This Side of the Pond
Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman
September 1, 2022
Considering my nationality, it’s unlikely I’ll elicit much shock when I say that I love a good cup of tea. Of the habits I’ve retained on this side of the ocean, a proper cuppa is the one that’s least likely to fade.
It therefore surprised me to learn that I’ve been making it wrong all this time – we all have. A chemical engineer from Loughborough University says we should be doing things a particular and very specific way if we want to be truly refreshed.
Now, I’m a big fan of science and perfectly happy to incorporate most new discoveries into my daily life, but I’m having a mental roadblock with this one.
The trouble is, I already like my tea. I’m fairly consistent in my ability to create a hot beverage that’s enjoyable to drink, so I can’t be going that wrong.
But Dr. Andrew Stapley says I could be improving my day even more if I follow the rules of science, and who am I to argue?
Which brings me to my second issue with his advice: it rests on providing a concrete answer to a question the Brits have been arguing over for centuries.
Specifically: do you put the milk in your mug first, or the tea?
It’s a divisive topic to the point that there’s even a name for you, depending on which camp you fall into. Are you, dear reader, a Miffy or a Tiffy?
I, personally, am a Tiffy, which means I believe you get a better brew when you add the milk after your teabag has finished steeping. A Miffy, on the other hand, feels you should put the milk into your mug before anything else.
The reason I fall into the Tiffy camp is that I don’t generally use a teapot for the brewing process – I pour the boiling water directly over the teabag. When there’s cold milk in the cup already, it lowers the temperature of the water and the tea doesn’t brew as effectively.
As a Tiffy, I heed the age-old warning: never let the milk and teabag touch.
But if I’m brewing in a teapot, I’ll admit to swaying more towards the Miffy side of things, if only because I’m a terrible judge of quantities. If I add a splash of milk first, I’m less likely to overfill my mug to the point that I haven’t got any room left for it, which, I think we can all agree, would be a disaster.
On the other hand, the Tiffy argument still holds water when it comes to a teapot brew, because pouring the tea first means you can judge its strength and add milk to the correct ratio for your tastes.
You wouldn’t think there was enough time in the day to argue so passionately about something so silly, but we Brits really do feel strongly about our tea. Everyone makes it a little differently, and everyone thinks theirs is the best.
On the other hand, we will only brook a certain amount of variation. There’s personal taste, and then there’s just a bad cup of tea.
For example, a photo appeared on Twitter last week of an almost-white cup of tea that someone considered offensive enough to snap a picture of to share with the rest of the world. Sure enough, cries of “criminal offense!” and “hang, draw and quarter them!” began to pour in.
Similarly, most of us will only use a microwave to heat the water in an emergency, because a good brew relies on the temperature of the water. For the tea to infuse properly, the water needs to be as close to boiling point as necessary. Consequently, we believe that microwaved tea is nothing more than cruelty to teabags.
So, with all this in mind, what does Dr. Stapley have to say on the matter? I guess I need to dig out my teapot, because he says science comes down on the side of the Miffy.
According to our tea scientist (the only thing that surprises me about putting those two words together is the fact it took us so long to realize we needed one), pouring milk into your hot tea will cause it to heat unevenly.
This, in turn, causes the proteins to denature and is what causes the floaty bits that can sometimes appear on the top. It also ruins the flavor of the milk.
Pouring the milk in first apparently also helps to counteract hard water by lowering its mineral content. I knew deep down that tea would turn out to be magical, and now I have proof.
Dr. Stapley has helpfully provided a step by step guide to the perfect cup of tea so, if you’ve never tried one at home, now you can be sure you’ll get it right first time:
In a clean, warm china or earthenware pot, add a spoonful of tea or tea bag per cup (he says Assam tea, but I recommend PG Tips). Add freshly boiled water straight from the kettle, boiled only once so it has retained as much oxygen as possible to bind with the tea polyphenols (whatever those are).
Stir the teapot and leave to brew for three minutes. Add milk to your mug and white sugar if you like things sweet, then finally add the tea.
There you have it, guys – your exclusive scoop on the solution to the Great Tea Debate. Science has given us the answer to a question you probably didn’t even know was being asked.
Mind you, it all seems a little too much like hard work, so I’m probably just going to stick with my usual method. I already make the best cup of tea anyway.