It is a debate that has raged for years, if not centuries. How do you make a perfect cup of tea? It seems writer George Orwell took on this debate in 1946 with his essay “A Nice Cup of Tea”, which is still used today. And why shouldn’t it be? He did, after all, nail what the future would be like in his still-popular novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.
Some of the steps may seem a little dated but you can’t argue with the overall methods Orwell offers in his essay, he was obviously a tea lover who knew how to brew a cup of tea. Here are some of the steps Mr. Orwell lays out for us, with a bit of a modern twist that is sure to only improve your cup of tea.
When reading Orwell’s first tip you need to keep in mind that he wrote this, right after World War II, during a period of severe food rationing in England. He states:
“First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical…”
However, lucky for us, today we do not have to settle for teas that are available, there is a whole selection of premium teas to be found at fine tea retailers on the internet that offer blends pleasant to any palate.
“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…”
Here again, we don’t have to settle any one type of material for our teaware, nor do we have to deal with cauldrons, which really doesn’t sound appealing at all since they were probably used to wash socks in the morning.
“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.”
Several guides to making the perfect cup of tea claim that it is crucial to warm the pot before you boil the water for your tea. Never boil the water for your tea in a cold pot.
“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.”
This step, now more than ever, seems to be one of taste more than the actual requirement. We also need to take into consideration that when Orwell wrote this essay severe rations were in place throughout England and they didn’t have the wide variety of teas that we are lucky enough to have available to us.
“Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea.”
In many ways, this becomes a case of ease or necessity. If loose tea does make the best cup of tea, then sometimes this may need to be sacrificed because it is more convenient to use a tea bag because we do not always have the convenience of being in a place where we can easily use loose tea to make our brew. In cases like these, it is entirely okay to use a tea bag.
This step has also been questioned because many people believe that the tea should meet the boiling water only in the cup, not the teapot. However, everyone assumes that a very high boil should be used to brew the tea
“Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be 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.”
Everyone also believes in this step as well. After “warming the pot”, you should dump the water used and start out with fresh water to start the boil for your brew.
“Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.”
Well this could be a little messy, but hey who am I?
“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.”
Here Orwell is suggesting that you should always drink tea out of a large mug. I’m all for that the more the better.
“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.”
When was the last time you ever had to pour the cream off the milk before using it?
“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.”
This one also makes a lot of sense to me because we judge how much milk we want to add by how light the tea becomes as we are stirring it in. Otherwise, it is very possible to add more milk than you intended.
“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 tea lover 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.”
I personally have to agree with Mr. Orwell on this point. However, I’m not going to summon the other villagers to grab their torches and pitchforks and run the tea drinkers who prefer sugar out of the village.
Although it will be difficult not point at them and laugh. Tea is a drink that has an amazing flavor all its own. That flavor can be whatever you want it to be, it can be subtle and earthy, it can be fruity and it can even be bitter if you like. Don’t ruin it with sugar. Come on folks you wouldn’t add hot sauce to mom’s apple pie would you!?!
I hope you found these tips about making the perfect cuppa tea helpful. It only goes to prove, not only could George Orwell freak out generations of people with tales of our government watching us and offer an idea for an awesome reality show like “Big Brother”, but he also knew how to make a great cup of tea.
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