I have recently finished reading Thomas Kuhn’s famous “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. You may wonder what I have been doing reading this, but a glance at this previous post should give you some idea. The following passage came near the end of the book and as I am major fan of 1984, and the boyfriend of a chemist, I couldn’t resist sharing:
“When it repudiates a past paradigm, a scientific community simultaneously renounces, as a fit subject for professional scrutiny, most of the books and articles in which that paradigm had been embodied. Scientific education makes use of no equivalent for the art museum or the library of classics, and the result is a sometimes drastic distortion in the scientist’s perception of his discipline’s past. More than the practitioners of other creative fields, he comes to see it as leading in a straight line to the discipline’s present vantage. In short, he comes to see it as progress. No alternative is available to him while he remains in the field.
Inevitably those remarks will suggest that the member of a mature scientific community is, like the typical character of Orwell’s 1984, the victim of a history rewritten by the powers that be. Furthermore, that suggestion is not altogether inappropriate. There are losses as well as gains in scientific revolutions, and scientists tend to be peculiarly blind to the former. [… to footnote] Because science students “know the right answers”, it is particularly difficult to make them analyse an older science in its own terms.”
Kuhn, Thomas S. 1969. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Second ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, p. 167.
Given the strong opinions on this matter, this post may be a little risky. However, following on from my previous post, about tea… I thought it would be great to ask Samuel – the most knowledgeable person that I know, in all matters tea-related – to pen his thoughts on the matter. Being the lovely chap that he is, he happily obliged… and here are his thoughts:
Musings on the Happy Leaf: An Englishman in Edinburgh on all things TEA
It may be a touch of the “stiff upper lip” or my simple philosophy of being pleased with my lot, but I believe it is difficult to make a bad cup of tea, when one has the correct ingredients. In fact, I enjoy drinking tea from those great urns, mainly because there is a copious amount! True it is not good tea per se, but I can always know there will be an equally average cup to follow soon after!
I thought I would always remember my bad cup of tea. By being very wary of various shops propounding to sell tea I’ve managed to keep it to one in the past few years. Though darn it if I can remember where it was. Perhaps at the airport? They gave me the American thing of tea bag, pot of lukewarm water etc… just as many have described in various articles (see the links in the recent “Christopher Hitchens, Douglas Adams and George Orwell on Cups of Tea“). Usually if you are provided with a pot, bag and UHT milk you can go up and “accidentally” spill all the water, pop the bag in and watch as the assistant puts some really boiling water in. I was surprised a few days ago when I went out for a meal and ordered Tea afterwards. We were each given very hot pots and bags, but all of my colleagues proceeded to pop the bag in to the cup and pour on the water. “Daft”, I said to them, as I deposited my bag in the hot pot and enjoyed a glorious cup! In these places where you are given the tea and expected to take your milk in its UHT pot form, then you must always protest and ask for a jug of milk. My father usually resigns to drinking it black on these occasions, but if you ask specifically for a jug then they often manage to find one.
Pots and bags
I think you should always drink tea from the pot. Well, you know, using a pot… Don’t lift your china high and dribble the spout down your top! I also like using large mugs. Make sure they are emblazoned with interesting pictures or vaguely riveting text, more for the enjoyment of your fellow tea drinkers… Or even your colleagues who choose to sin against the tea club and drink coffee in your presence. I disagree with George Orwell who said that:
“The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse”
Black teas, the only ones you should drink according to Orwell, are very suitable for brewing in a silver pot. In fact I believe that Indian or Ceylon teas should be brewed in a silver teapot, it gives a stronger flavour. Green teas (see ‘namby pamby tea’…) are better brewed in china pots as they were originally intended – the metal will impair the delicate flavours in these examples. It’s true that you get better cups by using loose leaf tea rather than bags, but it is very easy to be very lazy. Personally I hate using baskets or muslin bags for this loose tea, – you’ve bought it to be different to the paper bags, then you re-enclose it in a different receptacle! Pointless! Much better to use a tea strainer as you pour from the pot. I do admit, though, that loose leaf tea is of a higher quality so naturally it will make tastier tea than the usual bags even when constrained by a mesh cage.
Starting off, you should always use freshly boiled water. People often re-boil the kettle or top it up. This isn’t the best as the repeated boiling drives off the dissolved oxygen in the water which is an essential component of delicious tea. Pop three teaspoonfuls, (or three bags, if you must!) in a warmed teapot first and then pour in the boiling water second for a normal pot, if you feel you need it a bit stronger, then one or two more should suffice! I agree with Douglas Adams et al. when he states you should warm the pot on the stove; my grandmother always leaves her teapot on top of the water heater in the kitchen, but regrettably I don’t have a suitable warm surface in my kitchen. Ergo I still have to swish my teapot with water…
Pouring the tea.
Always pour into the milk. Anyone who complains that “I want to see exactly how much milk is needed after I’ve put the tea in my cup” or sim. either hasn’t drunk enough tea or is just a bit loopy. If you drink the same cup of tea every day, then all you have to do is realise how much you put in after the tea and just switch the order. I tend to find that most people like about 8-10mm of milk in the bottom of the cup. This is varied slightly on the diameter and depth of the cup, but generally remains about the same. If someone, like Lawrence, especially enjoys milky tea, then simply putting 12-15mm of milk in is usually suitable! I know this rule of ‘milk in cup then follow it with the tea’ is a slightly outdated (and in fact lower class) rule, but I prefer to follow it. I am led to believe that it stems from the days when people with not much money bought poor quality china which would crack with the high temperature of the scalding hot boiling tea, and so putting the milk in first would stop the cheap china cup cracking under the sudden temperature change.
Those upper classes who could afford it would buy more expensive china which was less susceptible to sudden temperature changes – thus they would happily, and unthinkingly, drink it black. Another element that can mar the flavour on occasion is when stirring the cup. When imbibing with those who choose only to partake of the evil bean, some might unconsciously take a used teaspoon from a coffee mug and stir their tea with it. This is a definite no no. I also find that when others use my teacups for coffee this leaves a horrible hint of the bitter coffee flavour in the cup even after washing. If you don’t have such delicate taste buds then these are less important points.
To get good tea for yourself, the easiest thing is to go to a good tea shoppe… there are two excellent examples in Edinburgh. My favourite is the quaint AnTEAques shop on Clerk street. It sells tea and antiques, as you might expect from the name. They have a choice of a perfect plethora of loose leaf teas from Assam pekoe fannings to chocolate mint tea! And have delicious fruit scones for accompaniment. On the other hand, if you want more space (AnTEAques seats about 10 people and has no facilities) then try Tea Tree Tea on Bread street. They have a much larger operation which includes coffee, sandwiches, cakes and a similar selection of fine leaf teas. For china pots and elbow room, go to Tea Tree Tea and for the choice to purchase the delightful bone china tea service you use, go to AnTEAques!
Or indeed make a date to sample tea a la Samuel!
This morning, I had the pleasure of coming across an article on Slate, written by world famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, on “How To Make a Decent Cup of Tea” (inspired, in part by George Orwell’s 1946 “A Nice Cup of Tea“). It was a thoroughly entertaining read, and certainly told me a few things I didn’t know about the idiosyncrasies of the British tea-drinker.
Particularly humourous passages include the following, regarding his disdain for the way tea is served in his now-native United States:
“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.”
And his ridicule of the standards set by our (Brits) second favourite hot beverage… the wonderful coffee!
“Until relatively few years ago, practically anything hot and blackish or brackish could be sold in America under the name of coffee. It managed both to be extremely weak and extremely bitter, and it was frequently at boiling point, though it had no call to be. (I use the past tense, though there are many places where this is still true, and it explains why free refills can be offered without compunction.) At least in major cities, consumers now have a better idea how to stick up for themselves, often to an irksome degree, as we know from standing behind people who are too precise about their latte, or whatever it’s called.”
Upon singing the praises of this article, my friend Alex chipped in with “I see your Hitchens and raise you Adams”, and directed me to the following article on Douglas Adams’ love of “A Proper Cup of Tea“. Another entertaining read, filled with a similar disdain for the typical American tea-making ability.
However, whilst these two idols (appropriate choice of words, no?) of mine seem to agree on most points regarding tea-making, there is one major point of contention. Adams writes:
“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. If you think you will like it with milk, then it’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.”
However, Hitchens writes:
“If you use milk, use the least creamy type or the tea will acquire a sickly taste. 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. Add it later, and be very careful when you pour.”
Clearly taking his cue from Orwell, who wrote:
“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.”
What are we to do? What am I to think? My family always put milk in the cup first… I always put the milk in after. But then I am a heathen and make my tea with a teabag in the mug. Oh the dramas which occupy our middle-class lives, eh?
I think in this, as in all other tea related matters, I shall defer to my dear friend and unassailable expert tea-drinker, Samuel. Perhaps I shall invite him to respond to these three literary greats. [UPDATE: In fact, I did… you can read his response here.]
Looking through Orwell’s 11 “outstanding points” on tea, I would emphatically agree with the following:
“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.”
I don’t think I have EVER had a good cup of tea that has come out of an urn… cafeterias and burger vans take note.
However, I think he is being somewhat harsh when he pens:
“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.”
Drinking tea with sugar was certainly something that I grew out of a long time ago, though it was only thanks to tea with lashings of sugar at my Grannie’s that allowed me to appreciate tea in the first place. However, sugar in a nice cup of Chai Tea rarely goes amiss… and you can’t beat some Peppermint Tea and Honey… although Orwell wouldn’t have approved: “there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it” – I think I would disagree on the optimism part!