George Orwell’s rules for drinking tea

Who doesn’t like a nice cup of tea? Unless you are a tea hater and precisely the term “tea-hater” doesn’t exist due to graving fact that – “Tea is one of the most widely consumed drink around the world and there are many who can’t even imagine starting the day without a nice cup of tea.”

Making a proper cup of tea is not such a hard task unless you know the procedure of making it correctly. In different cultures there are very specific methods to make a cup of tea.

Like in other cultures there is some debate as to whether tea should be served with milk or lemon. Depending on where you live and what traditions and practices you follow, your cup of tea may vary greatly from that of your neighbor. But if you’re searching for the way to a divine cup of steaming tea, you should take the time to do it right – or at least close enough.

Today we are going to discuss one of the earliest methods of preparing a cup of tea, written by the famous English author “George Orwell”.

George Orwell was an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic. He was an author of a kind and his work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.

George Orwell’s eleven golden rules of making a cup of tea is actually an essay written by him which was first published in the London Evening Standard on 12 January 1946. It is a discussion of the craft of making a cup of >tea, including the line: “Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden.”

The guidelines given below may sound to us a tad austere at worst, but Orwell presents some of them as downright “controversial”. Dare he so boldly insist upon drinking only out of a “good breakfast cup,” de-creaming milk before pouring it into tea, and never, ever using neither strainers nor bags?

Here are his eleven rules, every one of which he regard as golden:

Rule no 1-

Only make tea with Indian or Ceylonese 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.”

George Orwell’s first golden rule describes mainly on the type of tea to be used for the preparation of tea. He clearly states that one should use only Indian or Ceylonese tea and avoid using the china tea. The reason behind this is not known exactly. Historians state that his connection to India has something to do with the fact that he stresses on using Indian tea or probably he has not tasted the Chinese tea and has very poor knowledge of the Chinese tradition.

There has been a disagreement on the above statement by many of the tea lovers around the world, especially in China. Orwell has directly criticized the Chinese tea by plugging them into the category “substandard tea makers” by emphasizing on the statement – “…but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it.” One of the authors in china put a contradicting statement regarding the same – “I don’t think Orwell can have tried Yunnan pu-erh tea or Japanese houjicha, from which anyone can find instant solace.

Rule no-2

Tea should be made in a teapot

“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 Britannia ware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.”

George Orwell’s second rule stresses on the fact that whenever we make tea it should be made in lesser quantities. He also suggests the use of china or earthenware teapot (And not just any old tea-pot, but one made of china, ‘earthenware’ or pewter) while stating that the use of other tea-pots results in inferior tea. One surprising comment which he makes in the statement is regarding the army tea, wherein he criticizes the tea to be tasting of grease and whitewash, and one can easily make out Orwell’s bitter experience in the army.

Rule no-3

The pot should be warmed beforehand

“Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.

Orwell’s third rule can be agreed wholeheartedly and the reason is just too slow down the cooling of the tea. When the tea-pot is preheated the hot water does not cool down so fast as it is in contact with a warm material. Tea leaves require very hot water to percolate and if the pot is cold when the water is added the temperature drops very quickly and the tea does not percolate long enough in near boiling water.”

Rule no-4

The tea should be strong

“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.”

It’s clear that George Orwell was a big fan of a strong cup of tea, and he was a tea lover too. He has his own view point on being a tea lover and his views seem to be rather monotonous. According to him, all the tea-lovers like a strong cup of tea, and with the passing years their tendency to have a stronger cup of tea rises. This cannot be true for all, as many tea lovers have a different taste which doesn’t just rely on how strong is the tea.

Rule no-5

Tea should be put straight into the pot

Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries, teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.”

Orwell here clearly restricts the use of strainers or muslin bags and depicts a scientific aspect not filling the teapots with any material to catch the tea leaves, which in-turn is harmful. There is no valid proof for the above statement and there is much written on how many minutes you should brew each kind of tea (green, black, white) which can vary depending on which time of the year it was picked (first flush, second flush).  This statement can clearly disagree because unless you have some removable straining device in your tea pot, you will stew your tea.

Rule no-6

Take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about

Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference”

Although there has been a lot of change over the years in which out kitchens are being handled and the process almost differ now. Orwell’s rule can be agreed on this one, as we are really unaware of the 1940’s kitchen and how it used to be. So, yes whatever Orwell says on this one…agreed.

Rule no-7

After making the tea, stir it

“Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterward allowing the leaves to settle”

There is nothing to disagree or comment on this one as this is pretty uncontroversial.

Rule no-8

Drink it out of a good breakfast cup

“Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it”

These are the rules set by Orwell and surely he has his own style statement. A ‘good breakfast cup tea’, itself personifies his style and elegance. Although, in India, we don’t have a separate breakfast cup tea but Orwell’s statement surely makes us think. What do you think…???

Rule no-9

Pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea

“Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste”

Depends on the taste of the tea lover on how he likes the tea. This could be true for western countries but in India, this doesn’t stand fully correct. In our tradition, the tea is often served with cream.

Rule no-10

Pour tea into the cup first, then the milk

“Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain, there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round”

We can clearly disagree on this one as a true tea lover knows how much milk to use to make a cup of tea. The years of practice clearly teaches a tea lover on how much quantity of milk and tea to be used.

Also, there is a scientific reason for pouring the milk first- ‘If milk is poured into hot tea, individual drops separate from the bulk of the milk, and come into contact with the high temperatures of the tea for enough time for significant denaturation – degradation – to occur’.

Rule no-11

Drink it without sugar

“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 tea-lover 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”

We cannot say that the flavor of the tea is destroyed by adding sugar in it as for many around the world, a cup of tea holds no taste if there is no sugar in it. Again, it is actually meaningless to make a comment on the same.

Despite these points of difference, we all should appreciate the golden rules of George, as he has surely written it with great spirit, and whatever difference holds in making tea in different cultures, tea lovers just love to have a great cup of tea.

Would you want to share a pot of tea with George? Where do you stand on the perfect cup of tea? 

3 Replies to “George Orwell’s rules for drinking tea”

  1. Brooks Dyches says: Reply

    you are my inhalation, I possess few blogs and very sporadically run out from to post.

  2. nails breda says: Reply

    Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article.
    I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return to read extra of your helpful information. Thank you
    for the post. I will certainly comeback.

  3. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (it was super long) so
    I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!