Shocking: Salt in tea? US scientist brews controversial diplomatic storm


It’s (maybe) war – and Euronews Culture gives you an idea of ​​what could escalate into something very, very bad indeed.


Until recently, the biggest tea brawl between the United Kingdom and the United States was the Boston Tea Party of 1773, which saw a group of patriots throw entire shipments of tea into the sea to protest the British tea tax. precious infusion.

Now a whole new storm is brewing… And it’s hard for some to take this rapidly escalating diplomatic conflict with a pinch of salt.

“Or is it?” as an American scientist might ask.

Professor Michelle Francl, of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, started the par-tea by claiming to have found the secret to making the perfect cup of tea, going so far as to write a book, “Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea”, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

He reportedly read more than 500 articles from the chemical literature on tea chemistry, studied the chemical secrets behind a good cup, and conducted his own experiments.

Francl’s findings led her to some of the following conclusions:

  • People should use a “short, sturdy cup” as they have less surface area, so keep the tea hotter.

So far so reasonable. Get ready.

  • People should opt for leaves over tea bags.

Sip, sip, hurray.

  • Warm milk should be used to reduce the risk of curdling.

Extremely sensible.

  • Do not use the microwave to heat water as this leads to the formation of something called “tea scum”.

Preach! We have loved you for a long time! However, let us never dwell on the term “tea scum” again.

  • Adding a small splash of lemon juice removes the “foam” that sometimes appears on the surface of the drink.

Here she is again with the scum. Get to the Nurofen, because that image isn’t going away anytime soon.

  • Remove the lid when drinking from a to-go cup, because the aroma of the tea is just as important as the taste.

This is gold. Solid gold. Francl considered a presidential candidacy?

  • Add a pinch of salt to the infusion to “reduce the bitterness”.

*Record scratch*

Wait. Sorry, now what?

Yes, it goes up. The usually granulated mineral composed mostly of sodium chloride that enhances the flavor of whatever you have on your plate. That salt?

Francl says the sodium ion in salt blocks the chemical mechanism that makes tea bitter. And this suggestion is far from new. The salt-in-tea trick apparently dates back to the 8th century. The ingredient is mentioned in ancient Chinese manuscripts, and with our understanding of the chemistry, Francl says that by adding a pinch of table salt, tea lovers (or cu-tea, as we prefer to be called) will counteract the bitterness of the drink . .

The chemistry is confirmed, but what happened to sugar and its anti-bitter properties?

It’s always good to keep an open mind and all that. But why jeopardize the taste of what is nothing short of a cultural institution?


Diplomatic balm gone wrong

Francl’s book, as you can imagine, is raising eyebrows in Britain. You could say it caused quite a stir.

His research has been widely reported in the British media, and some of the comments from readers who failed to appreciate the “you-do-you” nature of peaceful living are priceless.

The comments section of the extremely conservative (to remain charitable) British tabloid Daily Mail has gone into (predictable) meltdown. It all sounded like the crazy ramblings of outraged lunatics on the verge of emotional breakdown.

Our favorite? One outraged reader wrote: “As if we needed Americans’ help making tea. Who do you think you’re talking to, the French?”

Woah there, petal. Keep the French out of this. They didn’t ask for anything. They prefer coffee for breakfast and don’t want to be included in this nuclear-level shitstorm. Plus, they grill beautifully with generous amounts of garlic. Yum.


Sensing that an escalation was on the horizon, the US embassy in London intervened by publishing an official – but light-hearted – statement to calm things down and maintain the “Special Relationship”.

“Today’s media news about an American professor’s recipe for the ‘perfect’ cup of tea has put our special bond with the UK in trouble,” the post began.

Damn them, that hot water pun should have been ours. Well done.

The embassy said tea is “the elixir of camaraderie, a sacred bond that unites our nations,” adding: “We cannot stand by as such an outrageous proposal threatens the very foundations of our special relationship.”

The post solemnly reassures a shocked country: “We therefore want to assure the good people of the United Kingdom that the unthinkable idea of ​​adding salt to Britain’s national drink is not official US policy. And it never will be.”


“Let us unite in our deep solidarity and show the world that when it comes to tea, we are one.”

Phew, crisis averted and all is well again.

But wait. If the official statement had ended there, that would be it. However, and significantly more controversially, the US Embassy added this greeting: “The US Embassy will continue to prepare tea the correct way – heating it in the microwave.”

*Second record scratch*

The sweet Mother of Hades in a descent of Camellia sinensis!


Way to escalate things further, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Fiasco not averted, SNAFU assures, and Professor Michelle Francl is now on the side of the angels.

At the time of publication, the UK has not declared war on the US, and we at Euronews Culture are committed to keeping our readers updated on any further developments regarding the two G7 countries and their endangered ties.

We will nervously drink large cups of tea to deal with the anxiety of impending (and at this point, let’s face it, inevitable) conflict – tea, we assure our readers, that we will prepare using a kettle. Because we are not pagan maniacs and would rather drink gasoline from the spout than dirty a good cup by exposing it to electromagnetic radiation in the microwave frequency range.

Your move, American Embassy. It’s tea bags at dawn.


“Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea,” by Professor Michelle Francl is now available.

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