A Nicer Cup of Tea

In his 1946 essay A Nice Cup of Tea, George Orwell lays out his eleven golden rules for what makes, in his eyes, the perfect cup of tea. His rules range from using the correct method of distribution and the correct vessel, the proper type of tea to use (leaves, not bags), the varieties of tea that have the most aromatic flavours, and whether to pour tea before milk (yes) or milk before tea (yes, if you’re a savage who is yet to discover civilisation).

Although Orwell is the physical embodiment of perfection, and thus is infallible in his assertions, he, despite his infinite wisdom, does neglect to mention one salient point. I like to imagine that Orwell was in the process of jotting this one down but was called away to solve world hunger — or to shoot another elephant that was looking at him with a snide grin. “For an animal that never forgets, they never learn neither,” is what Orwell probably muttered to himself as he reloaded his rifle.

The point Orwell omits, and it is a vital point, is this: how to hand a cup of tea to somebody else without scolding the recipient. This is of paramount importance; because if you make a nice cup of Nigerian Sunset, Earl Gray, or Devon Tan and don’t pour it out for someone, then you haven’t really made a ‘nice cup of tea’ — all you’ve done is made some tea in a pot.

Fortunately for the tea (or hot chocolate drinkers — the coffee drinkers aren’t worth thinking about) drinkers of the world, I have come up with the twelfth, final, rule for making the nicest cup of tea.

  • Rule 12: A cup of tea must never be passed from one pair of hands to another; it must be set down on a flat surface.

It is such a simple rule, one that really should be so obvious to remain unwritten; and yet it is one that people fail with time and time again. Have you ever seen a cup or a mug? On the off chance that you haven’t, I have provided an image. Does anything in particular stand out to you? Don’t worry, I shall give you time…

Take a real close look

Time’s up! Did you spot it? That’s right: there is only one handle! Now, the handle for a cup is a very useful thing: in addition to letting you pick up the cup with ease, it also negates the need to hold the cup with your open palm around the centre, that is, the bit that is boiling hot; and it is boiling hot because that’s where the tea, which, as you well know, has boiling water listed as a key ingredient, is. 

Why, then, does the tea maker constantly and consistently hand the cup directly to the tea drinker? Unless the receiver of the mug suffers from Baby Hand Syndrome, there is no feasible way by which two hands can slot inside the handle to receive the tea in a coordinated, painless way. The receiver of the cup is thus forced to attempt to take the cup by the boiling centre, risking exposure to a deep burning sensation while trying to quickly place down the cup on a surface. Attempting to take the cup by the handle is something one can try to do, but that results in either the world’s worst game of Pass the Parcel; or one ends up grabbing at the tip of the handle, spilling the–boiling hot, need I remind you–contents on to one’s self, the tea maker, the floor, or a combination of all three.

Rule 12, therefore, is the only solution to this issue. Placing the cup of tea directly onto a tabletop, sideboard or some other flat surface (atop a coaster of course) alleviates all of the woes of burning that come from the passing of the thirst-quenching torch.

Orwell is quite right when he says that the art of making tea is a hotly debated one — but the proper etiquette of transporting a beaker full of really hot water need not be. Let’s end this nonsense now, and focus on the real issues of the world. Like which biscuit is the perfect accompaniment to that nice cup of tea.

The answer is custard cream.

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