Cup of tea?
June 2, 2004 5:13 AM   Subscribe

How to make a cup of tea
A guide by the sorely missed Douglas Adams which is part of his own creation, the now BBC owned H2G2.
posted by Mwongozi (20 comments total)
When I lived in England, I got addicted to this wonderful brand of tea called Typhoo. You can get it in the US, but it's expensive. I love it so much, I buy it anyway. But I always wonder if there's are other teas that taste similar -- and maybe cost less. Anyone know?
posted by grumblebee at 6:10 AM on June 2, 2004

Typhoo, PG Tips, Sainsbury's Red Label - they all are much of a muchness. I do buy 'em for myself, as I drink so much of it you can't always have proper tea.

But then, as the label protecting my daughter's tea jar puts it - "All proper tea is theft" (",) Didnt think I'd get such an early chance to make so terrible a pun! And it's true, too..
posted by dash_slot- at 6:44 AM on June 2, 2004 [1 favorite]

Even though I'm currently in a coffee-drinking phase (I go back and forth between coffee and tea every year or so), I'm just glad to see a credible explanation of the "milk first vs. milk last" issue.

I'd recently taken to putting the milk into my coffee cup first, but for the hypothetical reason that the coffee would stay warmer, longer. I had noticed a bit of improvement in the taste, but I had just written it off as subjective until I read the reasoning in that link.

Actually, I've found that the best way to keep coffee/tea hotter longer is, of course, a hot mug. I've got a really thick, really big ceramic mug that I haul into my home office in the morning, and if I pour some boiling water into it for a few minutes and let it really get hot, the liquid will stay warm, at least, until I'm done.

Finally, I've always found that tea is like (ahem) any other herbal intoxicants you might care to ingest--even though it's "dried", you don't really want it sawdust dry. A cigar humidor might be overkill, but storing it with a damp paper towel or something like that makes a dramatic difference in the flavor and potency. (Cigars...that's what I was thinking of. Cigars.)
posted by LairBob at 8:05 AM on June 2, 2004

Some people will tell you that you shouldn't have milk with Earl Grey, just a slice of lemon. Screw them. I like it with milk.

posted by Ufez Jones at 8:36 AM on June 2, 2004

h2g2 is good but it often seems like wikipedia is more in the right direction. (it would be cool if there were a standard format for entries and you could combine several different encyclopedias to your liking)

I asked about tea once and got very good answers.

DA had an excellent description of the tea he had after looking for rhinos in Africa, and had forgotten to bring water. I don't have it in front of me, but it was something about making the universe sing.
posted by milovoo at 8:38 AM on June 2, 2004

Milk molecules? What's the chemical formula for milk?
posted by spazzm at 8:51 AM on June 2, 2004

See also George Orwell's classic take on the same subject. I like that he specifically advises to avoid sugar at all costs, which Adams forgets to.
posted by abcde at 11:47 AM on June 2, 2004

I got into the habit of pouring milk into the (coffee) cup first to save me from having to use a spoon. Anyone who has taking a lab course has learned the "beaker stir" wherein one pours a small amount of liquid and whatever needs to be dissolved and just swish the contents. This works better with a small amount of liquid, so I'd put in milk and sugar, mix, then allow the turbulence of pouring the coffee to handle the rest.
posted by Karmakaze at 11:51 AM on June 2, 2004

Now I'm hungry.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:11 PM on June 2, 2004

I recently moved to the "milk first" side and I can already attest to the flavour improvement for both coffee and tea. I even brought my weird old Bodum clone to work for the mid-afternoon stretch.

Now, if I could find a transcript of Patrick McGoohan's defiant tea-making procedure from The Prisoner, we would have the ultimate tea discourse trifecta.
posted by myopicman at 12:40 PM on June 2, 2004's probably best to put some milk into the bottom of the cup before you pour in the tea. If you pour milk into a cup of hot tea you will scald the milk.

I always wondered about the rationale behind "MIF" or "milk in first."
posted by Shane at 12:58 PM on June 2, 2004

I started following Adams instructions almost to the letter some months ago and haven't had a poor cup of tea since. Well apart from the time I absentmindedly put salt instead of sugar in the mix.

That said you have to be careful with interpretation. Putting milk on top of the teabag and then the water doesn't work -- it inhibits the flavour from pouring out. Hot water slowly on a naked bag works much better,
posted by feelinglistless at 2:04 PM on June 2, 2004

this one?

Number 2: I can never remember -- one lump or two?
Prisoner: It's in the file.
Number 2: Yes, as a matter of fact, yes. But it would save time if you just answered.
Prisoner: Why? Are you running out of time?
Number 2 looks in the file.
Number 2: "Does not take sugar".
The Prisoner drops three lumps of sugar into his tea. Number 2 leans back into the depths of his spherical chair.
posted by milovoo at 3:06 PM on June 2, 2004

MIF as related to class is interesting because both sides can be "right" because their circumstances differ.

The working man wants to drink large quantities of tea out of a big mug for convenience and relief of thirst. A big, thick mug stays hotter longer, potentially making scalding the milk more of a problem.

For those in the middle there might be cups, but there is also a desire for expediency and to avoid unnecessary washing up; I'm told that putting the milk in first reduces the likelihood of staining the teacup (yes, some people used to worry about such things).

For those of the highest social status washing up, and even teacup staining, is not an issue as there are servants who concern themselves with those details. Tea is poured into thin bone china for you by someone who then asks you if you prefer milk or lemon. The pause allows a brief cooling, enough to avoid the scalding problem, and added milk is stirred to ensure proper mixing. Cups are small, partially because this is for refreshment not thirst quenching, you haven't been doing anything to work up a thirst. The process need not be hurried: you will not be returning to work late if you dawdle over your tea, as you do not work. (If you want a mental picture, think of how tea is taken in The Importance of Being Earnest.)

All well and good as this explains the big workman's mug and the duchess' dainty china and the reasons why tea is a rather different experience for each of them. The part where it get nasty is when those in the middle begin to pretend that they are better than the people they feel to be one step below them on the social scale because they put the milk in their mug first.

Alas, nowhere in this discussion is there a place for the tea lady.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 3:17 PM on June 2, 2004

milovoo: That's another good reference to the Prisoner, but the one I was thinking of involved him shirking out of being slipped some poison by a female visitor and then making a performance of making a proper cup of tea as #2 watched over the video surveillance. Dropping "one! two! thr-r-r-ree!" bags of tea into the pot.

I'll look it up when I get home. Or transcribe it myself if I'm not too tired.

Then again, all some people want is a proper cup of coffee, made in a proper copper coffeepot...
posted by myopicman at 4:01 PM on June 2, 2004

And yet, and yet...tea became a universal beverage across the so-called British Isles (Ireland & Scotland notwithstanding), even though - I am persuaded by Quimbrus's explanations - the classes used it differently. It's amusing and touching that this leaf became such a socially unifying thing in these lands.

Long may it remain so (I am also a big fan of decent coffee, though this began in adulthood - like all true brits, my tea drinking was encouraged from early childhood).
posted by dash_slot- at 4:47 PM on June 2, 2004

SCENE: Number 6's kitchen. Number 86 is trying to slip him some drugged tea.

No. 6: There's one thing, though: I cannot stand girls who don't know how to make a decent cup of tea. (pours out cup.) A lesson: Empty pot. Rinse out. Warm the pot, always. (pours kettle water into pot) Rinse out. Now.... (pours spoonful of tea leaves) One for me, (another spoonful) one for thee, (another spoonful) one for the pot, (another spoonful) one for luck. Boiling water. Swtich off. Let stand for one monent. Oh, uh, pour the milk for me would you please? (6 goes to cupboard) Cup. Saucer. (86 slips some powder into 6's cup as he watches out of the corner of his eye) Spoon. Good. Oh, the sugar, please, in the cupboard. (86 goes to another cupboard, 6 switches cups) Thank you. Pour ...should be just about nice.

No. 2: (watching from the Green Dome) All charmingly domestic. (to midget butler) I think I'd like some tea!

-- The Prisoner, A Change of Mind.
Because, I have no life otherwise and I can't find it elsewhere. Turns out to be much terser dialogue than I recalled.
posted by myopicman at 8:03 PM on June 2, 2004

Does anyone else order their tea/coffee/spices from Murchie's?

They're way above the local outlets around here measuring by the price/quality ratio, and their teas' quality can rival that of the best tea houses.

Also, I'll clobber anyone who doubts that one can get a perfect cup of tea with a tea bag in a thick mug. I can do the whole teapot routine except that it's exceedingly more complicated for a marginal improvement in flavor.

...I never liked milk in my tea. Lemon, but not milk.
posted by azazello at 11:07 PM on June 2, 2004

Sorry, no. Milk in first is an atrocity which cannot be condoned.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:20 AM on June 3, 2004

Excellent explanation, Quinbus Flestrin!
posted by Shane at 1:55 PM on June 3, 2004

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