An American tells us the secret to a perfect brew

Tea: How to make the perfect cuppa

The perfect cuppa. Credit: Vladimir Gjorgiev/

The British love of tea is well-known throughout the world, but it turns out we’ve been making it wrong all these years.

Have you ever pondered the secret to the ultimate cup of tea? A recent revelation from an American chemistry expert might just alter your tea-making routine forever.

In a surprising update, Dr Michelle Francl, a chemist from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, has upended traditional tea brewing methods.

Unveiled in her new book ‘Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea’, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, her insights offer a fresh perspective on this British staple: ‘It tackles the age-old question of when, or even whether, to add milk. And it puts the chemistry to use with advice on how to brew a better cup.’

The science behind the perfect cuppa

Dr Francl’s research, rooted in chemistry, suggests adding a hint of salt to counteract bitterness. This suggestion arises from the sodium ion’s interaction with our perception of bitter flavours.

Francl went on to explain how rewarding it was to describe the chemistry behind the tea-making process to non-chemists and to apply the knowledge to brew a perfect cup of tea.

Unexpected discoveries

Another key recommendation is pre-warming the milk to prevent curdling. Dr Francl advises against reusing tea bags and strongly opposes microwaving tea.

With around 100 million cups of tea consumed daily in Britain, these insights could transform the nation’s tea-drinking habits.

‘Even after all these years of drinking tea and doing research in chemistry, I learned new things about what is in my cup and how to make the very best cup of tea,’ she adds.

In her quest for the ultimate tea experience, Dr Francl delved into centuries of tea wisdom and even discovered that people experimented with unconventional methods such as using vodka to remove the caffeine.

Tea facts

According to statistics the worlds biggest tea drinkers are Turkey, Ireland in second place and the UK coming in third.

Tea aficionados will debate the pros and cons of loose tea versus tea bags, teapots or mugs until the cows come home, the key is tailoring it to your own preference.

However, the experts at Yorkshire Tea offer a few insights for a great cuppa on that everyone can adopt. EWN opted for the cup option rather than the teapot.

  • ‘Run the tap a little so the water’s nicely aerated, and only boil it once to keep the oxygen level up. Oxygen in water helps flavour.’
  • ‘Pop a tea bag into your mug, pour over the hot water and stir briefly.’
  • ‘Tea needs time to unlock all its flavour, so give it 4-5 minutes to do its thing.’
  • ‘Before removing the tea bag, gently squidge it against the side of the mug. Just the once, mind – if you really mash it, it’ll taste bitter.’
  • Add a ‘splash of semi-skimmed or whole milk, but your brew is unique to you.’

Then there’s the age-old question of when to add the milk. Yorkshire Tea advises: ‘It’s all a question of heat.

‘Tea brews best in very hot water, but adding milk cools things down. So if you’re brewing tea directly in a mug, it’s better to add the milk last, after it’s brewed.’

Other topics such as the best biscuit to accompany your cuppa and the controversial topic of whether to dunk or not, probably deserve another book from the experts.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.