Big brother is watching you ….. make tea

George Orwell Drinking Tea

In high school English class in the early 70s, we read the book 1984 by the English writer George Orwell. At that time in American history (still the Vietnam War era),  my generation were very distrustful of the government, so Orwell’s story of a people under surveillance by the authorities (“Big Brother”) helped to reinforce our suspicions.  (We also thought that it would take forever to reach the year 1984. Ah, the naivety of youth!)

Right. I know. What on earth does this have to do with tea?

Well, our George Orwell – journalist, novelist, essayist, social reformer, soldier – was also a dedicated tea drinker and dogmatic tea connoisseur. In January 1946, he wrote an essay called A Nice Cup of Tea, setting forth his personal tea making rules.

Before I send you off to read the essay for yourself (it’s not very long), I have summarised and paraphrased these Orwellian tea principles:

A Nice Cup of Tea by George Orwell. The Pocket Guide.

1) Use only Indian or Ceylon tea. Chinese tea hasn’t enough ‘oomph’ to it.
2) Brew it in a china teapot. Best made in small quantities (ergo, a teapot), never an urn.
3) Warm the teapot first. Best done on the hob rather than rinsing out with hot water.
5) Loose leaves in the pot.  No infuser or anything that will impede the unfurling of the leaf.
6) Boiling water. Take the teapot to the kettle, not the other way around.
7) Stir the pot, allowing the leaves to settle.
8) Drink the tea from a mug. Tea cools down too quickly in a teacup.
9) Use non-creamy milk (what today we would call semi-skimmed milk).
10) Put the tea in first, then the milk.
11) No sugar.

How does this compare to your own tea making ritual?

Orwell says in his tea essay that two of the rules would elicit “pretty general agreement”, but that at least four others would be “acutely controversial”.  Which four do you think he meant?

As a little added bonus (we like added bonuses at Tea in England), here is a video of George Orwell a) recounting his time spent fighting in the Spanish Civil War (the boring part); and b) discussing the perfect cup of tea (the fun part). The fun part begins at 2.31 minutes into the video.



You can read the entire George Orwell tea essay here: A Nice Cup of Tea by George Orwell


“All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong,

but like it a little stronger with each year that passes.” – George Orwell



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  1. Well, very curious comments by Mr. Orwell. He dogmatically states that to add sugar is to say that you may as well not even go to the trouble of adding tea because you taste the sugar and that is what you like, not the flavor of tea. But, he adds milk so is that not taking away from the pure tea taste, also?! And, what is a “hob?”. A burner on a stove? Just wondering. Very informative little article! I feel I have learned the proper way to make tea. He doesn’t address how long to steep the tea leaves. Question, though, to all the tea experts….thoughts on type of tea. Is Indian tea indeed the best? My Indian friend would say so! xo…KarenP

    • Thought that was funny, too, Karen … the milk thing. Milk in tea is pretty much a given over here.

      And yes, as Jean mentions below, a ‘hob’ is the top burner on a stove. That one mortified me! I would never set a teapot a burner to warm it up … even though the burner would be on a very, very, very low heat. Yikes!

      Although Indian tea is indeed wonderful, I think ‘best’ is always a personal decision.

  2. I’m with him on all but #8. I much prefer a cup and saucer to a mug, and I throw back blisteringly hot cups of tea so fast they don’t have time to cool off! I did a post ages ago on How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea. It was fun seeing how Orwell did it.

    • Jean, re #3 then …. have you ever warmed a teapot on the hob???

      In all my years of reading tea books, talking to tea lovers around the world, etc., Orwell’s mention of it was the first time I EVER came across anyone warming the pot on the hob.

      • Did he mean a teapot or a teakettle in which to bring water to a boil? I’d never put a teapot on the hob either!! Wouldn’t it crack?

        • Hi Karen!

          In the essay (there’s a link to it in the blog post), he said:

          “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.”

          So he was definitely saying to put the teapot on the hob! I suppose it would crack if it were on there long enough to get really, really, really hot. He must mean to put it on a very low heat for just a short time.

          I’m tempted now to buy a cheap teapot from the charity shop and testing it out! I’ve always warmed my teapot with boiling water.

          • Oh, that’s right! He did say the pot. I know that I put hot water in my coffee caramel when I make coffee to help keep the coffee hot. But, Hmmmm..put the pot on the hob directly….I wouldn’t risk it. Just sayin’…

  3. To KarenP: Yes, I definitely favor Indian tea, my favorite being Darjeeling. And #9 is so right–reduced fat 2 percent milk is best. The hob is the burner. I noticed, too, that he didn’t specify brewing time. I definitely include that info in my how-to. But then perhaps I am more persnickety than Mr. Orwell. 😀

  4. 1984 was a creepy book! I enjoyed it…but that doesn’t make it any less frightening. Orwell seems to have some good ideas about tea drinking. I do love it strong…but give me sugar every time!

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