Friday, October 12, 2007

A Nice Cup of Tea

Recently I found this article by George Orwell regarding the perfect cup of tea. Being a novice myself in the art of tea-drinking I was floored. Geez Louise, there's a lot of steps according to his standards. My mom and dad are coffee drinkers. But in the middle of the winter, occasionally, they would surprise us kids and ask for tea in the evening. My dad would call either me or my sister downstairs and ask us to make "Bags of teaness, threeness." That meant simply take a kettle of boiling water and add 3 Lipton tea bags. Their tea, like their coffee, called for sugar and milk. I think that old George would have a stroke! That was the extent of their tea prowess. I never liked tea. I didn't know any better. Good tea doesn't come in a Lipton bag. I was first reintroduced to Chai tea by a previous coworker. I have to admit, I do love a cup of Chai. I know that die-hard tea drinkers reading this are probably cringing in agony over the thought. But I love it. I'm also now a big fan of Earl Grey. And his female counter-part Lady Grey. We have bags and loose tea. But we use an infuser in this house. Again, George is rolling in his grave, I'm sure. Well actually I'm not sure, because I don't even know if he has passed away. Given the date of the article and his picture, I am assuming he has. ANYWAY, I found the article, realized that I am completely inept at the art of tea drinking and thought I would share it with you. It's pretty long but worth reading. Are you a novice, expert or somewhere in between?

A Nice Cup of Tea

By George Orwell

Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.

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 because tea is one of the main stays of civilization 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 eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven 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 has used 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 Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  • 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.
  • 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 idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • Fifthly, 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 it makes any difference.
  • Seventhly, after making the 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 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 tealover 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.

    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 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 that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

(taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)


Kristen said...

HI Julie, Well I have it all wrong. :) I love to have a cup of tea, usually made by my daughter. She has enjoyed making it for the family since she was about six years old. Quite the little hostess! I love just about every tea, but there is no etiquette involved. Just a country tea drinker I guess. :) Love the post! Oh, I have the knitting tutorial up now. Sorry it took so long. I had blogger issues.

Mary said...

Hi Julie, Well, we all know that I don't take direction well (LOL) so I guess those rules are lost on me! Besides, my cup of choice at the moment is Cranberry Apple Zinger with lots of sugar.

I loved your lesson to your boys -- "just be honorable men." That says it all.

lori said...

On the way out for the day to co-op classes and the coffee did not get I poured a cup of Tazo Chai tea for the road...
I swear! How timely..not a big tea person either, I try...but I am a die hard black coffee kind of gal...
but you know as I age...I probably should refine myself a bit...HA!!:) YEAH, RIGHT!!
I'll keep trying!!

NOW COLD, UNSWEET TEA...a NO~NO in the south...(UNSWEET TEA is a BAD Word:)) BUT, that's my kind of tea!!

have a great one...just had to stop by before I left and glad I did!!

Anita said...

Well, I seem to follow the rules fairly well, seeing as how I never knew Nothing is better than a hot cup of tea, although I still have coffee in the morning (I grind the beans fresh every morning!)

The other day you had a post about dream houses, and i said I would have to find mine... My friend Heidi found it for me, it Canada! Check it out: (It's the little red one - she is going to post more interior pictures next week)

mayberry said...

The only tea I drink (and I blame it on my southern heritage) is cold iced tea (sans lemon most of the time) and I have actually taken to drinking unsweet tea (almost unheard of in the south!)since the beginning of the summer and adding my own sweet n low.

Hot tea just seems wrong to me! =)

Terri and Bob said...

GEORGE ORWELL???? No kidding? This is one cool article!

Janet said...

Hey Julie,

Just wanted to stop by and thank you so much for your kind words this past week at Joy's blog and mine... it really is very much appreciated to know that there are others who can relate and sympathize!


Cottage by the River said...

I hate to say but I am not a tea drinker. Just iced tea unsweetened. My co worker cannot start her day without hot tea. She always slips by my office the same time every day. Hope you have great weekend.


Cre8Tiva said...

well, i have never been to proper...and these directions would turn me inside out...but i like tea straight, no sugar or milk...and i prefer red is supposed to be better for you than green tea...i have a silver teapot set that i like to use...i do drink out of a good china cup dear irish freind taught me...i say whatever make you happy...

From the Doghouse said...

If you had asked me to pick an author who would be such a picky and prodigious tea person, I would have never selected Mr. Big Brother and Animal Farm!

I'm definitely a tea drinker, of all kinds. I want it done right, but I'm sure not as selective as Mr. Orwell was.

Sandi said...

Good grief that's complicated! Wow.
I do like tea, though, but mostly green tea, cold. Earl Gray is in third place, closely behind good old-fashioned iced tea (which we Mississippians are famous for).

Thanks for posting this, Julie!

Rosemary said...

Hi Julie,
I am a coffee drinker, except every night I have a cup of tea.
I love it. I buy it at the English shop.
Thanks for sharing with us.

Esther Sunday said...

Oh, man. I know all about this stuff!!!! Dad is from Wales and mother from Scotland. I grew up drinking tea. Tea solved all problems. And, it was "a nice cuppa tea". To this day, I have never been able to make tea, or drank any as good, as what my wee Scottish mother makes. Along with a piece of the Scottish shortbread - heaven on earth!

Kimmie said...

Wow, that is a lot of tea knowledge...

I have been blessed with a visit to Harrods in London for tea (very tea-ish) and to The 4 Seasons Hotel in Boston for High Tea.

I love the formality of British tea~all the fuss and the femininity.
Tea here is much simpler, 6 children, some homemade scones, some cucumber sandwiches...laughter, seconds, but never gloves.

mama to 6
one homemade and 5 adopted

Alice said...

Good ole George complained about people using sugar but he used milk. Bleeeeck! He's on target for most of the other advice except for not liking tea from China. Since tea originated in China, it is odd he was so critical. So long as you use normal table manners, you won't be out of place at a tea. Don't be intimidated by it!

Kari & Kijsa said...

Oh we love tea! hot tea, iced tea, tea after drinking too much diet coke!! Loved learning about his perspective on it! Thanks for sharing
kari & kijsa

Melissa @ The Inspired Room said...

I love a tea party. And those tea houses where you get all the little treats and sandwiches!

Good times can be had over tea!

Kim ~ "HomeIsWhereTheHeartIs" said...

Wow, I guess I've been in the dark. I, like Kristen, am just a country tea drinker!

Bethany Hissong said...

Honestly I only read what you had to say because I think if I'm enjoying it my way, why change?? (Now I sound like an old dog, huh?!!) My mom always put a pot of tea on the dinner table and will make it every morning too. We had to drink our milk first, then we could have some tea. I don't know why I didn't continue that tradition, but when it gets cold out, I occasionally remember to put the kettle on and it is so comforting!

Dena ~ swaddlecottage said...

What an interesting article Miss Julie :) I must admit that I love them both fairly equally, but nothing takes the place of a good strong cup of coffee in the morning for me!


rosemary said...

Umm, I drink tea with Chinese tea....but I do use sugar. I'm a ruleless person I guess. BTW, I totally skipped the cookie part of the previous post. I am so craving chocolate I might have licked my computer screen.

BittersweetPunkin said...

The only kind of tea I like is Chai...usually made by a Barista at Starbucks!

justabeachkat said...

Nice post....I learned alot. I rarely drink hot tea, mostly diet coke and coffee though.


FarmHouse Style said...

I wonder what George would say about my favorite way to take tea...Ice cold and sweet enough to pour like syrup:)


Counting Your Blessings said...

Sophiehoneysuckle sent me a box of wonderful tea. I scarcely get any as my oldest son keeps drinking it all. For being a victorian-kinda gal, I've never been good with etiquette. It's that tomboy thing again =) Tea, however, love it! Blessings... Polly

joan said...

Hi Julie,
My sister is a big tea drinker and I'll send her this post. I am a big time coffee lover, the stronger the better for me.

BellaColle said...

Ahh..tea. Asian cultures embrace it, the English love it too! Have we Americans missed out on the art of taking tea? When 'Make Mine Pink' had their virtual tea party it really got me thinking of the refinement and loveliness of taking time out to have a cup of tea! Thank you for reminding us! =)

restyled home said...

To be honest Julie, I skipped the article because I think I have the best cup of tea possible...Tetley tea in a mug...with milk and a tiny bit of sugar. Oh, and it's even better with a Digestive cookie or piece of shortbread!!
That, to me, is perfection!!!

Great post!

Back Through Time said...

I really liked your post! I drink all sorts of hot tea. My grandmother raised me on Constant Comment. Herbal tea after 6 tho!

hollyberry said...

Thanks for the great tea article. I have enjoyed loose teas for years and have recently found a wonderful site for loose tea -
I think you break the teabag habit and switch to loose tea; the flavor is just so much better.

Emilie said...

I put ice in my tea, so I guess I'm doing it all wrong. What can I say, I like coffee.
Interesting article...

Emilie said...

Man, I'm always like, #32 to post a comment on your site. I think I sleep in too much.

Susie Q said...

I loved this post Julie! I am new here and have so enjoyed reading everything and seeing all your pictures...getting to know you!

This was a great article!

Well, I enjoy a good, hot cuppa but doubt I would be a good guest at a royal family tea party!

I found my way here via Mary and Terri and Rosemary and Kat and...well, lets' just say we should get to know one another as our names keep bumping into one another!

I will be back!!