Proper Tea As According to George Orwell




Tea has been around for thousands of years.  Legends of its discovery range from a tea leaf blowing into Chinese Emperor Shen Nung's boiling water to divine creation by the Buddha.

Traditionally, tea is brewed from whole leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant.  (All teas are made using this plant; the method in which they are prepared differentiates types of tea.  Herbal teas, or tisanes, do not contain Camellia Senensis and are not technically classified as tea.)  However, since the advent of the tea bag in the early 20th century, many have preferred to brew their tea using this much inferior method.  One still needs to use loose leaves for a truly decent cup of tea.

The following instructions are based on George Orwell's method for preparing tea as described in "A Nice Cup of Tea." Read it.

Note: I realize that it might not make much sense to create these instructions since George Orwell already wrote them out perfectly well 66 years ago, but I believe that Orwell's essay lacks much explanation and a small amount of basic detail, as it was written for mid-20th century UK, a society that understood tea significantly better than is common across the globe today.

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Step 1: Equipment

You will need:

-Heating Element(An open flame is best)
-Loose leaf tea

Step 2: Boiling Water

The water should be brought to a full boil before infusing the tea.  These directions are for black tea.  For white and green teas, water should be slightly below boiling.

One should make sure that there is enough water in the kettle before heating it over the stove, or turning it on if one has the electric sort.  In my area the tap water is quite good, but if it contains excessive chemicals or minerals, you will want to use filtered or bottled water.  Many suggest that only fresh water that has not been previously boiled should be used for tea; Orwell said he can not tell any difference.

At this point, one should also warm the teapot either by heating it on the stove or swilling hot water in it.

Step 3: The Tea Leaves

Loose leaf tea should be used, as previously mentioned, and it should be placed directly into the teapot, not in one of those little infuser baskets.  This is because bag tea uses lower grade tea with much finer particles, which lessens the amount of flavor released.  Bags and other devices that contain tea leaves inhibit the leaves' ability to expand properly in the water and release their full flavor.

According to Orwell, six teaspoons of tea should be used for every quart of water.

Step 4: Brewing the Tea

At this stage, the water should be boiling, your teapot warmed, and the tea leaves in it.  Now bring the teapot to the kettle (not the other way around.)  If your kettle is over an open flame, leave it on.  Lift the kettle and, holding it over the flame, pour the water into the teapot.  This ensures that the water is boiling at the moment it hits the leaves.  If you are using an electric kettle or have an electric range, try to pour quickly, before the water stops boiling.

Put the lid on the teapot and wait three to five minutes, depending on how strong you want your tea. 

Again, these instructions are for black tea.  If you are are making green or any of the other more delicate teas, the water should be below boiling and brewing times will vary.

Step 5: Milk and Drinking

Pour the tea from the pot into your teacup, leaving some room.  During this step the leaves can be strained out.  They have no ill effect on your health, so it is perfectly safe to leave them in, but the texture may be off-putting.

Now add the desired amount of milk to your tea.  It is apparently a hotly contested issue whether the milk or tea should be added first and it really doesn't affect your tea in any way, but Orwell suggests pouring the milk in last so that the amount of milk can be easily judged.

Orwell is also of the opinion that one isn't a true tea-lover unless they prefer it without sugar, saying that sugar destroys the flavor of the tea. He recommends that those who drink tea only with sugar drink it without sweetener for a fortnight (two weeks) and that afterwards they will never want to sweeten their tea again.  Personally, I drink it both ways.

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    11 Discussions

    There is a story where Ben Franklin stopped at a tavern and asked if he could get some tea if it was properly smuggled in to the country (this was after the "Boston tea party" ) the answer was a resounding NO! lol The tea party is why coffee is most prevalent caffeine drink.

    1 reply

    There is a story where Ben Franklin stopped at a tavern and asked if he could get some tea if it was properly smuggled in to the country (this was after the "Boston tea party" ) the answer was a resounding NO! lol The tea party is why coffee is most prevalent caffeine drink in America.
    Sorry forgot to add America...I need another cup of


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I agree with Orwell. Sugar is sacrelidge.

    Also, I've heard arguments that milk was traditionally poured in first to avoid damaging fine china with very hot tea. I couldn't prove this attest to this being myth or not though, I personally prefer to add milk second for the same reason you quote Orwell as suggesting. This also leads to the great Cornish vs Devon debate over scones.... jam or cream first?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    ISO 3103, based on the British Standard method for brewing tea for taste-testing (BS 6008:1980) clearly stipulates that the milk is added to the cup _before_ the brewed tea.

    Yes, the British actually have 6-page standardisation documents for this, and yes, I know about them. Now who's a tea-snob?

    Q: Why do anarchists drink herbal tea?
    A: Because proper tea is theft!

    St Jimmy

    7 years ago on Step 5

    I did a double-blind test with my father as the test subject to test whether or not milk before tea or the other way around made a difference. He preferred the tea with the milk before tea, and so did I. Also, I prefer my tea with two teaspoons of sugar. No more. Less is fine.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Remember Orwell was using a British quart which is 40 fluid ounces not the 32 of the American variety.

    1 reply
    Shelby S

    7 years ago on Introduction

    You mentioned that the water should be slightly below boiling for other, non-black teas... There is a chinese trick for determining the temperature of the water by looking at the bubbles or steam above the water... a 'pillar of steam' over the pot means it's about 170 Fahrenheit, 'fish eyes' when it's about 180. There are bubbles forming on the bottoms. 'String of Pearls' when it's about 195; these appear to be strands of bubbles that float to the surface. When it's boiling, they actually call it 'dead water'.

    You also mentioned about the water... It's noticeable, to me, if you boil it twice or multiple times. When water is boiled, oxygen is being released, and this is part of what makes tea good. Now that I think of it, that may be a reason that black teas taste more astringent: there is less oxygen in it, and more hydrogen, which is what makes things acidic (hydrogen is the root of all acids - which means water is an acid).

    This is a nice website for learning more about tea chemically and how it's prepared:

    By the sounds of it... Orwell is kind of a tea-snob.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is fantastic. I had no idea he had written a tea guide. I'll have to give it a read.

    I love the way this instructable is written, too. :D


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Nice, I'll have to try this, I usually use tea bags, and if I have loose leaf tea I use an infuser. I also sweeten it, maybe I'll try Orwell's advise.