GEORGE ORWELL: 11 rules for a nice cup of tea

Should you add tea decoction to milk or should you add milk to the decoction before you serve? It’s an endless debate and George Orwell (born in Motihari, Bihar) controversially gave the first theory some legitimacy 60 years ago in an landmark essay for the London Evening Standard.

Last year, the Royal Chemical Society of Britain, after years of “research”, said Orwell was wrong—you should add milk to tea, but the 11-point recipe for making a nice cup of tea is a classic piece of writing by a political polemicist otherwise famous for 1984 and Animal Farm.

***

A NICE CUP OF TEA

By George Orwell

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 becase tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation 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 11 outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial.

Here are my own 11 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 uses 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 Britannia-ware pots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse: though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.

Thirdly, a 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 ideal that can be realised on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than 20 weak ones. All true-lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes—a fact which is recognised in the extra ration issued to old age pensioners.

Fifthy, 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 this makes any difference.

Seventhly, after making he 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 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 ther are 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 then 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 tea-lover if you destroy hte 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 the 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 you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

First published in the Evening Standard, London, on 12 January 1946. Excerpted from Essays by George Orwell, Everyman’s Library, 2002

Advertisements

1 Comment »

  1. Sonarman said

    Actually, I believe the Royal Society of Chemistry concluded that tea should be added to milk.

    http://www.rsc.org/pdf/pressoffice/2003/tea.pdf

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: