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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Orwellian Views on Tea

Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell, was known for his strong opinions on totalitarianism and social manipulation, as you might know if you ever picked up a copy 1984 or Animal Farm. But as a proper Englishman, he also had a thing or two to say about tea and its proper consumption. In the article entitled "A Nice Cup of Tea," Orwell outlines eleven golden rules for making and drinking tea:

  • 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.
  • 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 realized 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 recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • 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.
(See link for full list). This is not to say that I agree with all of Orwell's rules -- a little honey can temper the bitterness of tea, and provides wonderful relief for sore throats. And I don't know which varieties he was tasting, but I think the Chinese have a lot to offer when it comes to tea. I do think, however, that having your own personal rituals for preparing and consuming tea is part of what makes the beverage so special. Water must be heated to the right temperature, and loose leaf will always be better than store-bought tea-bags. And somehow the perfect mug always seems to enhance the taste of the tea. 

I'll leave you with some video action, since I just watched the new HBO film on Hemingway and Gellhorn -- check out George Orwell talking about the Spanish Civil War and the way to brew a perfect cuppa:

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