Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A Nice Cup Of Tea- George Orwell's 110th Birthday

by Daniel Rollins

Today, 25th June 2013, is the 110th birthday of Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell. Unfortunately he is unable to celebrate this great occasion with us since he died of Tuberculosis in 1950.
Well known as a novelist George Orwell wrote some of the 20th century’s most thought provoking books. From his great dystopian novel Nineteen Eight-Four and his sharp political allegory Animal Farm to his gritty non-fiction works such as Down and Out in Paris and London (documenting his experience of poverty in those two cities) and Homage to Catalonia (recording his experience as a mercenary in the Spanish civil war).
Although he is among my favourite authors I believe his greatest gift to the world is not his literary work but an article he wrote for the Evening Standard, published on 12th January 1946. This article titled “A Nice Cup of Tea” set forth his 11 “golden” rules of tea making (see it reproduced below). In it he makes many of his most controversial statements such as, “one should pour tea into the cup first” and “tea… should be drunk without sugar.”


Considering the polemic nature of these statements one may ask what qualifications this mere journalist has to justify these divisive remarks. In fact he may be one of the best qualified people to give judgment on the correct way to make tea to ever live as he was certainly one of the 20th century’s most dedicated tea drinkers. The best example of his enthusiasm for good tea was while he was fighting on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War. During this time he had Fortnum and Mason’s tea brought all the way from London to Catalonia so he could experience the “stimulation” of a good strong cup of tea while recovering from injury.  

Therefore to celebrate his birthday I endeavored to make a cup of tea which obeyed as many of his rules as possible so I got out a teapot, found some loose tea and made a "Nice Cup of Tea"!

See some pictures of my attempt to produce the perfect cup of tea bellow along with his 1946 article. Although it uses quite a lot of tea and time it is well worth trying to emulate his recipe as it produces a fine cup of tea.

If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilisation in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea. 
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn

    is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
     
  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water. 
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realised on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognised in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners. 
  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly. 
  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle. 
  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold before one has well started on it. 
  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste. 
  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round. 
  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water. Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilised the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.


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