24 Million Ways to Make a Cuppa

Nottingham Trent University’s Dr. James Hind (left) and Tetley Master Blender Sebastian Michaelis.

If you thought you instinctively knew how to make a perfect cup of tea, think again. Experts in the U.K. have discovered there are more than 24 million different ways to make a cup of tea and while most of us might think we’ve nailed it, our friends and co-workers probably won’t agree. Only 1 percent of people admit that they prefer their colleagues’ tea to their own.

Tetley master tea maker Sebastian Michaelis and Dr. James Hind of Nottingham Trent University were among the group of experts conducting the research.

“What I found fascinating,” said Michaelis, “is that there are so many possible ways of making a cup of tea, but there is no secret method for the perfect cuppa.”

Everyone takes their tea a little differently, he said, which would explain why one person’s tea is another’s poison. “Whether you add milk or not, drink it weak or strong, what is crucial to a great cup of tea is the blending,” he said. “Blending tea, like blending whisky or champagne, is both a science and an art. Without the right balance of flavors, brightness and body, your tea would taste less like a Grand Cru and more like cheap plonk.”

So where does that leave the average tea drinker? Perhaps taking solace in the fact that, according to the researchers, most us like our tea with 60 seconds of brewing, a dash of cold semi-skimmed milk, three dunks of the teabag, no sugar, drunk hot from a mug, and made by ourselves—certainly a doable task.

And of the 23,999 other ways? Apparently, the myriad variations stem from many variables including years of experience (Y), weight of tea in the teabag (W), duration of training for the master tea blender (T), color (C) plus size and density of the leaf, as well as the brew’s purity of color (its sparkle, S), the weight of the tea in the mouth (its body, B), and the overall liveliness of the tea on the palate (its zing, Z).

The most popular blend, according to the study’s mathematicians who analyzed data from 2000 consumers, equates to (Sin(Y/114.5) √(ZB+CS))/( π–W)(5/T). As to achieving perfection, sadly, there is no magic formula, but the researchers did identify a number of serious no-nos, including adding too much milk, squeezing the bag so hard that it splits, and reheating tea in the microwave.

“Black tea tastes best when brewed in fresh water as close to boiling point as possible,” said Michaelis, whose taste buds are insured for £1 million. “As the temperature reduces, the flavors will develop for a better-quality taste.”

The research was commissioned by U.K. tea company Tetley Tea to mark its 180th anniversary and highlight its tea-blending mastery. “What better way to celebrate our anniversary than to raise a cup to 24 million possible combinations of the nation’s favorite beverage?” said Tetley senior brand manager Michelle Jee.

As part of its ongoing celebrations, the company launched #perfectcuppa, inviting tea drinkers to share a photo of their perfect cup of tea and the method they used to achieve it. “Do it and you’ll be in with a chance to win a range of prizes as a thank you for helping us continue to learn,” said Jee.