June 26, 2018

Horse 2429 - Making A Cup Of Tea

As someone who lives in the shadow of the British Empire, I retain all of the traits that you should expect of the British; which includes a compulsive need to apologise  all the time, a need to write down and codify the rules for everything, and an irrational love of tea and the ability to drink lots of it, even when it's 116°F outside. To that last point, when the British found tea, it simply had to become part of Empire, because if you're busy stealing countries and people's stuff, then you could at least be civilised about it. It's fine to be a bunch of kleptomaniac knaves but there's no need to be barbarians at the same time.
If you do a thing a lot, you tend to get really good at it. If you do a thing a lot and you're doing it for yourself, you tend to get really particular about it. For this reason, when you encounter a thing that has been done badly, it generates a really irrational sense of offence; when it comes with a bunch of codified rules, then this start to pull all of the ropes in your mental bell house and you get a cacophonous din.
I saw two things this past few days; both of them having to do with making tea, that put all of my hackles, feckles and schmeckles up, and into five bell alarm overload.

Although there is an international standard for making a cup of tea (Yes, the ISO cares about this sort of thing, see the link below¹) it doesn't produce a good cup of tea. The ISO is about producing a standard cup of tea which can be replicated; which is absolutely imperative if you need to compare something over and over again. Making a good cup of tea is a different process but isn't all that arduous at all.

1. Boil Water
It's really not all that important if you boil it or if you have one of those fancy kettles which boils the water to 94°C. The theory is that if you don't boil the water all the way, then the nucleation points in the water (minute almost negligible impurities) will help the tea to steep properly. I have tested this with a kettle with an overly fussy temperature control and to be honest, I can't tell the difference. For me it's like the differences between Dolby 5.1 and 8.1. You can go to the effort of doing this in your house but most of the time, not even you care (this is akin to the minimum detectable signal; which this is below²)

2. Steep The Tea
This is not negotiable. It doesn't matter if you use a teapot or teabags or even a French press but do not skimp on this. This is such an easy thing to do as the only effort required is impulse control and you can totally fake this just by being lazy. If you are lazy and can't be bothered getting off the couch, or are engrossed in that spy novel, or have some complex problem that you need to work out, then this achieves the same ends as waiting the three to five minutes to steep the tea anyway.
The very first science experiment that we did in Year 7 was to make a cup of tea in a beaker. My science teacher gave us all sorts of reasons for doing this which were related to things like learning laboratory safety, learning how to observe an experiment and whatnot but what really annoyed me was that we'd made a cup of tea and we couldn't drink it. I still do remember though, watching the liquor do its swirly dance of convection as the beaker boiled. Inside your cup of tea, you aren't boiling the cup but that swirly dance still needs to take place. If you don't allow the tea to dance inside the cup then the flavour of the tea will not dance upon your tongue.

3. Add Milk, Or Don't
It is settled fake internet law that people like what they like and need no explanation for doing so. It is also the law of the internet that the smallest of opinions, which have to do with the most petty of minutiae, cause the biggest flame wars which can rage for years. The most obvious example that I can think of is putting pineapple on a pizza - do what you like because you like it but remember, you are hideously wrong and we'll start a flame war that will rage across the skies. Adding milk in tea is fine. Adding milk in tea that normally wouldn't have it, like Russian Caravan, is fine. Adding sugar in tea is fine. Adding too much sugar, to very very strong tea, is the way that builders like to make it and it's still fine. Adding too much milk because you are one of the 5% of people who prefers milky tea is fine.
Do not however, under any circumstances, expect that someone else appreciates your overly milky tea. If possible, offer guests a milk jug so that they can add their own amount of milk. If you have to add milk yourself because of reasons of logistics, then add less milk than you think you need to. Barely lick the cup of tea with milk. I'm so vain that I want to see clouds in my tea (clouds in my tea) but I don't want to see so much milk that I'm not drinking a cup of tea anymore.

The two things that I saw recently were thus:
Recently I saw on on social media that someone had posted a photograph of their proudly overly milky tea. If you like that sort of thing, then its fine. People like what they like; this is settled fake internet law. You can't say that they are wrong because they are perfectly truthful in reporting what they like.
The second thing was that I was round at someone's house, who I suspect doesn't really drink all that much tea. Having tea and coffee on hand so that guests can be served is a basic requirement of civilization; so that ticked the first box. However, I was given a cup of tea that violated point 2 and point 3. I know that it hadn't steeped for long enough and this was compounded by having way too much milk added. When asked if it was okay, then outwardly because manners are codified and because I'm not a barbarian, I said that it was fine. Internally though, it was not fine. Internally, I was having all the ropes in my mental bell house pulled and a full on five bell alarm was going off.

If you're making tea for yourself, then do it however you like but if you're doing it for other people you should always assume that it will be wrong and you should be careful; or better yet, exert barbarian hospitality and make them do it themselves.

¹ISO 3103:1980 - Tea -- Preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests https://www.iso.org/standard/8250.html
²more on the Minimum Detectable Signal: http://literature.cdn.keysight.com/litweb/pdf/5952-8255E.pdf