If you think it sounds unlikely that the great George Orwell wrote a guide to making tea, you’re not alone. When I stumbled across this I thought it must be fake, someone was attributing this to George Orwell in order to get clicks or likes. But no, when I looked into it and bought the original source, it turns out to be entirely true. One of the most eminent authors of the 20th Century, he of 1984 and Animal Farm fame, did indeed write a guide to making tea.
The essay was published in the Evening Standard newspaper in January 1946 under the title “A Nice Cup of Tea”. It was then published in 1968 in book form, in a collection of essays entitled George Orwell: As I Please, 1943-1945: The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, Vol 3.
I highly recommend you search out the original because it is a treasure trove of Orwellian non-fiction written during the latter half of the Second World War. Animal Farm was published at the end of the time period covered by this volume so it provides fascinating insights not only into his thinking process that went into that and later novels but also about British life during the war years.
It is a collection of essays, book reviews, social observations, letters and journalistic pieces mainly written for The Tribune but also for other publications, such as the Evening Standard. His observations on the English people are still witheringly acute, even after 75 years.
His guide to making tea
His full guide to making tea runs to more than 700 words, so I shall just summarize it here. He writes that he finds “no fewer than eleven outstanding points”:
- Use Indian or Ceylonese (Sri Lankan in 2019 geographical terminology) tea if you are going to add milk. If not, then Chinese tea is perfectly acceptable.
- Make it in small teapot rather than a large urn.
- Warm the pot. He recommends placing it on the hob rather than swilling it out with hot water!
- Make it strong: six teaspoons of tea to one quart of water.
- Put the tea directly in the pot, not in a bag. He clearly did not approve of teabags.
- Take the teapot to the kettle so the water is fully boiling when poured on to the tea.
- After adding water, stir “or better, give the pot a good shake”.
- Drink out of a cylindrical cup, not a flat shallow one.
- Pour the cream off the milk before adding. Modern-day milk is usually homogenized so this isn’t possible. And he didn’t have the option skimmed/semi-skimmed/low-fat milk. Milk was just milk back then.
- That old controversy about which he is absolutely right: add the milk after adding the tea to the cup, not the other way round. People who put the milk in first are just wrong. Okay?
- It should be drunk without sugar. He says “how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it?” I couldn’t agree with him more.
An excellent guide still as relevant in 2019 as it was when it was published. The only thing on the list that I don’t routinely do is use loose tea: the lack of mess provided by teabags, especially when just making a single mug, is too convenient and yes, I am a lazy and impatient person and use teabags much of the time. I also have never shaken a teapot full of scalding hot tea because that seems like a dangerous idea.
If you have enjoyed George Orwell’s fiction works, I highly recommend you read some of his non-fiction works because they are a truly fascinating insight into the world of 1940s Britain.