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Fancy a cuppa? How to make the perfect cup of tea (and why most Brits are getting it wrong)

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Tea drinking is a national obsession here in Britain, so it's a bit galling to discover that - despite guzzling 165 million cups of it a day - most of us aren't get it right. 

A new study commissioned for British Science Week has found that only 16% percent of us stew our tea for the optimum time of two to five minutes. 

Researchers from University College London quizzed 1,000 people about their tea-drinking habits. 

They concluded that English Breakfast tea drunk without sugar from a ceramic mug is by far the most popular formula of choice, with more than nine out of ten people questioned opting for that variation.

And the time-honoured debate of when to add in milk appears to have taken on an age-related angle; 69 percent of us agree that milk should be added after boiling water, but those aged 65 and over tend to be more likely to add milk first.

Tea

What's clear, however, is that our national stewing habits are not up to scratch.

More than 80 percent of us gulp our tea down after letting it stew for less than two minutes, either because we lack time or because we adhere to the logic, "the hotter the better".

Researchers claim this sloppy habit robs our tea of its taste, with the decline of the teapot exacerbating the trend.

Mark Miodownik, professor of materials and society at University College London, said: "This may be controversial, but the British do not understand how to make tea. Or at least they're not doing it properly. And it's because they don't understand the variables. 
 
"Expediency is causing us to throw chemistry out of the window; we're not allowing our tea to brew for long enough, to release the flavours properly."

Tea

Golden rules for the perfect cuppa

(according to 2013 report from University College London scientists)

Steer clear of plastic, disposable mugs and use a porcelain cup

Only use freshly drawn water for the kettle

Once water is boiled, wait five second before pouring into cup or warmed teapot

Brewing time between three to five minutes for optimum balance of flavour and strength

Add five per cent of semi-skimmed milk to the cup before adding tea


Tea drinking

So what does make the perfect cuppa?

Naturally, it's a matter of preference, but - as well as the above rules - Miodownik suggests a little experimentation is in order.

"The next time you are making a pot of tea for the family, or are charged with the office tea round, try and test some different variables – from the type of tea to the length of time you brew it for and what you drink it out of – you might find it takes your relationship with tea to a whole new level," he says. 

Ladies drinking tea, circa 1840

Ladies drinking tea, circa 1840

Tea drinking is, of course, a central part of the social fabric here in the UK. Whether we use it to relax, to comfort or to motivate ourselves, it's hard to imagine a situation that isn't improved by a nice cuppa.

But it took several hundred years to evolve into a widespread national habit.

Shipments of tea from its Asian homeland began in the UK from around 1610 onwards, and for some time remained a luxury that only the rich could afford. By the mid 1700s, it had filtered through to become the favoured drink of the working classes - but ale and gin sellers were unhappy at the dip in sales, meaning tea was subject to huge tax levies. At one point, medical experts even referred to it as a "hot liquor", with warnings that it could cause blood clots.

Nowadays, the health benefits of tea are well-documented; we know tea of all varieties to be bursting with antioxidants. So three cheers for tea drinking - as long as you get the method right!

Photos: Getty Images

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