A Nice Cup Of Tea

22 Dec

By George Orwell
Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.

If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

* First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.

* Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.

* Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.

* Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.

* Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.

* Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.

* Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.

* Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.

* Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.

* Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

* Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

So what is your take on tea drinking, and preparation for that matter? Are you pedantic about it?

I love this list. I agree with it wholeheartedly. The most controversial point I have come across in my time is whether the milk should be poured into the cup before the tea or vica versa. I prefer tea first, then milk. In fact I have argued with people for hours about the issue that’s how strongly I feel about it.
I love strong tea, I never drink tea bag tea if I can help it. Even though I like it strong I still like lots of milk. And I prefer full-cream milk. Barambah organic is bestest.
I like a large mug of tea, the bigger the better. I prefer not to have to refill too often.

My every day tea tends to be Blue label Bushells tea. I also love vanilla with milk.
My latest craze is T2 Ginger Spice which is perfect for after-dinner.  Mmmm…
One of my friends personal blends is half blue label, half Earl Grey – for a perfect smooth every-day tea! It is very good.

What’s your favourite?  And what are you’re little tips?




5 Responses to “A Nice Cup Of Tea”

  1. Elle December 29, 2010 at 3:53 am #

    Has nobody else commented on this?

    I could write all day about tea. But I won’t as I am presently postponing my much-anticipated afternoon cup of Twinings Earl Grey in order to post this comment…

    (Really Captain Decibel, Bushells Blue Label??!! You’re letting down the tea connoisseurs here!)

    I would definitely agree with those 11 points, particularly that of making your tea strong, using tea leaves and still-boiling water. I would add that you MUST drink your tea out of a fine bone china cup. To drink out of a chunky mug is like drinking fine wine from a glass tumbler or eating soup with a wooden spoon!

    Now for that cup of tea and a freshly made vanilla cupcake…

    • captaindecibel December 29, 2010 at 4:21 am #

      Yes well before you judge please do try the Blue Label loose leaf tea. It really does cut the mustard in my view. One of my friends here, M, was telling me about some fabulous tea she recently bought at T2 – French Earl Grey. So I might need to take a trip there soon and pick up some more options for myself. Might pop the kettle on now for myself!

  2. Michell January 1, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    I have a lot to say about this post. However its 11:53 pm on New Years Eve.

    “I’m a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls” – Funny Girl

  3. Michelle February 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    I’m finally getting around to replying on this! I too believe in having a good strong cup of tea. Otherwise it tastes like dishwater to me. I like to taste my tea!
    I also like to put the milk in after the fact.

    Otherwise you could get the milk ratio wrong, resulting in an overly milky cup of tea. Better to pour the tea first, and slowly add milk to get the correct ratio.

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