Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How to make the perfect cup of tea

Even back in 1946, the ‘rules’ for a perfect cup of tea were being debated. The author George Orwell was concerned enough with how to come up with the ideal version of the beverage that he was moved to pen a list of no less than 11 hard and fast rules for brewing up.

He reckoned that the issue of how to make a good cuppa mattered such a great deal to so many people around the world that it had the potential to cause ‘violent disputes.’ I tend toward liking the idea that people in war-torn countries across the land could still find time to care enough about the preparation of a good cup of tea to the extent that it could lead to violence.

Similarly, I’m moved and somewhat comforted by the knowledge that amid his political writings, social commentary and jaunts down coal mines, Orwell remembered to write down his top tips for tea, a veritable feast of advice on the do’s and don’ts of putting the kettle on. I picture him wandering round one of his many homes, perhaps pondering an essay on social injustice, and suddenly thinking to himself, ‘isn’t it about time I wrote a seminal work on conjuring up the perfect cuppa?’, and it’s a source of great amusement for me.

But to my musings on making the perfect cup of tea. In an ideal world of course, I would be sat on a plumped-up cushion at the Ritz, being served the drink in a china cup, in copious amounts, along with cake and cucumber sandwiches – sadly, an ideal world this is not.

One quick initial point by the way: if you are going to allow someone the privilege of lovingly preparing you a ‘nice cup of tea’, be sure that they not only know one end of a teaspoon from another and have a steady hand, but also – crucially – realise that the main ingredient of tea is in fact, tea, and not milk, the latter a belief sadly held by a great many people around the world who for the most part look entirely normal.

When preparing a cup of tea for yourself, your first move should be to seek out the appropriate container for your beverage. This should not be a huge crater-type cup more akin to a bucket, but a small and modest mug, perhaps ordained with a picture of your favourite animal or Star Wars character – lovingly drop your teabag of choice inside it.

Next, you need to add water to the kettle – imperative here is remembering that you are making tea for neither an ant nor a party of 500. Fill the kettle with a little dribble of water and you may well destroy it, fill it to the brim and you may find you’re still waiting in your kitchen come next year.

Once the kettle’s boiled, be sure to grab it promptly and pour to just above the three quarter level of your mug. Now would be a good time to adjust your radio station, wash up those dishes from earlier or simply enjoy daydreaming, with the precious few spare minutes this process is affording you. Return to your mug when the liquid has turned a dark brown, almost treacle colour, at which point you should grab a teaspoon and swiftly remove the bag from the mug and dispose of it.

Reach for a cold carton or bottle of semi-skimmed milk and add a splash of it to the brown liquid. This should leave you with a creamy, darkish caramel-coloured mug of hot tea, ready to be devoured.

On one final point, Orwell also threw in his tuppence-worth when it came to the issue of whether or not to add sugar. For me, this is a personal choice equating to whether you prefer lager or wine, tall or short men, Coronation Street or Eastenders, or Man United or Arsenal. Not for Orwell, who claimed that all tea with the exception of ‘Russian style’, ‘should be drunk without sugar.’

I’ll leave you with this: if you add salt to a nice bowl of tomato and basil soup, does it cease to be soup and instead transform into some new, as-yet-unnamed entity? Far be it from me to get into a semantic argument with Orwell, but I would suggest this question could become the modern day equivalent to the philosophical quandary, ‘if a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ Think on, Orwell, think on.

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