George Orwell wrote what many still regard as the definitive guide to making a good cup of tea he laid out 11 basic principles, from warming the pot beforehand to stirring the leaves before pouring.
What he didn’t insist on was that the water, which Orwell said absolutely had to be at boiling point before being poured into the pot, should be boiled just the once.
But, on that point at least, it seems he was wrong. One of Britain’s leading tea experts has now said that the water used for making a cup of tea should never be boiled more than once.
William Gorman, chairman of the Tea and Infusions Association, warns that boiling the same water more than once removes the oxygen and nitrogen and results in a “dull” cuppa.
And, extraordinarily, Mr Gorman advocates something which – had they been invented – Orwell would surely have balked at; using a microwave to make tea.
Mr Gorman, whose organisation represents tea packers, brokers and importers, said: “Usually when people’s tea goes cold they reboil the kettle and make another cup. But doing this you are guaranteed to give yourself a dull cup of tea. You need freshly drawn water for a good cup because reboiling it takes out all the oxygen and nitrogen out of it.”
He added: “A better solution is to put it in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds. When you microwave tea all you’re doing is from a scientific point of view is just moving the molecules around and getting it back up to a decent temperature. It is not impacting the flavour at all.”
In his essay, A Nice Cup of Tea, first published in the London Evening Standard on 12 January 1946, Orwell stated that “the water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours”.
But he went on to state: “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.”
Orwell, who described tea as “one of the mainstays of civilization” in the British Isles, as well as Australia and New Zealand, went to say that the drink should always be made strong – using as many as six teaspoons for a large pot – and that it should be drunk without sugar so as to retain its characteristic bitterness.
More controversially he said the milk should be poured into the cup last, not first, though he conceded this was a longstanding bone of contention. “In every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject,” wrote Orwell.
“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.”
Now, more than 70 years on, Mr Gorman has come up with his own set of rules for making tea, bringing them up to date for the 21st Century. There is one person who will be thankful for Mr Gorman’s approval of the microwave as a perfectly acceptable implement for tea-making.