How to brew the perfect cup of tea, according to the scientists
Few subjects are more divisive than the correct brewing of tea, which remains our national drink: the British drink 165 million cups of the stuff each day, over 60 billion in a year.
There are many ways to achieve the perfect cup, which are much argued over. Everyone has a slightly different method, whether it’s pouring the milk in first or at the end, adding sugar or not, or how long to brew it for. As George Orwell wrote in 1946, “the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.”
Now scientists think they have found the perfect method, and it involves a five-minute brew — not a second more or less — and drinking from a red or pink mug.
During the first episode of the new season of Inside the Factory, which aired on BBC Two last night, Dr Stuart Farrimond, an expert tea maker, told presenter Cherry Healey how to brew the perfect cup.
According to Dr Farrimond, the longer a tea is brewed for, the higher its caffeine and antioxidant content. A tea brewed for 30 seconds contained 35 milligrams of caffe- George Orwell, ine, while a five-minute brew increased the figure to 50 milligrams. Leaving the teabag in for the same period also doubled the antioxidant level.
“Tea is a great source of antioxidants and these are natural substances that our body uses to help fight disease so it is important you leave it to brew”, says Dr Farrimond.
Dr Farrimond cited four golden rules of tea. They are:
Never drink from a Styrofoam cup, which absorbs the flavour.
Use a red or pink mug, which makes the drink taste sweeter.
Filter the water, which removes calcium and magnesium residue, preventing scum from forming. With so many tea-brewing methods, what do other experts say?
1946: The 11 points from his 1946 essay
In 2011 a study at the University of Northumbria found that it took eight minutes to make a proper tea. After eight minutes, the tea’s temperature drops to 60C, the right heat to experience all the flavours at their most palatable.
The method involves adding boiling water to a teabag in a mug for two minutes before removing the bag and adding milk for six minutes. But the researchers stressed it was crucial not to wait too long, 17 and a half minutes to be exact, as the tea will drop to 45C, which will damage the flavour.
The 11-rule guide
Author George Orwell was a tea obsessive. In January 1946, Britain still reeling from the war, he published an 11-step guide to brewing the perfect comfort drink in the Evening Standard.
He insisted on taking the teapot to the kettle rather than the other way around, and encouraged teadrinkers to avoid sugar, which destroyed the drink’s flavour. “You could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water”, he quipped.
And what of the divisive tea or milk first debate? Tea was always first for Orwell. “I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable.”
The Yorkshire Tea method
Yorkshire folk often claim to being the best tea brewers in the land. So how do they do it?
According to Yorkshire Tea, it’s fairly simple. The first step is running the tap, to aerate it and allow more oxygen to get in. After popping a teabag into your mug, add the boiling water and stir it briefly. Four to five minutes is the recommended wait time. The teabag should be squeezed, lightly, before removal.
Afterwards, it’s up to you whether to add sugar, milk, honey or lemon.
Like Orwell, Yorkshire Tea supports the tea-before-milk method. Tea is best brewed in hot water, and the milk only serves to cool it down unnecessarily if added before the drink is properly brewed.
First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea.
Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot.
Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. Fourthly, the tea should be strong. Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot.
Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about.
Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it.
Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup.
Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea.
Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first.
Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar.
The classic method
If tea cosies, porcelain cups and loose-leaf tea are your preference, you’ ll find the perfect method on Jamie Oliver’s website.
It involves making your own teabag, by adding loose leaf tea to empty bags. Precision is key when boiling the water, and the recipe recommends keeping the temperature at exactly 96C.
After brewing your tea in a pot, covered by the tea cosy of course, the teabag should be removed, to prevent the tea becoming overly bitter. No stirring or squeezing is suggested in this method.
As for the tea cup, it has to be porcelain.
UCL’s 4 step points
Use loose leaf tea Use soft or filtered water Use boiling water for black tea Let it brew for up to eight minutes