February 25, 2024

In Steeped, professor Michelle Francl explores the chemistry of the world’s hottest beverage

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For Bryn Mawr School chemistry professor Michelle Francl, one of the best cup of tea made with science entails ping pong balls and a sous vide machine. Agitating loose-leaf black Assam tea for 4 minutes in a 93.5 levels Celsius fixed temperature bathtub could also be too fussy for the day-to-day. (“I simply need my tea within the morning.”) However it produces a superbly balanced cup: astringent and bitter, rounded out with some sugar.

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Francl drank at the least 483 cups of tea whereas writing her new ebook, Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea, and skim greater than 500 papers whereas researching it. “One of many issues I realized from doing this analysis is that temperature is so necessary, and retaining the temperature excessive (is necessary),” she says. Even for those who pre-warm your mug or teapot, which she now does religiously, the temperature drops. And since she’s wired her teapots with sensors, Francl is aware of precisely how cool the tea will get and the way rapidly.

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“I sous vide stuff on a regular basis. And I assumed, possibly I may do the identical factor I’d do within the laboratory and use a continuing temperature bathtub. So, I rigged up the sous vide and put the tea in, and, for me, it’s the right cup of tea.”

As fulfilling as this lab-inspired cup is, most frequently, Francl makes use of an electrical kettle, pre-warming both a mug or teapot whereas ready and pouring the water as quickly because it involves a boil. “It drives my husband nuts. If it’s been a minute, I convey it again to the boil. He’s like, ‘You recognize it’s nonetheless sizzling.’ I’m like, ‘However not sizzling sufficient.’ Now I’ve all of the analysis to show it.”

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Of the numerous chemistry-backed ideas for a greater brew Francl options in Steeped, one seemingly innocuous piece of recommendation prompted a world incident, elevating eyebrows amongst British tea lovers and eliciting a viral tweet from the U.S. Embassy in London.

As anybody who has loved darkish chocolate studded with sea salt or a miso chocolate chip cookie can attest, pairing salt with bitter meals usually has scrumptious outcomes. However to some, including a pinch of salt to tea to chop the bitterness was a step too far. “I didn’t count on it to be the one that may set the British Isles afire,” says Francl.

Including salt to tea is a long-established follow relationship again to the Tang dynasty in China. You possibly can expertise it at present in drinks corresponding to Mongolian suutei tsai and Tibetan butter tea.

In his ebook Traditional of Tea, Lu Yu suggests including a pinch of salt to the water earlier than infusing the tea leaves to cut back the bitterness. Bridging Lu Yu’s Eighth-century treatise and the Twenty first-century chemistry literature was difficult, says Francl, since sodium and salt are ubiquitous phrases. (She discovered what she was on the lookout for within the espresso literature “as a result of it’s the espresso individuals who actually figured it out.”)

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Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea book cover
In Steeped, professor Michelle Francl explores the chemistry of the world’s hottest beverage. Photograph by Royal Society of Chemistry

As a fan of tea’s inherent bitterness, Francl doesn’t often add salt to her cup. As an alternative, she considers it a rescue method — a hack for when she’s over-steeped her tea on the best way out the door and will use the caffeine. Only a pinch makes it palatable. The metallic ions in salt cut back the notion of bitterness, much like including sweeteners or milk. The bottom line is so as to add simply sufficient salt — not a lot that you just style it.

(I attempted it with over-steeped Darjeeling tea; each cups have been on the identical temperature and focus, one with salt, one with out. The salted cup was noticeably much less bitter with out tasting salty. Apparently, the astringency was simply as intense.)

Armed with an understanding of the science, Francl hopes readers will experiment to determine easy methods to make their good cup of tea. Dunk the teabag and squeeze out the remaining tea if you would like extra antioxidants. When you’re after rather less bitterness, attempt including salt.

The tea sommeliers I spoke with in regards to the uproar agreed: The “correct” option to make tea will depend on the drinker. “Including a pinch of salt is down to private desire. To me, there’s no proper or incorrect option to brew tea. No matter works for you is one of the best,” says tea sommelier and Chinese language tea grasp Claudia Tse, co-founder of Teakan Tea Co. in Vancouver.

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Tea could also be Britain’s nationwide drink, however it’s additionally the world’s hottest beverage. Who’s to say what folks can or can not do of their mug? “The British don’t personal the tradition of tea,” says Toronto-based tea sommelier and author Linda Gaylard. “They don’t have any downside including tons of milk and much and plenty of sugar to their tea. However they’d react to the thought of placing a pinch of salt, not a lot to enhance the flavour, however to enhance our sensation of the flavour on our tongue.”

Tea is a bitter beverage by definition, provides Gaylard, and you’ll mess around with that bitterness to fit your palate. She suggests experimenting with 30-second increments when brewing (as an alternative of setting a timer for 3 minutes, for instance), utilizing a small vessel to regulate the infusion, tasting after every increment and noting the main points of cups you take pleasure in.

Tse appreciates the gong fu, or “brewing tea with ability” methodology, which makes use of a excessive ratio of tea leaves to water and quick infusions (10 to 30 seconds). She says this methodology produces a extra delicate aroma, although bitterness remains to be central to the expertise. In Chinese language tradition, many take pleasure in “return sweetness” (hui gan) after consuming one thing bitter, whether or not tea or bitter melon. “Some folks prefer to brew their tea actually, actually robust in order that it hits your face with this bitterness, after which the complexity will develop, after which you have got all of the sweetness, all of the floralness. It’s fairly an fascinating sensation.”

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The underside line, says Gaylard, is to take pleasure in tea as you prefer it: “Simply be conscious whenever you make it. Attempt to make one of the best cup you possibly can. Respect the cup, respect the leaf and revel in your tea.”

Francl wrote Steeped for “tea-drinkers who might or will not be chemists.” Essentially the most enjoyable a part of the sudden controversy has been seeing folks interact with science. “I like {that a} radio host in South Africa informed me in regards to the experiment he did with three cups of tea, all brewed on the identical temperature. It was actually enjoyable to see folks making an attempt to channel their inside scientist.”

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