To Microwave or Not? Tea Debate Re-heats up

Would you like a spot of tea … microwaved? Nuking a meal in the microwave is usually not considered to be the best way to enhance flavor or preserve nutrients in food preparation. So, who could have guessed that heating tea in a microwave actually has some benefits?

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In 2012, food scientist Quan Vuong, PhD from the School of Environmental Science at the University of Newcastle on the Central Coast of New South Wales in Australia looked into how black and green teas are improved by being zapped in the microwave. His study recently resurfaced when a brewing debate emerged after an episode of the British television drama Broadchurch. In the show, David Tennant’s character prepared his tea in a microwave.

“How possibly could microwaving a cup of tea be more beneficial than pouring boiling water from a tea kettle over a tea bag?” many asked. According to Vuong, a microwave can “extract, isolate and purify the important components,” reported ABC Australia. Apparently, Vuong’s research revealed that microwaving a cup of tea enhances its flavor by activating the majority of the polyphenol theanine and caffeine compounds, reports the Mirror. These bioactive compounds produce the flavor in tea that we know and love.

Furthermore, Vuong’s research shows that a microwave extracts these components from tea leaves better than traditional preparations. Steeping a tea bag in hot water for about 30 seconds extracts only 10 percent of the tea’s benefits, reports the Huffington Post. However, heating tea in a microwave for 30 seconds extracts 80 percent of the tea’s good components. Results are comparable for both black and green teas. Extracting all of the beneficial compounds from tea with the traditional steeping method, takes 20 minutes.

Per ABC Australia, Vuong’s method is:

  1. Put hot water in the cup with your tea bag.
  2. Heat the microwave for 30 seconds on half power.
  3. Let it sit for a minute.

Vuong concluded the microwaving method results in the best tasting tea. However, British tea experts disagree.

Tetley’s master tea blender Sebastian Michaelis told The Telegraph, “It’s not something I would ever do, but each to their own!” He also disputed Vuong’s claim that microwaving tea produces a superior taste. “Black tea tastes best when brewed in fresh water as close to boiling point as possible. As the temperature reduces slightly, the flavours will develop for a better quality taste.”

World Tea Encyclopedia author Will Battle vehemently opposed Vuong’s microwave endorsement, saying to the Telegraph, “Microwaving tea is actually an invasion from across the pond. To most of us born in the British Isles, the notion of a household without a kettle is unthinkable, but in the U.S. households with electric kettles are in the minority.” He added, “The microwave is a clumsy instrument with which to bring water to the boil. It heats water unevenly throughout the cup and is difficult to set to a perfect temperature for tea—but it is better than nothing.”