Tea in a mug with milk

I love tea. Unless it’s really hot out, I’ll start every day with a cup of Earl Grey tea with almond milk. Since I drink so much tea, I wanted to know how to make it properly. A Google search revealed a study by researchers at the University of Northumbria. After an extensive clinical trial, they released “the formula for making the perfect cup of tea for British taste buds.” 

I saw this and was very excited. At last, I would learn the secret formula that England has jealously guarded throughout the ages. At last, I, too, would be able to make a cup of tea like William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill and Dame Judi Dench!

The formula for the perfect cup of British tea is…TB + (H2O @100°c) 2minsBT + C(10ml) 6minsBT = PC (@ OT60°c)

Okay, admit it: when you saw the numbers, your eyes glazed over and you scanned the rest of the sentence without reading it. But what the heck does this formula mean? Translating milliliters to ounces, Celsius to Fahrenheit, and taking all the scientific mystery out - it all (if you’ll pardon the pun) boils down to this:

Put a tea bag in a mug, add 6.76oz of freshly boiled water and allow the teabag to brew for two minutes.

Remove the tea bag and (if you are British, because apparently 98% of them prefer milk in their tea and the study was sponsored by a milk company) add .33oz of milk.

Wait six minutes before you drink for the “cuppa” to reach the optimum temperature of 140°F.

I have to say that I felt more than a little disappointed by this study. I had visions of swirling loose tea leaves and hot water clockwise and counter-clockwise a prescribed number of times in brown earthenware teapots with little knit cozies on them. Or elegantly stirring precious leaves in delicate china teapots and pouring the elixir through expensive silver tea strainers from Harrods. Not tossing a bag into a mug, because that’s how I make my tea, although I usually forget to remove the bag (see picture above. I even do it at restaurants).

Unsatisfied, I went back to Google and found that no less a personage than author George Orwell once published an essay on the subject. Here’s how to make a cup of tea, according to George Orwell:

Use Indian or Ceylonese tea, and only brew small quantities in a china or earthenware pot that has been warmed beforehand.

You want the tea to be strong, so use loose leaves – no bags for Orwell!

Bring the teapot to the kettle and make sure the water is boiling “at the moment of impact.”

Stir the tea in the pot and pour into a “good breakfast cup – that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type.”

If using milk, “pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea” (this was 1946, after all, when milk was still delivered to your home in bottles and the cream floated to the top). Orwell suggested pouring the tea into the cup first, then adding the milk, although he admitted that “this is one of the most controversial points of all.”

And, finally, Orwell insisted that sugar not be used.

Although George Orwell’s instructions sound very refined and proper and the U. of Northumbria’s study is very scientific, when I trudge into the kitchen, bleary-eyed and half-awake in the morning, I’m not pre-warming a teapot or getting out a thermometer to see if the tea is 140°F. I’m throwing a bag into a mug and splashing in an unmeasured quantity of almond milk, even if it does make me feel like a barbarian.



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