An American scientist unleashed an “Atlantic storm over a cup of tea” by advising the UK on the Brits' favorite hot drink. Bryn Mawr College chemistry professor Michelle Frank said one of the secrets to a great cup of tea is adding a pinch of salt.
Included in the reference book Steep: The Chemistry of TeaThis was published Wednesday by the Royal Society of Chemistry (in Portuguese, Real Sociedade da Química), the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The salt recommendation sparked outrage among tea lovers in the United Kingdom, where a popular stereotype sees Americans as poor coffee drinkers who make tea in the microwave. “Don't even say the word 'salt' to us…” wrote etiquette guide Debretz on social network X.
The US embassy in London intervened in the “storm” with a social media post assuring the good people of the United Kingdom that the “unthinkable idea of adding salt to Britain's national drink is not official US policy”.
“Together in our deep solidarity, let's show the world that we are one when it comes to tea,” the ironic release read, adding: “The U.S. Embassy will continue to make tea the right way — by putting it in the microwave.”
The embassy later clarified that its statement was a “light play on shared cultural links” between the two countries rather than an official press release.
But the American book, by contrast, is not a joke. The result of three years of research and experimentation, the book examines more than 100 chemical compounds found in tea and, according to its publisher, “uses chemistry with advice on how to brew a perfect cup”.
Adding small amounts of salt — not enough to add flavor — can make tea seem bitter because “the sodium ions in the salt block the bitter receptors in the mouth,” says Michael Frank. The scientist recommends making the tea in a preheated pot, shaking the bag briefly but vigorously, and serving in a low, sturdy mug to retain heat. Also, the cup of milk should be added after the tea, not before—another issue that often divides infusion lovers.
The author was surprised by the reaction to his book in England. “I noticed that it caused a lot of interest. I didn't know that we would start a diplomatic conversation with the US embassy,” he told the AP.
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