24 January 2024

Storm in a teacup! US embassy wades into row over author’s salt claim

24 January 2024

The US embassy in London has intervened in a row over how to make the perfect cup of tea after an American scientist made a controversial suggestion.

Bryn Mawr College chemistry professor Michelle Francl said one of the keys to making tea is a pinch of salt.

The tip is included in her book Steeped: The Chemistry Of Tea published on Wednesday by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Not since the Boston Tea Party has mixing tea with salt water upset the Anglo-American relationship so much.

The salt suggestion drew howls of outrage from tea-lovers in Britain.

“Don’t even say the word ′salt′ to us…” the etiquette guide Debrett’s wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The US Embassy in London issued a social media post reassuring “the good people of the UK that the unthinkable notion of adding salt to Britain’s national drink is not official United States policy”.

“Let us unite in our steeped solidarity and show the world that when it comes to tea, we stand as one,” said the tongue-in-cheek post. “The US Embassy will continue to make tea in the proper way – by microwaving it.”

The embassy later clarified that its statement was “a light-hearted play on our shared cultural connections” rather than an official press release.

Ms Francl’s book, which follows three years of research and experimentation, explores the more than 100 chemical compounds found in tea and “puts the chemistry to use with advice on how to brew a better cup”, its publisher says.

Francl said adding a small amount of salt – not enough to taste — makes tea seem less bitter because “the sodium ions in salt block the bitter receptors in our mouths”.

She also advocates making tea in a pre-warmed pot, agitating the bag briefly but vigorously and serving in a short, stout mug to preserve the heat. She says milk should be added to the cup after the tea, not before – another issue that often divides tea-lovers.

Francl said she has been surprised by the level of reaction to her book in Britain.

“I kind of understood that there would hopefully be a lot of interest,” she told The Associated Press. “I didn’t know we’d wade into a diplomatic conversation with the US Embassy.”

It has made her ponder the ocean-wide coffee-tea divide that separates the US and Britain.

“I wonder if we’re just a more caffeinated society — coffee is higher in caffeine,” she said. “Or maybe we’re just trying to rebel against our parent country.”

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