What is your preferred way of drinking tea? Do you prefer one sugar cube, two, or perhaps some milk? According to one scientist from the United States, unless you add salt, your cup of tea will not be considered perfect. This concept has sparked controversy in the United Kingdom, to the point where even the American embassy has become involved.
Chemist and author Michelle Francl’s advocacy for adding salt to tea gained attention with the publication of her latest book, “Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea,” which was released on Wednesday by the Royal Society of Chemistry. In her book, Francl posits that incorporating a small amount of salt into tea can reduce its bitterness, as the sodium content can hinder the activation of bitter receptors in our mouths, according to the Associated Press.
The proposal was met with a swift response from the British, and it was not well received.
Good Morning Britain” posted on social media Wednesday, sharing a video of one of its anchors saying such an addition is “absolute craziness.”
The anchor expressed surprise, saying they had never heard anything like it before. They also cautioned against altering a cup of tea by adding salt and heating the milk, unsure of the reasoning behind such a decision.
The well-known social media page VeryBritishProblems commented that the book caused a negative impact on the relationship between two countries.
“What will America recommend today, we wonder?” the account posted on Thursday. “Onions in a bowl of cereal? Mustard on Jaffa Cakes?”
The simple act of adding salt to tea has caused quite a stir, with even the American embassy becoming involved. On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in London released a statement expressing concern that Francl’s “perfect” cup of tea recipe may have strained the relationship between the embassy and the U.K.
The embassy expressed concern about a proposal to add salt to tea, stating that it goes against the strong bond between our nations. They also clarified that this idea is not endorsed by the United States and never will be.
The embassy reiterated its commitment to stand in strong support of the people of Britain.
“United in our love for tea,” they proclaimed before jokingly stating, “The U.S. Embassy will persist in preparing tea correctly – by using a microwave.”
Francl herself replied to the embassy’s statement, stating on social media that she was unaware her writing would cause such controversy.
She stated, “I am not bitter if it means bringing attention to the significance of chemistry. Just sprinkle a bit of salt and heat up your tea in the microwave and see for yourself!”
What is the secret to brewing the ideal cup of tea?
The U.K. takes tea drinking seriously. In 2021, The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company surveyed to discover the most popular method of making this beverage.
After surveying 2,000 individuals, the company discovered that 70% believe the correct method for making tea is to put the tea bag in the cup, boil water, and then add milk – without adding salt.
According to Francl’s book, the proper method for making tea involves using a pre-warmed pot and serving it in a short and stout mug. Both Francl and Brits concur that adding milk at the end is acceptable. However, there is another shared belief: the water should never be heated in the microwave.
According to Francl, a thin layer of white film can develop in tea, similar to the scum that accumulates in bathtubs. This can result in a less fragrant and less delicious cup of tea.
If you choose to use a microwave to prepare your tea, and it forms a layer of scum on the surface, she suggests adding a small amount of lemon.
Salted tea isn’t as odd as it sounds
Some people in other parts of the world have been adding salt to their tea for centuries, a practice that Brits struggle with when trying Francl’s recipe. However, this is not considered taboo in those regions.
According to Muhammad Munir, a virology professor at Lancaster University, it is not unexpected to add salt to tea.
On social media, the individual stated that it is customary in South East Asia to add a small amount of salt to tea. They also mentioned that they were raised with the practice of adding a small pinch of salt to bread, tea, and on slices of apple and watermelon.
Francl, in her article for Chemistry World published on Wednesday, mentioned that she has extensively studied numerous articles on the chemistry behind producing the ideal cup of tea. This includes a renowned exceptional cup described in an 8th century Chinese manuscript.
The South China Morning Post released an editorial in 2019 discussing the longstanding customs surrounding tea consumption. This particular custom originated during the Tang dynasty in China, spanning from 618 to 907. It involved crushing tea leaves into powder and compacting them into blocks, which were then used to brew tea with the addition of salt.
In present day Tibet, salt continues to be an essential ingredient in various tea preparations. An example of this is the well-known yak butter tea, which involves steeping a strong fermented tea with a generous amount of salt, and then adding in yak butter and milk before serving.
Ramin Skibba, a writer and journalist, shared on social media a humorous disagreement between the US and UK regarding tea. However, we should keep in mind that the art of making tea was mastered by people in Central and East Asia long before the British Empire came into existence.