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.
4) MAKE IT STRONG. VERY STRONG. TEA SHOULD BE STRONG.
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