back then, it was a "fortified health food".
Northern Advocate, 1944: "Milo is milk, malt and cereals combined in a delicious tonic drink and fortified by the addition of Vitamins A, B and D, Organic Phosphorus and Mineral Salts, to feed the nerve cells and build vitality."
Gisborne Herald, 1946: "The perfect bedtime health drink."
Evening Star, 1947: "Taken regularly, it will also help to build up resistance to colds and other winter ailments."
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New Zealand Herald, 2018: "Nestle removes Milo powder's 4.5 health-star rating."
In the early 1980s, at Barrytown Primary, Sharon and I were in charge of morning tea Milo for the entire school. We were 12. On the cusp. Responsible enough to boil the Zip, female enough to play mother. Our classmates were called Rainbow and Balthazar and Toro and our cups were hand-glazed and kiln-fired. There was a lot of wholemeal bread and wheat germ at lunchtime. Milo was the strangely orthodox exception - a drink for Girl Guide gatherings or houses with televisions and parents who said, "Shush, I'm watching the weather."
Milo was safe, normal, reassuring. It had always been there. It would always be there. In fact, that Kermit-green tin with the sporty semiotics first came from Australia in 1935. Five years later, it was produced in a factory in Invercargill. Now, on its 85th birthday, it gets the ultimate stamp of NZ-ubiquity - a limited edition Dick Frizzell label.
The new tins tell the old story: Milo is action-adjacent, a drink for rope swingers, wharf jumpers and rugby players. Milo is for athletes because, it turns out, Milo was an athlete. A sixth-century Greek wrestler who carried a bull on his shoulders and then killed it with a single punch. Sadly, Milo died when his hands got stuck in a tree and he was eaten by a pack of wolves and/or a lion. The story of Milo is not as benign as you might imagine.