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
- 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
- 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)