How to make a perfect cuppa: put milk in first
Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent
The Guardian, Wednesday 25 June 2003 03.34 EDT
Half the population of Britain will take this as a declaration of war.
After months of research the Royal Society of Chemistry has announced the answer to a question that for generations has shattered households, sundered friendships, splintered relationships: the milk should go in first.
It is all to do with denaturing milk proteins, according to Dr Andrew Stapley, a chemical engineer from Loughborough University.There are other contentious points at issue: microwaves come into the perfect cup of tea, and the recommendation that the tea itself should be loose Assam will certainly be taken as blatant provocation by the Darjeeling and Lapsang Souchong factions.
Above all, the society could be seen as spitting on the grave of George Orwell, having commissioned the research to celebrate today’s centenary of his birth – and concluded that he was quite wrong in his own recipe, published as A Nice Cup of Tea in the Evening Standard in 1946.
The chemists and the author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four are in agreement on Indian tea, and a china or earthenware teapot. There is a minor divergence over warming the pot: Orwell recommended placing the pot on a hob, Dr Stapley defends a microwave as a 21st century equivalent. But on the issue of milk the gap is unbridgeable.
Orwell wrote: “By putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk, wheras one is likely to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.”
Dr Stapley is adamant. “If milk is poured into hot tea, individual drops separate from the bulk of the milk, and come into contact with the high temperatures of the tea for enough time for significant denaturation – degradation – to occur. This is much less likely to happen if hot water is added to the milk.”
Veteran tea drinker Tony Benn test-drove the perfect cup of tea yesterday, at the London headquarters of the society. He calculates that he has got through 27,375 gallons in 60 years, and is a tea first, milk second man. The milk went in first. The tea was poured in. He sniffed. He sipped. He pondered. “It’s very tasty, I must say,” he said. He sipped again. “Oh, it’s delicious.”
The chemists purred – and then last night the physicists waded in and said all that matters is the water temperature, not the milk. “Trust chemists to make things complicated,” Institute of Physics chief executive Dr Julia King said. “When it boils down to it, the physics is more important than the chemical side of things.”
· Chemists’ recipe
The Royal Society of Chemistry’s definitive recipe for the perfect cup of tea
Ingredients: Loose leaf Assam tea, soft water, fresh chilled milk, white sugar.
Implements: Kettle, ceramic teapot, large ceramic mug, fine mesh tea strainer, tea spoon, microwave oven.
Method: Draw fresh soft water and place in the kettle and boil. While waiting for the water to boil place a tea ot containing a quarter of a cup of water in a microwave oven on full power for one minute.
Place one rounded teaspoon of tea per cup into pot.
Take the pot to the kettle as it is boiling, pour on to the leaves and stir.
Leave to brew for three minutes.
The ideal receptacle is a ceramic mug.
Pour milk into the cup first followed by the tea, aiming to achieve a colour that is rich and attractive.
Add sugar to taste.
Drink at 60-65C, to avoid vulgar slurping which results from trying to drink tea at too high a temperature.
To gain optimum ambience for enjoyment of tea aim to achieve a seated drinking position in a favoured home spot where quietness and calm will elevate the moment.