Contrary to what Taylor Swift may have sung, at teatime, not everyone agrees.
A new book by the chemistry professor Michelle Francl says that adding salt to your tea can make it taste less bitter. The Brits, however, are having none of it, The New York Times reported recently. Those based in the United Kingdom have called Francl’s suggestion “a crime” that has left “Brits at a boiling point.”
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Francl, who works at Bryn Mawr College, has published Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea after researching more than 1,000 years’ worth of brewing. She read manuscripts that went all the way back to the time of Christ, and even experimented herself at home. The book contains many tips—don’t microwave the water; use a tea bag only once; dunk that bag up and down—but it’s the one about salt that has Brits up in arms.
“The sodium blocks the bitter receptors,” Francl told the Times. “The tea tastes smoother and less bitter.”
An important statement on the latest tea controversy. 🇺🇸🇬🇧 pic.twitter.com/HZFfSCl9sD
— U.S. Embassy London (@USAinUK) January 24, 2024
Of course, she isn’t saying that people should pour a load of salt into their tea. She recommends “so little that you can’t taste the saltiness of it.” And the main use case is for when you’ve left your tea bag steeping just a little too long. She noted that the eighth-century Book of Tea by Lu Yu also recommends regularly adding salt to your cuppa. But even then, the British—who consider themselves the crème de la crème of tea connoisseurs—aren’t on board.
The discord has gotten so out of hand, the U.S. embassy in London even felt the need to step in. It released a press release on X explaining its (humorous) stance on the transatlantic matter.
“Tea is the elixir of camaraderie, a sacred bond that unites our nations,” it read in part. “We cannot stand idly by as such an outrageous proposal threatens the very foundation of our Special Relationship. Therefore we want to ensure the good people of the U.K. that the unthinkable notion of adding salt to Britain’s national drink is not official United States policy. And never will be. Let us unite in our steeped solidarity and show the world that when it comes to tea, we stand as one.”
The embassy also subtly rebuked another of Francl’s tips in its statement, writing that it “will continue to make tea in the proper way—by microwaving it.” It seems like the professor needs to convince some of her compatriots just as well.
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