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George Orwell > A Nice Cup of Tea > Essay

A Nice Cup of Tea


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 ofthe most
important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays
ofcivilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New
Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject
ofviolent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I findno
fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would
be pretty general agreement, but at least four others areacutely
controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one ofwhich I regard
as golden:

First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China teahas
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 oftea' invariably means
Indian tea. 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
ina cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be madeof
china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produceinferior tea
and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough apewter 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 outwith hot water. Fourthly, the tea should
be strong. For a pot holding a quart, ifyou are going to fill it nearly
to the brim, six heaped teaspoonswould be about right. In a time of
rationing, this is not an idea thatcan be realized on every day of the
week, but I maintain that onestrong cup of tea is better than twenty weak
ones. All true tea loversnot only like their tea strong, but like it a
little stronger witheach year that passes--a fact which is recognized in
the extra rationissued 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 potit never infuses properly. 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
breakfastcup 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 itfor tea. Milk that is too creamy always
gives tea a sickly taste. Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first.
This is one ofthe 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 exactlyregulate the
amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too muchmilk 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 aminority here.
But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover ifyou 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 bebitter,
just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you areno longer
tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you couldmake 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 thecarpet. It is
worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water
that is really boiling, so as to make quite sureof wringing out of one's
ration the twenty good, strong cups of thattwo ounces, properly handled,
ought to represent.

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