Orwellian tea injunctions

George Orwell’s 1946 essay A Nice Cup of Tea is a rationing-era masterpiece of beverage geekery. Orwell sets out 11 iron-clad principles of tea-brewing (four of which he considers "“acutely controversial”), including an injunction against teabags or “other devices to imprison the tea” (“one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect”). My British… READ THE REST

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.

Hear hear!

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.

hear, hear. I’m not the connoisseur Orwell is, though. Nor British. I put my milk in first and violate all the other rules in the most plebian manner, but the sugar thing is true of both tea and coffee. Don’t get me started on all these craft beers with fruit and what-have-you.

EDIT: ugh. i’m not a copycat, I was ninja’d


Fruit beer has its place. On a hot day, a good Kriek is hard to beat.

Or, when you refer to ‘craft beer’, are you speaking of anything other than pisswater lager?

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Interesting, I shall have to try this.

Up until now, I’ve been using the Proudhon method, which involves shoplifting the tea from the local Bourgeoisie. Because apparently, proper tea is theft.


Pah. All such rules are completely flexible if that is how you like your tea.

I will not object to anyone else’s predilection for five sugars, using condensed milk, or using lemon.- so long as they let me drink mine as I like. Which is as follows:

  1. Eric has it right with boiling hot water, chinaware and loose tea as opposed to bags. You are trying to extract flavour from the leaves. This means that boiling water is a must to get the full combination of flavours out. Chinaware is excellent, as it does not interact with the tea at all. Borosilicate glass would also do the same job, but you’re not in the lab, you’re making tea. and loose tea is fiddly, but is to be preferred, as bags tend to be filled with poor quality tea. This is less of a problem now, when almost all tea is bagged, but years ago, bags were filled with off-cuts, stems and tea dust- making for a most unsatisfying cup.

  2. I take my tea without milk or sugar. This means that I will brew it for a shorter time and to a lighter hue than others. If you drink tea without milk, a cup brewed to Orwell strength would be so thick with tannin, it would only be useful for resurfacing roads. In my case, the opposite of his rules apply. Chinese teas for preference, or an earl grey blend, brewed to a light caramel colour. And before you ask, caffeine is very soluble, so this doesn’t mean the tea is weak.

  3. Why am I not drinking it yet? I don’t take milk, so I have to leave it to cool for a bit. if you don’t add milk, then a fresh cup of tea is still boiling hot. I’ll get to it when I’m ready. And yes,it is still drinkable when it is stone cold.

  4. I happen to live in an area blessed with very soft water. Those of you who have hard water will notice that tea forms dark deposits. Either milk or lemon will eliminate these, which is probably why people started adding them in the first place. I don’t need to do either.

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Love it, except for the “no sugar” rule. Sorry purists, but strong tea with whole milk + one teaspoon of sugar in a big mug is what does it for me.


took me a minute

Of course, if you’re a green tea drinker, these rules don’t apply. 160 to 170 degrees F is infinitely preferable to boiling - you’d scorch the poor tender little leaves.


You’ll be needing one of these then.

Although if you are going to ingest tea leaves you may wanna be careful where they come from…http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/whats-in-your-green-tea/

These tea and coffee posts always remind me of wine connoisseurs. The ones who go on and on about delicate details but can’t tell the difference between expensive and cheap, or red wine and white wine with food coloring in blind tests. I’ve given up my aristocratic ways. Now I’m squeezing my second-time-used tea bag into my mug of microwaved water and I’m happy.

Agreed, spejic. Is it my imagination, or does this occur most ironically amongst university professors?

My favorite tea? 1/2 Earl Grey and 1/2 Constant Comment with two sugars, cold.

I also love my dark chocolate cake baked using mint tea instead of coffee. It’s a delicious slice of chocolate mint heaven.

The best tea is made by indentured servants. You can test the quality of the tea by taking a sip. If it’s of poor quality, immediately spit it into the face of whichever plebe made it. Then have the scoundrel soundly beaten for their impudence. Then have another minion make another cup of tea. Hopefully this one will be better, but if it’s not, repeat the process.


Fortunately, you can use a terracotta peeing boy (or pig, etc.) to make sure the temperature is right.

Each to their own certainly.
My own two cents would be;
If you live in a hard water area, it’s best to leave the boiled water to settle for a bit, so all the leached limescale sinks to the bottom of the kettle before pouring.
I then pour from a good height, to oxygenate the water a bit. (Not sure it makes a difference, just become a habit).

I’d like to expand just a little on my comment about green tea.

Green tea should indeed be exposed to lower temperatures than the black teas Mr. Orwell was accustomed to drinking. If you develop the kind of addictive love for your green tea ritual that I have, there are electric kettles that allow you accurate and dependable control over your water temperature. I use this one:

It holds enough water to fill my Bodum coffee press, and a second teapot for a fellow tea-drinking co-worker. We’ll often set the kettle for 160F, fill his teapot, than switch to 170F for my genmaicha blend, which responds well to the slightly higher temperature.

Like Mr. Orwell, I’m a big believer in using loose tea leaves. The coffee press I use for tea does an excellent job of filtering out the leaves, and halting the steeping process - you just push the plunger all the way down, which quite effectively isolates the leaves from the rest of the water in the press. And the vertical shape of the press does a great job of keeping the tea hot for a good, long time. Here’s the one I use -


Only high-quality, inert non-absorbant glass and metal come in contact with the tea, and the leaves are free to swim around in the entire press until you hit the plunger - not trapped in a small strainer. I’ve been using the same pair at work and home for over a dozen years, so they’re reliable, and a great investment.

Jim Campbell pointed out a recent New York Times article concerning the amount of lead being found in some Chinese teas. It’s sad and more than a little frightening that this is a genuine and serious problem, especially if you’re drinking two liters daily over periods of many years, as I have. I drink Japanese green teas, and have settled on a couple sources for my favorite teas - sources I trust to be even more manic than I am about the quality and safety of their tea.

At the risk of sounding like a plant, the best genmaicha I’ve ever found comes from Mighty Leaf, which they sell under the name Kyoto Rice. I mention it as a “thank you” - I’ve been drinking their tea for over 16 years. And while genmaicha isn’t for everyone, for those who love it, there’s nothing better.

One last point… green tea’s flavors are (in general) more subtle and nuanced than black teas. I believe they are best enjoyed without adding sugar/honey or milk. I’m not going to be a tea Nazi about it, but if you’re new to green tea, why not give it a try straight; I think you’ll enjoy it. And please be careful about the quality of water you use; this is one case where bottled or at least filtered water makes all the difference, especially if your tap water leaves something to be desired. Enjoy!

Or if you live in the American South the tea is so strong it pulls itself out of the jug and goes and finds its own sugar…(or at least that’s how I make it.)

I realize this is proper tea and what I drink is not, but I will say a lot of it is spot on. I do find that boiling water creates a more astringent, sharp taste, but that is entirely likely the type of tea that is used to make sweet tea vs. a cup of tea. (The cold water over night method works excellent for making a smooth glass of tea.)

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Same her, except semi-skimmed for me. I find whole milk overwhelms the brew. Still, each to their own.

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Oh yeah…sweet tea (a kind of iced tea found in the South) is a whole, nuther animal. Sugar is stirred into the tea while it’s still hot from brewing in order to supersaturate it. I’m a Southerner whose family goes all the way back to Colonial Jamestown, and most sweet tea is too sweet for me. I usually cut it half-and-half with non-sweet iced tea.