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The reasons you don't microwave your cup of tea

Posted June 6, 2013 into Food & Drink by John Birmingham

Nobody does. Not twice anyway. The resulting brew tastes thin and underdone, no matter how well the water may have boiled in the nuclear oven. There simply is no way to make good tea in a microwave. Boiling the water to pour over leaves, be they in a bag or strainer, or even in a pot, doesn't help. I've idly wondered why for years. After all it'd be so much more convenient.

Slate has answered the question with an unexpectedly detailed post:

Because a proper cup of black tea must be made with water that’s come to a rolling boil... Heat at the bottom of the kettle... The hot water rises and the cool water falls in a cyclical fashion, which uniformly heats the contents of the kettle to a boil ... But microwaves don’t heat water evenly, so the boiling process is difficult to control.

Having surmised as much myself in the days when I used to heat milk for younger children – the top of the milk would be scalding, and the lower depths lukewarm at best – I'd once or twice tried stirring the cup of boiling water to see if that helped. Not a bit. But now I know why.

When tea leaves meet hot water, hundreds of different compounds that contribute flavor and aroma dissolve and become suspended in the water. Black tea contains two kinds of complex phenolic molecules... These are responsible for the color and the astringent, brisk taste of brewed black tea, and they are extracted only at near-boiling temperatures.

Water also cooks certain volatile compounds, chemically altering them to produce more nuanced flavors and aromas, such as the earthy, malty, and tobacco notes in black tea. When the water isn’t hot enough to instigate these reactions and produce these bold flavors, tea tastes insipid.

If that's not bad enough, superheating the water, which is always a risk with microwave cooking, can destroy the oxygen normally found in water. "The longer water boils, the more dissolved oxygen it loses—and tea experts say that dissolved oxygen is crucial for a bright and refreshing brew."

There's more, but by now I've heard enough, not just about the perils of nuking tea, but of reheating soup in the microwave. I gave up on that particular fool's errand many years ago, preferring to use a stovetop pot. Or rather, not preferring to, but choosing to because there seems no way to ensure a uniform heat when nuking a bowl of leftover soup from the fridge. I guess what happens is that significant chunks within the soup retain their chill, making the whole exercise pointless.

27 Responses to ‘The reasons you don't microwave your cup of tea’

Trowzers ducks in to say...

Posted June 6, 2013

People put tea in the microwave...

...

...

Just no. No. NO! That is just awful! And in the age of electric kettles, it doesn't even save you time! I could understand doing this if you (like me) grew up in a house that did not have an electric kettle until the age of 16 (but did have a micrwave- that seems weird to me now in retrospect), where if you wanted to make tea, you did not have to flick a switch and wait a few minutes, but toil down the backyard for firewood to light the convection stove, then wait an age for the fire to heat up enough for the kettle placed on top to whistle.

But unless your electric kettle has broken - tea in a microwave is just unacceptable! Sacrilegious! It's like gargling the contents of the dentist's chair drain! Horrible!

(Says me, who drinks her cola watered down, likes boring cheese and puts milk in all the kinds of tea that aren't supposed to have it)

Murphy ducks in to say...

Posted June 7, 2013

For the longest time I did that, mainly because I couldn't afford an electric kettle at work. The results were never terribly good. But once I got an electric kettle, things got better.

But yeah, Americans especially do that with their tea.

Another horror to relate to you.

Sometimes Americans have been known to brew tea up and either let it go cold on purpose or, horrors, chill it for iced tea.

Respects,

Murph

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w from brisbane asserts...

Posted June 6, 2013

Yes, the oxygen factor is also the reason for the imperative that the water should only be boiled once. Do not commit the tea atrocity of just reboiling the leftover water in the jug. Oh, the horror!

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sibeen mutters...

Posted June 6, 2013

be they in a bag

Be they in a bag?

Fucking bogan!

Tea is made in a fucking pot using fucking loose leaf fucking tea, and none of the aromatic Eglish fucking breakfast muck either.

Stomps off

Bangar has opinions thus...

Posted June 6, 2013

So where do you stand on "Earl Grey Hot" ?

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted June 6, 2013

I don't make it in a bag you old fool. But if you want to stay head in the blogging in this modern world of ours you have to be able to connect with the youth of today.

Shell swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 6, 2013

There is no getting ahead with the youth of today Jabe. Getting ahead is forbidden isn't it. Isn't it.

Ippy Percival has opinions thus...

Posted June 6, 2013

Steady on there old chap. Tea bags are proof that technology will save us. Maybe not in the way we'd like to be saved, and what you make with a teabag is a substance almost, but not quite, completely unlike tea, but nonetheless, for what it's worth, in your own time and all that.

I'm with you on the various Greys though:

As though his only plot,

To plant the Bergamot.

HAVOCK21 has opinions thus...

Posted June 6, 2013

Ya both fkn pussies as ya drink FKN TEA FFSAKES

Murphy would have you know...

Posted June 7, 2013

Loose leaf tea might partly explain why the Limeys have such bad teeth, what with bark and leaf and shit getting jammed up in there.

Give me a bag or a sachet anyday.

As for my father, he used to dump a half inch of instant tea into a large mason jar, throw in some water, stir it around and call it good.

That was tea for Dad, drank it by the gallon and it is probably one reason he lingered for seventeen years after he was diagosed with three forms of Agent Orange related cancer.

Of course, being a dickhead might be another reason he lingered as long as he did.

Respects,

Murph

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Lulu mutters...

Posted June 6, 2013

I don't boil water in the microwave because I don't want it tasting of whatever has been in there before. I do heat soup, but with a break for stiriing half-way.

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insomniac reckons...

Posted June 6, 2013

Microwaves are solely for partially defrosting meat and cooking instant porridge, and maybe experiments involving cockroaches or zombies

Murphy mutters...

Posted June 7, 2013

They actually make a fair scrambled egg.

Just sayin'.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

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Singo reckons...

Posted June 6, 2013

Making a cup of tea and being in a hurry seem mutually exclusive.

Can't say I've had any trouble heating soup though - maybe try stopping it half way and giving it a quick stir?

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Coriolisdave asserts...

Posted June 6, 2013

Microwaved tea? Abomination.

However.

One suspects a bit of unScience being committed there. If you "destroy" oxygen, you'd be left with... hydrogen. Which could, I guess, bind to any random chlorine sitting around in your cup (woo hydrochloric acid!) but would more likely, I reckon, just.. bubble away. Handy for any depleted Zeppelins you might have lying around, I guess.

Either option seems unlikely, although I'm willing to experiment on my coworkers. In the name of science.

Yes. Science.

Bangar ducks in to say...

Posted June 6, 2013

I believe they mean remove in as allow to escape, the disolved oxygen, Commnader Barnes please confirm.

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HAVOCK21 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 6, 2013

Well I'm not really sure why ya don't just add fkn chlorine!!!!!!!

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JG mumbles...

Posted June 6, 2013

I like herbal tea. Yes, I buy herbal tea bags, but I also grow my own herbs and dry them for tea. Why I've just finished a homegrown cup of oregano tea. Earlier I had a cup of my homegrown stevia tea. I also had freshly squeezed lemon in boiled water. refreshing.

My favourite bought herbal teas are Rooibus, licorice root, and lemongrass. I also like peppermint, ginger and lemon, cinnamon and orange.

i used to be a black tea drinker but used to have too much of it, so now I only have it and real coffee (nice!) occasionally.

Water, of course, is the best drink.

Bangar ducks in to say...

Posted June 6, 2013

Water is the best drink ... after the correct and proper treatment of course ... mine ends up pleasently discoloured.

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Menaj puts forth...

Posted June 6, 2013

Surprised am I at the lack of vitriol associated with the question of... milk. And to throw the hand grenade out there, what about HEATED milk?!

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted June 6, 2013

I love science and I feel obligated to stand up for microwave heating, an outstanding example of pure science developed with no intention of practical application turned into a remarkably useful and ubiquitous tool once cheap cavity magnetrons were constructed..

Firstly regarding microwaves and heating - not sure what type of microwave ovens you have, but the principle is simply that it heats the water by electromagnetic radiation that is at the right frequency to be absorbed by the water molecule. Therefore it is efficient, it is ONLY heating the water. Yes it heats in waves, but that is due to the wavelength of microwaves about 12cms so that’s why the surface has to rotate.

Yes the solubility of oxygen in water is dependent on temperature so as the temperature increase the amount of dissolved oxygen is driven off, however as the water cools it will reabsorbed the oxygen from the air, so the only reason you won't have the dissolved oxygen back to around 10ppm is if you place it in an environment absent of air.

consider how long it took for the perfect brew to evolve through human history, we have had microwaves ovens for only 50 years give it another 30 and I am sure we can breed the perfect tea in a microwave.

Personally I like the steampunky process involved in a good espresso coffee.

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NBlob has opinions thus...

Posted June 7, 2013
Tea. Pfft.
Wiki:
An adequate consonant. Although W is obviously far betterer.
An interesting golf shot.
An abbreviation of Tera as in one trillion.
An impressive mass- roughly one fifth of a Greybeard,
The symbol for "True" in logic. Thus the inverse of Greybeard.
Symbol for period, the reciprocal of frequency.
Tesla (unit), the SI unit of magnetic field. Ooh Tesla mmm geekalicous.
The symbol for torque. Paging Havoc.
"t, the angular coordinate of the polar coordinate system is usually denoted by θ or t." I'm not sure either, but it sounds good.

Or a completely farcical drink, made and consumed by those without the capacity to grok complex concepts like coffee.
"ooh temperature And pressure? too sciency for me gov, I'll just bung some twigs in tepid water.
A gateway Drink to slouchbiking herbal vegetarianism.
As Comrade Murph points out even known to be drunk cold, at approximately 50% water %50 sugar, by mouthbreathers and Walmart shoppers.

Barnesm would have you know...

Posted June 7, 2013

"Or a completely farcical drink, made and consumed by those without the capacity to grok complex concepts like coffee" couldn't have expressod it better myself.

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NBlob has opinions thus...

Posted June 7, 2013
Again with the loss of format!

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andyf mumbles...

Posted June 7, 2013

a decent cup of tea is a thing of beauty..

heated milk ? sacriledge!

when travelling abroad amongst t'foreigners I drink coffee, because the poor buggers havent a clue about tea.

they bring you hot water in a cup

of course the 2 questions remaining are.

milk in first? nope

and what is this shit about us english having bad teeth?

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Blake mumbles...

Posted June 7, 2013

I stopped by a small coffee outlet in South Yarra to meet a friend last week. The establishment boasted its coffee creditentuals loudly and I was expecting to be tossed out for asking for an Earl Grey.

To their credit they not only supplied a leafy pot, but a stopwatch as well!

I was pretty impressed that the tea came with a timer and instructions.

I'm lucky to get anything fancier than a dilmah in a mug in qld.

derlengrek mutters...

Posted July 12, 2013

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