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How To Make A Decent Cup Of Tea

fighting wordsBy Christopher Hitchens
Updated Monday, Jan. 3, 2011, at 7:02 AM ET
Now that "the holidays"—at their new-style Ramadan length, with the addition of Hanukkah plus the spur
and lash of commerce—are safely over, I can bear to confront the moment at their very beginning when
my heart took its first dip. It was Dec. 8, and Yoko Ono had written a tribute to mark the 30 th
anniversary of the murder of her husband. In her New York Times op-ed, she recalled how the two of
them would sometimes make tea together. He used to correct her method of doing so, saying, "Yoko,
Yoko, you're supposed to first put the tea bags in, and then the hot water." (This she represented as his
Englishness speaking, in two senses, though I am sure he would actually have varied the word order and
said "put the tea bags in first.") This was fine, indeed excellent, and I was nodding appreciatively, but
then the blow fell. One evening, he told her that an aunt had corrected him. The water should indeed
precede the bags. "So all this time, we were doing it wrong?" she inquired. "Yeah," replied our hero,
becoming in that moment a turncoat to more than a century of sturdy Liverpool tradition.
I simply hate to think of the harm that might result from this. It is already virtually impossible in the
United States, unless you undertake the job yourself, to get a cup or pot of tea that tastes remotely as it
ought to. It's quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying
on an adjacent cold plate. Then comes the ridiculous business of pouring the tepid water, dunking the bag
until some change in color occurs, and eventually finding some way of disposing of the resulting and
dispiriting tampon surrogate. The drink itself is then best thrown away, though if swallowed, it will have
about the same effect on morale as a reading of the memoirs of President James Earl Carter.
Now, imagine that tea, like coffee, came without a bag (as it used to do—and still does if you buy a proper
tin of it). Would you consider, in either case, pouring the hot water, letting it sit for a bit, and then
throwing the grounds or the leaves on top? I thought not. Try it once, and you will never repeat the
experience, even if you have a good strainer to hand. In the case of coffee, it might just work if you are
quick enough, though where would be the point? But ground beans are heavier and denser, and in any
case many good coffees require water that is just fractionally off the boil. Whereas tea is a herb (or an
herb if you insist) that has been thoroughly dried. In order for it to release its innate qualities, it requires
to be infused. And an infusion, by definition, needs the water to be boiling when it hits the tea. Grasp only
this, and you hold the root of the matter.
Just after World War II, during a period of acute food rationing in England, George Orwell wrote an
article on the making of a decent cup of tea that insisted on the observing of 11 different "golden" rules.
Some of these (always use Indian or Ceylonese—i.e., Sri Lankan—tea; make tea only in small quantities;
avoid silverware pots) may be considered optional or outmoded. But the essential ones are easily
committed to memory, and they are simple to put into practice.
If you use a pot at all, make sure it is pre-warmed. (I would add that you should do the same thing even if
you are only using a cup or a mug.) Stir the tea before letting it steep. But this above all: "[O]ne should

and on making sure that the water is boiling. don't be afraid to decline that hasty cup of hot water with added bag. Add it later.slate. It's not quite over yet. Follow Slate and the Slate Foreign Desk on Twitter. and be very careful when you pour. Mertz media fellow at the Hoover Institution. If there are murmurs or sighs from behind you. Until relatively few years ago. Don't trouble to thank me. consumers now have a better idea how to stick up for themselves. Insist on seeing the tea put in first. and it explains why free refills can be offered without compunction. often to an irksome degree. Article URL: http://www." This isn't hard to do. Orwell thought that sugar overwhelmed the taste. which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours.aspx?action=print&id=2279601 READABILITY — An Arc90 Laboratory Experiment http://lab. and it was frequently at boiling point. though there are many places where this is still true. practically anything hot and blackish or brackish could be sold in America under the name of coffee. Like Slate on Facebook. as we know from standing behind people who are too precise about their latte. Finally. but brown sugar or honey are.take the teapot to the kettle. with loose tea and a strainer if you have the patience. Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Roger S.com/experiments/readability . permissible and sometimes necessary. and not the other way about.) At least in major cities. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact. And try it at home.slate. once you have brought all the makings to the same scene of operations right next to the kettle. Happy New Year. It managed both to be extremely weak and extremely bitter.com/toolbar. Next time you are in a Starbucks or its equivalent and want some tea. even if you are using electricity rather than gas. take the opportunity to spread the word.com/id/2279601/ Excerpted from Print http://www. or whatever it's called.arc90. I believe. (I use the past tense. use the least creamy type or the tea will acquire a sickly taste. though it had no call to be. And do not put the milk in the cup first—family feuds have lasted generations over this—because you will almost certainly put in too much. If you use milk. a decent cylindrical mug will preserve the needful heat and flavor for longer than will a shallow and wide-mouthed —how often those attributes seem to go together—teacup. It's not what you asked for.