LONDON — An American scientist has caused a transatlantic storm in a teapot by advising Britain on its favorite hot drink.
Michelle Francl, professor of chemistry at Bryn Mawr College, says one of the keys to a perfect cup of tea is a pinch of salt. The tip is included in Francl’s book ‘Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea’, published on Wednesday by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Not since the Boston Tea Party mixed tea with salt water has Anglo-American relations been in such turmoil.
The salt suggestion sparked outrage among tea lovers in Britain, where the popular stereotype sees Americans as coffee-guzzling peasants who brew tea, if at all, in the microwave.
“Don’t even say the word ‘salt’ to us…” wrote etiquette guide Debrett’s on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The US Embassy in London intervened in the gathering storm with a social media post reassuring “the good people of Britain that the unthinkable idea of adding salt to Britain’s national drink is not an official policy of the United States is.”
“Let us unite in our deep solidarity and show the world that when it comes to tea, we are one unit,” the ironic post said. “The U.S. Embassy will continue to brew tea the right way – by microwaving it.”
The embassy later clarified that its statement was “a light-hearted play on our shared cultural connections” and not an official press release.
“Drenched,” on the other hand, is no joke. The product of three years of research and experimentation, the book examines the more than a hundred chemical compounds found in tea and “uses chemistry with advice on how to make a better cup,” the publisher says.
Francl said adding a small amount of salt — not enough to taste — makes the tea seem less bitter because “the sodium ions in salt block the bitter receptors in our mouth.”
She also advocates brewing tea in a preheated pot, shaking the bag briefly and serving it in a short, sturdy mug to retain the heat. And she says milk should be added to the cup after tea, not before – another issue that often divides tea lovers.
Francl is surprised by the reactions to her book in Great Britain.
“I kind of understood that hopefully there would be a lot of interest,” she told The Associated Press. “I didn’t know we would have a diplomatic conversation with the American embassy.”
It’s made her think about the ocean-wide divide between coffee and tea that separates the US and Britain.
“I wonder if we’re just a more caffeinated society; coffee has more caffeine,” she said. “Or maybe we’re just trying to rebel against our motherland.”