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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
How to make a perfect cuppa
How to make the perfect cup of tea, according to scientists

Many people ask no more than that their tea be "wet and warm", but in the hunt for perfection in a tea cup, a scientist has created a formula for optimal temperature, infusion and imbibation. Oh, and when to put the milk in.

There are 11 rules for perfect tea making, rules from which nobody should dare depart, said George Orwell.

The great critic of Hitler and Stalin, was not above a bit of teatime Totalitarianism himself, it seems. Orwell said that tea - one of the "mainstays of civilization" - is ruined by sweetening and that anyone flouting his diktat on shunning the sugar bowl could not be called "a true tealover".

GEORGE ORWELL'S TEA RULES
1. Use tea from India or Ceylon (Sri Lanka), not China
2. Use a teapot, preferably ceramic
3. Warm the pot over direct heat
4. Tea should be strong - six spoons of leaves per 1 litre
5. Let the leaves move around the pot - no bags or strainers
6. Take the pot to the boiling kettle
7. Stir or shake the pot
8. Drink out of a tall, mug-shaped tea cup
9. Don't add creamy milk
10. Add milk to the tea, not vice versa
11. No sugar!

Aside from sweet-toothed tea drinkers, the author also displayed a distaste for scientists. So to mark the 100th anniversary of Orwell's birth, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has decided to look at his 11-point formula - and rubbish a good many of his supposedly "golden" rules.

Dr Andrew Stapley, a chemical engineer at Loughborough University, has brought the weight of his scientific knowledge (and shameless personal preferences) to bear on the question of the perfect cuppa, and found that Orwell was wrong on a number of points.

Orwell's six-spoons of tea per pot - mightily extravagant when the author set down this rule during post-war rationing - is still far too strong today. The RSC endorses no more than a single spoon of leaves.

As for adding milk to the tea after it is poured, the RSC issues a stern scientific warning against the practice. It seems that dribbling a stream of milk into hot water makes "denaturation of milk proteins" more likely. And who would want that?

Hillary Clinton
Don't spoil the milk
"At high temperatures, milk proteins - which are normally all curled up foetus-like - begin to unfold and link together in clumps. This is what happens in UHT [ultra heat-treated] milk, and is why it doesn't taste as good a fresh milk," says Dr Stapley.

It is better to have the chilled milk massed at the bottom of the cup, awaiting the stream of hot tea. This allows the milk to cool the tea, rather than the tea ruinously raise the temperature of the milk.

Also, unlike in Orwell's rules, science seems to bear no grudge against those who would take sugar with their tea - provided it's white sugar.

Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea
Henry Fielding

Indeed, the addition of sugar is praised since it "acts to moderate the natural astringency of tea" - which translated into unscientific terms means that it makes tea, wait for it, less bitter.

This is heresy to Orwell. "Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter," he said. What would he have made of the alcopop suggested by the RSC?

PM Tony Blair
Avoid slurping, warn scientists
He would recognise and appreciate some elements of Dr Stapley's perfect cuppa. The RSC brew uses Indian Assam tea leaves, which falls within Orwell's tight stipulations. He said no other nation's tea made him feel "wiser, braver or more optimistic".

There is no real scientific reason for Assam winning out over other leaf varieties, it just happens to be a strong tea to Dr Stapley's own taste.

"While some things are backed by science, others - like the choice of Assam - are based on my own preferences. I'm sure there are going to be plenty of people coming up with better methods to make tea and it's good that we have that debate," says Dr Stapley.

I'd rather have a cup of tea than go to bed with someone - any day
Boy George

Finally, the RSC recommends that the perfect cup of tea made by following its formula should be drunk while reading George Orwell's account of 1930s drudgery and vagrancy Down and Out in Paris and London.

Well, no disrespect to the late Mr Orwell, but BBC News Online begs to differ. Having brewed the perfect cup of tea, we recommend that you sip it while stewing over our tea break quiz.

Which beverage on average contains the highest dose of the stimulant caffeine?
A: A cup of tea
B: A cup of coffee
C: A can of cola
Dr Len Fisher of University of Bristol won an Ig Nobel Prize from Harvardís Annals of Improbable Research for his equation explaining what?
A: Why tea dribbles down a pot's spout, rather than pouring cleanly into the cup
B: The number of household accidents caused by tea cosies
C: How best to dunk biscuits in tea
Put these countries in order, the one with the highest tea consumption per head first.
A: India, Turkey, UK
B: UK, India, Turkey
C: Turkey, UK, India
American Thomas Sullivan is credited with what in 1904?
A: Inventing the modern tea bag
B: Writing the song Tea for Two and Two for Tea
C: Masterminding the Boston Tea Party, during which Americans enraged by a British tea tax threw hundreds of pounds of leaves into Boston's harbour
Which aristocrat began the custom of afternoon tea, according to legend?
A: Charles the 2nd Earl Grey
B: Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford
C: John Montagu the 4th Earl of Sandwich
"Drugs are like getting up and having a cup of tea in the morning." Who said it?
A: Author Will Self, who once snorted heroin on a prime ministerial jet
B: Noel Gallagher of Oasis
C: Thomas DeQuincey, author of Confessions of an Opium-Eater

 Press the button and see how you have done


Some of your comments so far:

Who better is there to ask about tea-making than Indians? All the science in the world will not teach one how to make real Chai like Indians do. So ask one of your Indian friends how to make a really good cuppa and enjoy it with a nice biscuit!
Janie Patel, UK

The way to enjoy Assam tea is to heat full cream milk (not in a microwave) and let the tea brew within the water and milk mix. Cover the mug with a saucepan to keep the heat. A mixture of brown and white sugar will top it off.
Nav Siddiqi, England

I always think tea tastes best if somebody else makes it
Rob Ballantyne, UK

My Grandma's secret: "Tea tastes better from a china cup." And it's true!
Denise Kleine, UK

MILK? With TEA? Preposterous! Nay Nay Nay I Say! White tea is a concoction of the west. In the Orient you could get arrested for this crime!
Egbert Doldoy, UK

If you must have sugar, it should be an amount equal to three-quarters of a levelled teaspoon and be stirred for no longer than 12 rotations around the cup.
Ross Plummer, Great Britain

Ross, is that 12 turns clockwise or anti-clockwise?
Stef Downham, England

I was always told it was one teaspoonful of tea per person, and one for the pot
Deborah Parr, England

What are your tips for a perfect cup of char? Send us your comments using the form below.

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