How to Make Tea

Everybody has their own theory on how to make the perfect cup of tea. Below you’ll find the opinions—some based on science, some based on experience—of five of Anglonerd magazine’s favorite people.

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jonrichardson3Jon Richardson is a standup comedian. His memoir, It’s Not Me, It’s You!, details a week in the life of being a little bit OCD and resigned to the fact that he’ll never get a serious girlfriend. (Richardson has since gotten married.) @RonJichardson


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“Some hot water goes in first to warm the mug, then is tipped out before milk and tea bag go in together with one sugar and fill to the top [with water]. Leave for a minute, stir thoroughly, then drink. Some people get very angry about my putting the milk in with the tea bag before the water, but a scientist once told me that the resulting liquid then forms an emulsion rather than a mixture which coats the tongue more evenly with flavour.”

(It’s Not Me, It’s You!, p. 124)

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davegormanDave Gorman is a standup comedian and writer. He is the host of Modern Life is Goodish, a Powerpoint standup TV series that has been so far commissioned through season 5.  @DaveGorman


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“In glass one there is boiling water. Above glass one, there is a tea bag. In glass two there is a tea bag. Above glass two there is boiling water. Let’s see what happens when we combine the same ingredients but in two different orders. As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, in one of these glasses we have made tea, and another one of these glasses, we have made not tea, or as we scientists call it, piss.”

(Modern Life is Goodish)

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charliemcdonnellCharlie McDonnell was the first vlogger in the UK to get over a million subscribers and currently has more than 2 million. He is also a musician and the author of Fun Science (October 2016, Quadrille). @charlieissocoollike


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“First, take your kettle and fill it with water. Then plug the kettle into the plug and boil the water. While the kettle is boiling, prepare the cup for tea bagging. Take the mug, remove the spoon, and insert one teabag into the mug. If you wish to have sugar in your tea, insert the sugar at this point. I have a sweet tooth so I prefer two sugars in my tea. Now the cup is ready for the water, so we will wait for the water to boil. It’s ready! Take your kettle with boiling water, poor the water into the cup, then we stir. Ten take the teabag and press it against the side of the cup and remove the teabag. Now the tea is ready for the milk. I like my tea quite milky. Once again, stir the tea. You must stir the tea quite a lot to make sure that the sugar is dissolved and that the infusion of the tea leaves combine with the water. And now the tea is ready to drink.”

(How to be English)

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mattparkerMatt Parker is a standup comic and mathematics popularizer. He is a member of Festival of the Spoken Nerd and the author of Things to Make & Do in the Fourth Dimension.  @standupmaths


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“As they radiate heat, hot objects cool down faster than cold objects, and due to a quirk of maths, it does not depend directly on the temperature of your tea but rather the temperature times the temperature…times the temperature…times the temperature…It’s the fourth power of the temperature, which means a slight change in how hot your drink is makes a big difference to how fast it cools down. If you compare tea at 80 degrees [Celsius] to tea at 100 degrees, which a Starbucks will do for you if you claim it’s for science, the 100 degree beverage loses heat one and a half times faster. So, get your milk in quick.”

(Domestic Science on BBC Radio)

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douglasadamsDouglas Adams (1952-2001) was a humorous satire and science fiction writer, best known for writing The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The Salmon Of Doubt is a posthumous collection of his essays. If you buy it here, you’ll help fund Anglonerd, but the audio edition is narrated by Simon Jones.


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“One or two Americans have asked me why it is that the English like tea so much, which never seems to them to be a very good drink. To understand, you have to know how to make it properly.

“There is a very simple principle to the making of tea and it’s this—to get the proper flavour of tea, the water has to be boiling (not boiled) when it hits the tea leaves. That’s why we English have these odd rituals, such as warming the teapot first (so as not to cause the boiling water to cool down too fast as it hits the pot). And that’s why the American habit of bringing a teacup, a tea bag and a pot of hot water to the table is merely the perfect way of making a thin, pale, watery cup of tea that nobody in their right mind would want to drink. The Americans are all mystified about why the English make such a big thing out of tea because most Americans have never had a good cup of tea. That’s why they don’t understand. In fact the truth of the matter is that most English people don’t know how to make tea any more either, and most people drink cheap instant coffee instead, which is a pity, and gives Americans the impression that the English are just generally clueless about hot stimulants.

“So the best advice I can give to an American arriving in England is this. Go to Marks and Spencer and buy a packet of Earl Grey tea. Go back to where you’re staying and boil a kettle of water. While it is coming to the boil, open the sealed packet and sniff. Careful—you may feel a bit dizzy, but this is in fact perfectly legal. When the kettle has boiled, pour a little of it into a tea pot, swirl it around and tip it out again. Put a couple (or three, depending on the size of the pot) of tea bags into the pot (If I was really trying to lead you into the paths of righteousness I would tell you to use free leaves rather than bags, but let’s just take this in easy stages). Bring the kettle back up to the boil, and then pour the boiling water as quickly as you can into the pot. Let it stand for two or three minutes, and then pour it into a cup. Some people will tell you that you shouldn’t have milk with Earl Grey, just a slice of lemon. Screw them. I like it with milk. If you think you will like it with milk then it’s probably best to put some milk into the bottom of the cup before you pour in the tea.* If you pour milk into a cup of hot tea you will scald the milk. If you think you will prefer it with a slice of lemon then, well, add a slice of lemon.

“Drink it. After a few moments you will begin to think that the place you’ve come to isn’t maybe quite so strange and crazy after all.

“*This is socially incorrect. The socially correct way of pouring tea is to put the milk in after the tea. Social correctness has traditionally had nothing whatever to do with reason, logic or physics. In fact, in England it is generally considered socially incorrect to know stuff or think about things. It’s worth bearing this in mind when visiting.”

(The Salmon of Doubt)

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NELSON NOVEN IS ANGLONERD MAGAZINE’S SCIENCE AND CULTURE CORRESPONDENT.
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