George Orwell Explains How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea


Next to my bed lies George Orwell’s Essays, the brick­like Every­man’s Library edi­tion of the 1984 author’s thoughts on ide­ol­o­gy, colo­nial­ism, the abuse of lan­guage, crime and pun­ish­ment, and just what con­sti­tutes a nice cup of tea. The astute essay­ist keeps his mind pre­pared to go any­where, and Orwell’s rig­or­ous love of sim­ple Eng­lish plea­sures places him espe­cial­ly well to write on the sub­ject of how best to pre­pare a serv­ing of “one of the main stays of civ­i­liza­tion in this coun­try, as well as in Eire, Aus­tralia and New Zealand.” His essay “A Nice Cup of Tea,” which first ran in the Evening Stan­dard of Jan­u­ary 12, 1946, breaks the process down into eleven points, from “One should use Indi­an or Cey­lonese tea” to “One should take the teapot to the ket­tle and not the oth­er way about” to, final­ly, “Tea — unless one is drink­ing it in the Russ­ian style — should be drunk with­out sug­ar.” These guide­lines may sound to us a tad aus­tere at worst, but Orwell presents some of them as down­right “con­tro­ver­sial.” Dare he so bold­ly insist upon drink­ing only out of a “good break­fast cup,” de-cream­ing milk before pour­ing it into tea, and nev­er, ever using strain­ers nor bags?


He does indeed. His­to­ry has remem­bered Orwell as one of author­i­tar­i­an­is­m’s most out­spo­ken ene­mies, but clear­ly he had moments, espe­cial­ly when it came to his bev­er­age of choice, where he him­self would brook no dis­sent. Decades lat­er, a much more easy­go­ing writer would make his own con­tri­bu­tion to the lit­er­a­ture of Eng­lish tea pro­ce­dure: A short piece by Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the Galaxy author Dou­glas Adams sug­gests that you “go to Marks and Spencer and buy a pack­et of Earl Grey tea” (this may, depend­ing upon your loca­tion, require an over­seas trip), that “the water has to be boiling (not boiled) when it hits the tea leaves,” and that “it’s prob­a­bly best to put some milk into the bot­tom of the cup before you pour in the tea,” since “if you pour milk into a cup of hot tea you will scald the milk.” Though we here at Open Cul­ture have made no secret of our inter­est in cof­fee, how could we turn down a cup of tea made to the stan­dards of such well-respect­ed men of let­ters?

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

10 Gold­en Rules for Mak­ing the Per­fect Cup of Tea (1941)

Epic Tea Time with Alan Rick­man

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (10)
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  • Peter J. Kraus says:

    Keep­ing in mind that Dou­glas Adams spent the last years of his life in San­ta Bar­bara, Cal­i­for­nia, it meant an over­seas trip for him, too.

  • BarerMender says:

    They’re enti­tled to their half-assed opin­ions. Milk in the tea. Blech. Earl Grey? Kid stuff.

  • tovangar2 says:

    Can’t any­body get any­thing right? Putting the milk in the cup first will result in scald­ed milk. Milk after, when one can see what one’s doing.

    And please do have some sug­ar if you like.

    Don’t lis­ten to those two blokes, I’M moth­er.

  • Jonathan says:

    The “milk in first” is, I’m led to believe, for drink­ing tea from chi­na. It was believed that pour­ing boil­ing water in to chi­na would crack it (and it was expen­sive in those days). Noth­ing to do with scald­ing the milk (it would work both ways, sure­ly?)
    If using a tea pot I tend to put milk in first, though it risks the tea being too milky.
    If using a tea bag, milk after­wards, always, as the water needs to be boil­ing.
    For amer­i­cans: boil­ing = boil­ing, not “very hot”. And you take the tea bag out after brew­ing, don’t leave it in.
    But green tea: let the water cool first.
    Earl Grey: just chuck it in the bin and get some prop­er tea.

  • Paul Downie says:

    Orwell was a lit­er­ary genius: but putting the milk in last … ?

    Ye GODS

  • Lee says:

    I pre­fer the tea plain.

  • Simon Fodden says:

    Earl Grey?? Is he kid­ding?! A vile con­coc­tion. Why in heav­en’s name would you want berg­amot in your tea?

  • Dan Scalia says:

    What I would real­ly like to learn about is all the Eng­lish Brands of Tea frim yes­ter­year like whay are some of the Brand Names of the Teas Orwell would have drank if he had the cash in hand at the time to buy good tea

  • Carsten says:

    This is one of my favorite exam­ples of Orwell triv­ia.
    I remem­ber, that in High­school we had a text by Orwell for Eng­lish lis­ten­ing com­pre­hen­sion. It was him going on about how utter­ly inap­pro­pri­ate it was to have sug­ar or milk in tea, because “tea is bit­ter and should be drunk­en bit­ter”.
    Some­how this stuck in my mem­o­ry. Many years lat­er, at uni­ver­si­ty, I read Orwell’s “Homage to Cat­alo­nia”, in which he com­plains about the fact that his wife could not find dried milk and sug­ar to send to the front, where he served in the Inter­na­tion­al Brigades. So that he had to take his tea with­out milk or sug­ar.
    Don’t get me wrong. I adore his writ­ing, I vis­it­ed his grave sev­er­al times when I was liv­ing in the area but I do find it a lit­tle amus­ing that he was first whin­ing about first-world prob­lems whilst sit­ting in a trench (so very British: less con­cerned about being shot than hav­ing a prop­er cup­pa!), and lat­er turned it around to claim that only the real­ly tough and sophis­ti­cat­ed peo­ple drink tea the “right” way. ;-)

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