In 1946 George Orwell famously wrote an essay about how to make the perfect cup of tea.
His essay contained very important rules about making tea, such as…
“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.”
The problem is that nearly 50 years later many people are still, still, getting tea wrong. Very wrong. Every time. Especially Americans. So to settle this once and for all, here is a guide of what you shouldn’t do when making tea.
Write these rules down. Immediately.
1. Do not leave the kettle alone when boiling tea.
Leave the kitchen whilst boiling the kettle so you can do something else? No. You are making a British cup of tea. You are an ambassador for the tea. You are expected to wait next to the kettle at all times.
Why? You have to wait for the “ticking noise”, six seconds after the kettle has done that bubbling noise (the ticking is always much later than you ever intended). When it has gone off, wait a tiny bit so it is overboiled. Then it is ready. You must be ready.
If you aren’t ready, you have failed.
2. Do not brew the tea for fewer than 3 minutes.
Some say 3 minutes. Some say 180 seconds. Please aim for somewhere around the middle. It is critical that you brew between these times and not a second less. Oh and warm the pot immediately.
And when you are brewing it, leave that teabag alone. Put it in and leave it. Do not squeeze it. Do not dip it. Do not stir it. Do not wring it. Abandon it. If you squeeze, dip, stir or wring it during the brewing period you have offended a British person.
3. Do not leave the teabag in the mug.
People tend to have floating tea bags whilst drinking their tea for two reasons. The first reason? We have no time. We now live in a cash-strapped iPhone minimalist design society. The second reason? It is fun. Pressing the top of the teabag back into the mug after it has floated to the top, just so it can go bbbbbblooooobbbbbbblleee topsy turvy.
But then are logistical problems. How do you deal with that squelchy bag at the bottom of every mug after every cup? And how do you tip the tea down into your mouth without the tea bag falling into your face resulting in first-degree burns? Think about it.
4. Do not ever use any of these (unless life or death).
If you ever give any of these to a British person by choice you deserve never to speak to one again.
Sure, the taste of real milk compared to this milk isn’t that different and yes, we all had to use these milk sachets when we were students because we were poor. We’ve all had that low period in our lives where we’ve gone to the local Wetherspoons pub and nicked 40 Millac Maids at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Seriously. It’s fine.
But offering them UHT now? In the sanctuary of their office or in the privacy of their own home? How dare you. How dare you. Hang your head in shame.
5. NEVER put the sugar teaspoon into the tea.
Why? Because you will contaminate the sugar. Contaminate the sugar!
You must tip the spoonful of sugar you are intending to to use into the mug from the spoon. You then must return your spoon into the packet of sugar and repeat until you have the allocation of sugar you need in the mug. Once you have done this, it is then completely suitable to then stir the tea until all of the sugar has dissolved. And you must stir. Keep stirring!
If you haven’t done this, then you have failed.
6. Never use a different type of milk than anticipated.
Using semi-skimmed milk even though you have been told to use skimmed milk? What are you? A criminal? Using skimmed milk instead of semi-skimmed milk? I can’t believe you are suggesting that. It’s just utterly insulting.
Using 1% milk because that was the only thing that was left in the shop? STOP. It is just hurting so much right now.
Also, never decide to use Earl Grey teabags instead of English breakfast if there aren’t any English breakfast left. This is an insult. Instead, you must leave the house and head to the nearest shop that sells the correct teabags posthaste — even if it is 3 o’clock in the morning and the store is in another country. British people don’t expect anything else.
7. Never ever EVER pour the milk in first. EVER.
Why should you never put the milk in first? Because the tea will never get to a tea colour. It will just stay a milk colour. The milk colour! You’ve just poured your colleagues or your other loving half a pint. A pint of milk! Well done, you.
Oh so you will go back and rectify this in the kitchen will you? OK. How do we sort this out? Make the tea all over again? Nah. That will take a lot of time. Like all of three minutes. “I know,” you decide in your inspired wisdom “I’ll go and pour more hot water into the mug.” Nope wait…. hang on a minute, it’s just looking more and more like milk. OH GOD watery milk.