Friday, June 7, 2013

Scientists work out how to make the perfect cup of tea


Although Britain drinks 165 million cups of tea a year, there is little agreement on how it should be served.

In a bid to settle the centuries old argument, scientists have now got together to formulate a step-by-step guide for the perfect cup of tea.

And whether you prefer to brew your English Breakfast in a mug or teapot, there is one area in which the experts unanimously agreed - for the best results steer clear of disposable cups.

Speaking on the chemistry of tea, Professor Andrea Sella from University College London said the perfect cuppa is about "patience, love and care '.

But he said the smooth surface of a china cup or mug made not only keeps the natural tannins in the tea from sticking to the side, but the sounds, such as the teaspoon clinking against its hard surface were "comforting '.

"You want a smooth, impervious surface, you don 't want cup to bind the tannins. And also from a psychological aspect, it provides a lovely association of things like drinking tea with your grandmother which foam cups do not. '

Using freshly drawn water in the kettle ensures the tea can express its full flavour, as repeated boiling reduces the oxygen content and makes the water harder, giving the brew a chalky film.

Simon Hill, tea buyer from Taylors of Harrogate said: "Always use freshly drawn water, as the longer it boils, the less oxygen it has and the less flavour the leaves impart.

And as for temperature, let the kettle come to the boil and click off. Then give it a few seconds before pouring. '

Controversially, although harder water -- common in the south and east of the country - results in a residue forming on the tea 's surface, for many connoisseurs it produces a better cup.

"Although it doesn 't look nice, you may get a bit more flavour and body from the minerals reacting with the tea, ' said Mr Hill.

Temperature also plays a crucial role, with the experts advising drinkers wait a few seconds before pouring the almost boiling water on the tea. For more delicate teas, such as green and white, waiting for the kettle to cool to 80c is essential to ensure the leaves are not damaged.

"When the water is even 10c hotter, it doubles the rate of chemical reactions. In coffee for example, water at 100c can cause a bitter taste. With black tea, the temperature is less of an issue, but in green teas, it can damage the flavour, ' Professor Sella.

It was the British that started first started drinking milk with their tea, and have never lost the habit.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival (must keep), Mr Hill said: "When tea was first imported to the UK in the 18th Century lots of people couldn 't afford the fine bone china services.

The cups available couldn 't withstand the heat of the boiling water and would shatter, so milk was added first. It also helped to get rid of the bitter taste of some of the cheaper teas. '

Although brewing time in a mug is slightly reduced compared to a pot, scientists suggested three minutes allows the flavour to best develop.

The experts recommend around five per cent of milk in the cup -- and adding it first if pouring from a teapot -- which helps bind with the harsh tannins and make it a smoother, more enjoyable drink.

"The proteins in the milk clump together with the tannins, making a black tea much more easy to drink.

But adding milk to hot water causes it too "cook ' slightly, so the ideal would be to pour the tea into your milk and then enjoy, ' said Professor Sella.

"The ritual of tea making is also important. Making it in teapot and pouring it in porcelain cups invariably tastes better, even though from a chemical point of view it should be the same however you serve it. '

Finally, the secret is patience. Drinking your tea too hot just causes the mouth to burn. A wait of six minutes allows the brew to cool down to 60C, the perfect temperature for sipping.

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