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The Perfect Cup Of Tea


The novelist George Orwell (famous for his political novels such as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four) was picky about his cups of tea and tried to lay down the law about how to make the perfect cup of tea. His landmark essay published in the Evening Standard in 1946 reignited the milk-in-first debate, led to research into the art or science of tea-making and aroused the ire of those who like to put sugar in their tea (Orwell derided adding sugar to tea “unless one is drinking it in the Russian style” – was he hinting that those who add sugar to tea are making pigs of themselves*?)

Tea is good for you. While it is a mild diuretic and stimulant, it contains tannins and antioxidants that are good for your heart. Green tea, in particular, is well known for its antioxidant properties. However, your ordinary cuppa is made from the same plant as green tea (Camellia sinensis) and the difference between black and green tea is the same difference as exists between raisins and grapes. According to Orwell, making the perfect cup of tea had eleven key points.

1. Orwell preferred Indian or Sri Lankan tea (he called it Ceylonese) over Chinese tea. This would have to be a matter of preference as well as budget. I dare say that Orwell, given his strong political views, would support Fair Trade tea.

2. The tea should be made in a small china teapot and not in a huge urn. The one drawback with this tip is that tea does stain china. To remove tea stains from china teapots, the pot should be cleaned out after every use. Cleaning a china teapot inside can be done by leaving denture tablets to soak in a teapot-full of boiling water for an hour or so, scrubbing gently inside with dishwashing liquid, or rubbing baking soda on the stains. Whichever method you use, remember to rinse and dry the teapot well to prevent any taint in the taste.

3. Warm the pot first. Although Orwell didn’t recommend swirling warm water around the inside of the pot to warm it, few of us today have a hob to warm it on, so swirling is the way to go.

4. Tea should be strong. This again is a matter of taste. The standard measure for making tea is one (teaspoon or bag – but see below) for every person plus one for the pot. The longer tea sits and brews, the stronger it tastes.

5. Orwell disliked using tea bags or “other devices to imprison the tea”, believing that the tea infused better if loose. The leaves, after all, can be swallowed. However, most people dislike the feeling of getting a mouthful of loose leaves and find tea bags easier from a cleaning up perspective. In days gone by, old damp tealeaves were used to help clean carpets (you shake the tealeaves on then brush them off – they pick up dust and fluff as they go), so using loose tea had other advantages.

6. Use fresh boiling water and pour this over the tea.

7. Stir or swirl the pot, or even shake it, then let the tealeaves settle to the bottom before pouring.

8. Use mugs rather than cups, as the standard teacups are wider and get cooler more quickly. However, the standard china teacups are usually prettier and more elegant, which is a consideration if you are hosting an old-fashioned tea party.

9. Use skim milk rather than cream (or, I suppose, homogenised milk). Many of us do this because of the fat content, but this is a matter of taste. Some prefer the creamier taste of full-fat homogenised milk in tea, as the creaminess makes a good counterpoint to the bitterness. Americans sometimes refer to taking “cream” in their tea or coffee – this isn’t what you think it is; they are merely referring to milk.

10. This is the controversial one: Orwell liked to put the milk in last. Research has gone into this topic and the conclusion is that milk should be added first. This is because pouring milk onto the boiling hot tea denatures the proteins in the milk and alters the flavour. Having the milk in first prevents this happening. Milk was originally added last because doing so proved that you are a real lady who could afford porcelain that didn’t crack when hot tea was poured in directly.

11. Orwell was against using sugar, claiming that you may as well add pepper. He was obviously not aware of Indian chai tea, which is flavoured with pepper, as well as other spices (and sugar!). Orwell sneered that tea should be bitter, like beer, but seemed to forget that beer does have a sweetish overtone mixed with the bitter thanks to the malt. Again, this is a matter of taste.

Orwell didn’t touch on the merits of using lemon, or of iced tea on a hot day. Iced tea is made by steeping tea in cold water for a lengthy time – some stand the jug of tealeaves and water in the fridge; some stand it in the sun. The flavour is more subtle and delicate. Serve without milk but with sugar (lemon is optional but very refreshing) and with ice cubes. To prevent the flavour being watered down, use ice cubes made from frozen tea.

Nick Vassilev is the founder of Anyclean, a successful cleaning company based in London, UK. His extensive knowledge about the cleaning industry helps him provide excellent cleaning services London and increased value for money to his clients.