The Salt of the Earth

My microbakery, the White Horse Bakehouse, does not use industrial salt in its products, I use only Sel de Guérande, which in my opinion qualifies as The Salt of the Earth. I never use Table Salt at home, except in cleaning. You can see some slightly ground Sel de Guérande, and some coarse Sel de Guérande in the photograph I’ve included below, I use the one on the left in baking or grind the coarse version in a mill.  The first thing you will note is that sea salt shouldn’t be clear or white, it should have a colour (gray in this case).  The crystalline and pure white “sea salt” flogged by supermarkets and marketeers just isn’t the real deal folks – but table salt is the pits.
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While table salt is 38.8% sodium (being about 99% sodium chloride, most of the remainder being chlorine), the Sel de Guérande I use is about 35.2% sodium, that’s about 10% less sodium. Sel de Guérande is a particular kind of sea salt made in France. It is sel gris, meaning gray salt, because it is the product of sea water evaporation powered by the sun – so it retains all the minerals in sea water. This means it also contains magnesium, potassium, calcium, manganese, copper, sulpher, zinc, iodine, flourine, cadmium and iron.

Table: Mineral content of some hand harvested Sel de Guérande from my cook shelf

Mineral      Content per 100g
Magnesium 420mg
Calcium 152mg
Iron 17.5mg

The lower sodium content of sea salt is partly because it contains more water, but also because it contains many other minerals essential for life. This contrasts with “table salt” which I do not use, which often contains an anti-caking agent agent sodium hexacyanoferrate and also as sodium ferrocyanide (E535) – see below, or even sodium aluminosilicate which contains aluminium that I suspect you’d rather avoid.  Importantly, when you take a pinch of table salt you pick up a greater weight of salt than a pinch of sel de gris, so you use less sodium if/when you season the food on your plate – this has something to do with the way in which pure sodium chloride crystals can pack together without much air between them I think, while the irregular mess of sel de gris contains more air.

Though the salt I use already contains less sodium, I am aiming for our bread to contain no more than the equivalent of about sodium chloride (common salt) during 2017. Around 17% of dietary salt comes from bread in the UK, so it is important to check that all your sources of bread do this. Guérande is a medieval town in the coastal region Loire-Atlantique in Brittany, Western France not far from Nantes.

White Horse Bakehouse uses a Sel de Guérande moulis, which is slightly finer than the coarse granular form in which sel gris is often times supplied, which means I do not employ a separate salt dissolving process when I make the dough. So, rather than sacrifice quality and nutrition to satisfy an industrial process, I select or adapt an appropriate nutritionally ingredient into a thousands of years old process.  Find out more about White Horse Bakeshouse on our Facebook Group.

Why I don’t use salt containing E535 – or “Sodium Ferrocyanide is not food”
These pale yellow crytasls are also used as a stabilizer for the coating on welding rods – and no, it isn’t food and I don’t think it should be in food – do you? The material safety data sheet for E535  clearly states it is extremely hazardous if ingested, and is a skin and eye irritant, toxic to blood, lungs, mucous membranes and can cause organ damage. It decomposes at 435ºC, so would decompose in pizza dough cooked at the recommended temperature 475-500ºC, releasing highly toxic fumes of cyanides/ferrocyanides. Best avoid.

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Real Bread bakeries in and near Oxford

Artisan Bakeries and Real Bread in particular is on the rise across the UK, but it isn’t always easy to find out where to get it. In and around Oxford there are a growing number of Real Bread outlets available, but as no-one had made a list – I thought that I should.

“Real Bread” actually means something: the bread must be made with flour, water, salt and a leaven (sourdough or yeast), rather than a bunch of dodgy additives you wouldn’t consume if they were offered to you as the white/grey powders that they are. In addition, “Real Bread” bakeries tend to have finer ingredients, and use naturally length processes which allows for fullsome flavour development. This is then reflected in the price.  Even so, bakeries are small margin businesses, and are difficult to break-even businesses until they have a little scale.  This means that if you want to hold on to good bread, you should support the bakeries that provide this in your community or risk things returning to the bland doughey bread desert of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The other cost of consuming industrial bread is the use of palm oil (eg. in Hovis and other many major brands) – bad for the environment, but the anti-mould agents in British supermarket bread are banned elsewhere and some scientists think the emulsifiers are linked to inflammatory bowel disease, Crohns and ulcerative colitis. If you are like me, and you’d rather take the precautionary principle and eat great tasting bread – focus on Real Bread. In this very brief review, I’m noting where you can buy Real Bread baked around here, comments and corrections welcome.

White Horse Bakehouse – This is my occasional only microbakery based in the heart of Iffley Fields, in the “Republic of East Oxford” producing just 20-30 loaves every week or two. Our Signature bread is the “White Horse Sourdough” which is probably the tangiest sour available in Oxfordshire. I bake bread on a stone hearth lined oven, and from time-to-time do specials in a wood-fired brick oven. I currently operate exclusively through a Facebook group, in which bread fans are informed when a bake is upcoming. Most of our products are organic. We have no shop front, so don’t waste your time looking for one! Join now.

Astons Bakehouse – A completely organic bakery supplying Oxfordshire and London, created by one of the founding fathers of organic bread baking in the UK. Amazingly produces organic croissant and pain au chocolat. Based at Sheepdrove Organic Farm near Lambourn, in the picturesque heart of the North Wessex Downs. Syd Aston’s bakery produces a lighter form of sourdough, which is proving popular here in Oxford. Available from Wild Honey on 111 Magdalen Road, Oxford OX4 1RQ, and 12 South Parade, Oxford OX2 7JL.  Extensively supplying many London markets, with particularly excellent sourdough from 400g loaves to 20lb pagnotas!   Aston’s has no shop front, but Syd has kindly let me visit by prior arrangement.

Natural Bread Company – Baking in an Oxford City based Bakery, Natural Bread has three main outlets which are cafés in Oxford (29 Little Clarendon Street OX1 2HU), Woodstock (30 High Street OX20 1TG) and a shop in  Eynsham (1 Mill Street OX29 4JX). This is good solid sourdough, which is tangy and can be well toasted. Founded by William Black and Claire Véry, who also founded Appleton Farmers Market back in 2006. Their bread is also available in outlets including Appleton Community Shop, the Beetroot Pantry (Cowley Road, Oxford), GÄF (Magdalen Road, Oxford), The Postbox (Wolvercote Village, near Oxford), 2 North Parade (Summertown, Oxford) and the Barefoot Kitchen (Jericho, Oxford). William was my first bread baking teacher.

Modern Baker is at 214a Banbury Road, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7BY and bakes organic bread on the premises, which is also a little café.  Melissa’s place makes some of the usual craft loaves as well as pretty amazing products including two gluten-free loaves (yes, actually gluten free!), sourdough baguette, sprouted wholewheat, the superloaf (quinoa, chia and kamut) and a couple of rye loaves. Due to demand, the café will be expanding throughough the facility, and bakery will be relocating to nearby Kidlington still supplying its local shopfront.

Degustibus is an artisan bakery in Abingdon run by Dan Degustibus, which through distributors Silver Fork delivers to Oxford, and via the The Market Garden delivers elsewhere to certain villages in Oxon.  I’ve only eaten his bread via the Country Grains shopfront on Botley Road, Oxford – but he’s got some great fans.  It looks like his Aelfric Sour is one of a number of pure sour (ie. no commercial yeast added) – pictures here, the bagels look awesome and he does do a 100% rye sourdough (though it appears yeast is added in this case).  Also does a traditional range of farmhouse, bloomer and sandwich loaves which appear to be produced to a high standard.  Won a Muddy Stiletto award recently. Dan’s bread is available at North Parade Market on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays each month between 10AM – 2PM.

Bakergirl is a Banbury-based artisan bakehouse and barn café at Wykham Park Farm near Banbury (OX16 9UP), founded by ex-London bakers.  I haven’t visited this one – but the environment looks stunning!

The Old Farmhouse Bakery, Steventon
By far the most difficult to find, located through a farmgate across the village green in Steventon, next to a new houseing development. I have in the past become reliant on their delicious fresh Quiches. Founded in 1982, inspired by a desire to maintain the supply of Real Bread, the bakery utilizes a 77 year-old brick oven built in 1938. Their sweet treats and hedgehog rolls are particular good for kids. Also does farmers markets in Banbury, Summertown (Oxford), Didcot, Abingdon, Woodstock and Reading.

Marcopolo Bakery, Wantage
Marocpolo using locally sourced flour milled at Wessex Mill, and makes their bread available at their bakery shop, but it is also extensively available through other outlets South of Oxford, eg. Q-Gardens on Harwell Hill, but also available at Farmers markets in Oxford, Wantage, Malborough, Witney. Fairly traditional flavours, less than tangy sourdough, but bread that looks nice.

Another is Silvie which is a bakery café at 281 Iffley Road, in East Oxford which does a variety of good breads, including real bread made locally by Natural Bread Company and another local bakery, and developing its in house soda bread and others soon.  Then there’s Bannister’s at 245 Iffley Road, in East Oxford which does sell the odd basic loaf baked on the premises – however – I value them mainly for their legendary blueberry pancakes with bacon and maple syrups. Another good outlet is “Country Grains” café at 69 Botley Road, Oxford which sources its bread from German-style Artisan baker Dan Degustibus in Abingdon (Oxon) – I have heard that their brazil nut loaf is good.

Others bakeries worth a mention are GAIL’s in Summertown, but unfortunately their bread is baked in their central bakery in London and shipped to Oxford, and I’ve heard it includes additives – which may have been a good business model, and it is good bread – but the shipping of the bread adds time and delay – and it just isn’t what I mean by local produce.

Other bakeries of note which I think might not be offering “Real Bread” are Gatineau in Summertown, Oxford which has the most amazing tasting and spectacular looking bread and pastries, and the Maison Blanc on the Woodstock Road in Oxford – which I believe was Raymond Blanc’s first outlet in the UK.  If I’ve missed anything out, or got anything wrong – let me know and I’ll endeavour to update every so often.

 

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A visit to a Wood-Fired Bakery in Kefalonia

Although not all aspects of our family vacations are oriented around baking – I feel that it is important to try the local bread and other bakery products where I visit.  Last year, in early June 2015, while on a family visit to Kefalonia, I had been asking around about whether there were any wood-fired bakeries on the island.  Indeed there was – I was told of an old wood-fired bakery in Agia Efimia, which is a little port town on the Eastern seaboard of Kefalonia, facing out toward the Southernmost tip of Ithaca.  Being popular with sailboat tourists, without port industry, the town may have lost some of its individual character in adapting to the needs of a homogenous class of middle-class European consumers, which differentiates it negatively from more residential Ionian ports of call.

However, the historic wood-fired bakery is Agia Efimia’s saving grace – making our two hour drive from the South coast well worth the effort. We arrived in the mid-afternoon, toward the end of a typical long day in the bakery. The husband and wife bakers were readying the bakery for the following day, in heat of around 30ºC, and yet still made the time for me to take a look inside the cavernous oven – with a pretty cast iron exterior.

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The wood-fired bakery in Agia Efimia (June 6, 2015)

A couple of notable features were the height of this old oven was low even for the current generation of bakers, it was lit by an electric lamp during baking observation, and has a simple ash grate to dispose of the products of combustion. The loaves, one of which is pictured below, appear to be baked in close proximity – and are of a sufficient quality that little variation in bread product are required. The oven appeared to be fired with one barrow of wood per day, which in daily use may be all that is required to reach heat.

I had noted in other Kefalonia towns bakers mentioning the use of wood, oil and gas to fire ovens had ceased, for various reasons – including Health & Safety or government directives.  Let’s hope this wood-fired bakery continues the tradition – as its the only reason I will return to Agia Efimia!  For those visiting Kefalonia, there is also a wood-fired pizzeria on the seafront at Poros, being Bello Pizza – purveyors of the finest pizza on the island in the opinion of a food fascist who has eaten there!

 

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Generating Steam in a Wood-Fired Oven

A question of steam…

On artisan bread baking forums, you hear time and time again that one of the keys to baking great crusty bread is steam.  Another key is of course a lot of heat.  So while the wood oven gives you the heat, how do you get the steam?  And why would you want it?

Firstly, there are the caramelization and Maillard reactions, which will cause the desirable browning of the outside of your loaves.  Unless the surface sugars of the dough are in solution (dissolved), caramelization may be more like incineration. Secondly, without steam, you will get a thick and dry crust, which is less desirable than the crackly and thin crust you can achieve with steam.  Thirdly, steam around the outside of the loaves will delay the hardening of the crust allowing the loaves to expand more in their first few moments on the hearth.

In fact, this early growth process is caused by steam generated inside the dough for three reasons – but especially the heat of the hearth converting dough moisture to steam at the surface at which the dough meets the hearth (the bottom of the loaf) . However, in a (nearly) sealed unit like a wood-oven with the door plugging the entrance, if you are baking a few loaves at once the dough will release a lot of moisture which will contribute a steamy atmosphere – so once baking is underway, you are going to have self-generated steam.  So the crux of the matter is getting moisture in the right places (i) before the loaves go in, and (ii) during the first few minutes as the crust forms.

I wet the surface of my loaves liberally with a £3 garden centre hand-pumped spray gun (right hand side), and once the loaves are in the oven the professionals use a hand-pumped pressure-spray like the one on the left.  Also available from a garden centre.

So while professional bakeries might sometimes use steam injection rack ovens which cost many thousands of pounds, you can get a great result using cheap tools from the garden centre.  I have another method using a £5 pack of lava rock in a steel baking tray.

Once the fire has been removed, I put my tray of lava rock in the oven to heat up as the oven temperature evens out, carefully depositing around 200mL of hot water onto the rocks while wearing a glove, at arms length.  I load the oven with my loaves at this point.

You can see the steam rising in this example.  Remember that very hot steam is mostly an invisible gas, and that steam is dangerous and can cause burns. This is especially important if you are opening the door to a steam filled oven. Moving forward I’ll be using a pressure sprayer to wet the lava rock, removing the danger another yard from myself…

I’m currently avoiding pressure spraying the hot brick surface directly in case I cause damage to it, though that may be overkill as a 300ºC surface will probably turn it straight to steam.

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Photograph: Generating steam in a wood-fired oven using lava rock

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On the Nature of Pre-ferments

One of the toughest things I’ve had to figure out when learning to bake is what should pre-ferments actually look like when they’re ready to use.  This goes for both the poolish or biga type ferments which are called for with certain French or Italian breads and pizza, but also for sourdough.  So I thought it might be helpful to take a few pictures for your interest, reference and constructive criticism.

Firstly, let’s think about poolish vs. biga.  Poolish is a wet pre-ferment, containing the same weight water and flour (ie. 100% hydration in bakers’ terms), it contains less yeast than a dough and should be left 12-16 hours to ferment prior to use.  Biga is a drier pre-ferment (70% hydration, ie. 70g water to 100g flour), which is in some ways a fermented dough.  As it is going to be left for some time, and the yeast will be slightly held back by the dryness.  For a day-before-bake pre-ferment, I use degassed tap water adjusted to 24ºC using boiling water from a kettle.  There is no salt in my pre-ferments.   I degass British tap water by leaving it overnight with a loose lid, so the chlorine can escape.

Just like a dough, your pre-ferment will grow.  Don’t forget to use a container bigger than your need (eg. 4-fold larger)

Poolish

A couple of days ago, I made a large poolish to prepare Pain Rustique for the local homeless shelter.

Example Poolish:

In this example poolish, I fermented 6.5kg of Shipton Mill strong white flour with  6.5kg of water, and 1tsp of Doves Farm quick yeast.  I actually mixed it together in a spiral mixer for about 1 minute and medium speed, and left it to ferment for 16 hours in a plastic beer container.  You can see from the “time lapse” photography, the poolish grew by about one quarter in the first 6 hours, and by the morning, had nearly doubled in volume. Stiffer pre-ferments will hold their structure better and can increase in volume several-fold.

Quite a few things are going on in a poolish, but among other things the flour particles are getting fully hydrated, the yeast is producing a lot of flavour, gas is being produced, and the fermentation develops the gluten.

But – how do you know it is “working”?  You will take the lid off your container, and it will almost be alive with movement.  Bubbles will be reaching the surface, and it will not be still.  If you give the poolish a stiff knock – quite a few bubbles will appear.  I’ve taken a photograph of a poolish this morning as a reference.

Example poolish surface:

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Rye Sourdough Mother

Now let’s take a look at a rye sourdough mother, of the sort you might use in Pain au Levain or 100% Rye bread.

Example Rye Sourdough Mother:

In this example, I’ve refreshed a rye sourdough mother.  I’ve taken about 10g of a rye mother from the fridge, and added it to about 100g organic rye (Cann Mills), and 100g degassed water.  I leave it on the counter overnight (17-19ºC) in this neat Sisteam plastic pot.  I’m mixing it up using a silicone spatula, in a polypropylene bowl, all of which makes cleaning up really easy.  You can see the air bubbles which have formed.  The mixture is really stiff, and doesn’t flow (over a minute).

Stiff Rye Sourdough Mother:

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This close-up shows my rye sourdough mother not flowing.  Interestingly, a more liquid rye starter will favour certain fermenting beasties over others – and can lead to a fall off in the number of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis which I tend to think of as a sourdough bakers replacement for Saccharomyces cerevisiae.  In my hands, a flowing rye sourdough mother leads to loaves which don’t hold their shape – that also flow outward, probably due to overpopulation of the ferment with bugs that digest gluten.

Liquid Levain

This is an example of a liquid levain, straight out of my fridge.  You can see that it flows.  This was seeded from my stiff rye mother, and its about 130% hydration strong white flour.  This is a liquid culture of yeast (funghi!) and bacteria, which will be a very different population to the stiff levain above.  My favourite Pain au Levain recipe utilizes both stiff rye mother and liquid levain mother, hence, maintaining the two cultures allows a more diverse set of microbes to ferment your bread.  At a later date, I’m going to blog on the diversity of microflora in sourdough mothers, taking academic publications and reviewing them in plain(ish) English.

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Waste and Want

On a domestic level, it may feel plain wrong throwing out spare sourdough culture, or the end of an unused poolish.  If you happen to be making pancakes, throw in some spare sourdough – it adds character.  If you are making a yeasted bread, consider doing the same. I find my poolish keeps fine in the fridge for a week, and on the counter fermented dough in a sealed box is fine for several days.  Likewise, you can easily reduce the volume of rye sourdough you keep to a minimum (eg. 100g) which also reduces waste.

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Handmade and homemade: how to do pizza dough bases from scratch

Twenty years ago, I used to buy Napolina pre-cast pizza bases from the supermarket.  I’ve checked and strangely they still exist.  Now if you want to eat glyceryl monostearate, glyceryl distearate (E471), if you want to consume palm oil and glucose, and if you couldn’t care less how your food tasted – go ahead, at 85p per base is cheap.  However, I don’t consider mono and diglycerides of fatty acids to be “food”, glucose has no place in a bread product, and as for palm oil – isn’t that “the hidden ingredient causing ecological disaster“?  Besides oil is not an ingredient in pizza dough, not according to my foodie dogmatism in any case.

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The poolish prior to overnight fermentation

There are plenty of guides as to how to make pizza, I published some tips and tricks last year in my post September pizza from my wood-fired oven – the tricks I’ve learned by trial and error.  I’ll assume you’ve read that if you are reading this, if you haven’t – consider reading that post first!  I’m going to include links to various bits of equipment, but you can substitute anything I recommend with what you already have at home.

But cooking is very much a visual activity, so I’m going to include a few pictures about what things should look like along the way, visual tips so to speak. First off is the poolish.  If you want to make pizza dough that stretches without ripping, and a cornichione (crust) that puffs up nicely with a membrane-like skin that caramelises and chars deliciously, dough needs time.  This doesn’t cost you any time net, but it takes planning.  I make my poolish 48-72 hours in advance.  The poolish will be a mixture of 00 flour and water in equal weights (eg. 200g of each), the water will have been left to stand and “de-gas” with a loose covering for a few hours and will be 24ºC.  You can adjust the water temperature with a dash of boiling water.  If the water is too cold, the yeast’s fermentation will get off to a poor start, which will have downstream consequences, if the water is too hot, you can kill your yeast. I invested £10 in a digital catering thermometer which works just fine.  Good for yoghurt making too!  You are going to mix the flour and water quickly in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, I prefer something like an Araven Polypropylene Mixing Bowl which seems to help insulate my concoctions in my cool kitchen. Once all the flour is mixed in and wet, and there are no big lumps, add a sprinkle of yeast. I use about one quarter teaspoon of Doves Farm Quick Yeast, which is probably one quarter gram. Yes, this is the least scientific thing you’ll see on this blog, and apologies. This yeast doesn’t require any activation step, and there is no need to add sugar. Now mix in your yeast, and cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it overnight on the kitchen counter.  Ideally, this environment should be above 16ºC.  You can also fridge this ripe poolish for 24-48 hours prior to use.

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Dough balls prior to rising

The next morning you will make the 55% hydration dough, taking into account the weights of water and flour already present in your poolish.  You can let your dough develop for 3-6 hours at room temperature, then form (220g) dough balls which can be let ripen for 2-6 hours.  My experience is that dough balls which have been let ripen for a longer period are easier to work with to generate a really thin pizza base that doesn’t rip.  You can also fridge the developed dough balls and use them in the following days, though the quality of the end product will diminish over time. Use olive oil to prevent them sticking, I like to lightly coast them in olive oil using my hands prior to rising.  I use a cheap plastic BPA-free box for the rise, of the kind you can get in a pound shop,  and keep the lid on tight to stop a dry crust forming on the dough balls.

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Risen dough balls

If you are in an almighty rush you can use the dough balls within an hour, but that is somewhat of a wasted effort. I’ve included a picture of the risen dough balls so you know just how big they get.  The thin sheen of olive oil is helping to prevent them sticking together.  The alternative is stackable pizza dough proofing boxes, which are just a bit big for a domestic kitchen.

In previous posts, I’ve talked about my enhanced pizza sauce, which has been evolving.  Get some tinned  San Marzano tomatoes, and fish just the tomatoes out of the tin with a fork.  I no longer use the juice in my sauce because the product is too watery, and requires heating to cook off the excess moisture, or you end up with a watery pizza. Yuck! Use the tomato juice for something else.  When you mash your tomato fruit, you’ve got the pizza sauce, no heating required.  I sometimes add garlic oil made by lightly frying very thinly sliced garlic, filtering out the garlic with a tea strainer.  The photographs below gives you an idea of what colour the garlic should be, and illustrate the separation of the tomatoes.

Some unfinished business for me is weighing exactly how much tomato sauce to put on each pizza.  But we’re talking between about between a one and two ounce ladle, which is 30-60 grammes in metric.  I use the underside of the ladle to gently spread the sauce out, in a circular spiral movement from the centre of the pizza outwards.

A nice touch with fresh mozzarella balls is to drain the mozzarella really early on, and wrap it in four or five layers of kitchen roll.  As it warms up in your kitchen, it will give up more moisture than straight from the fridge.  If I’ve more time, I shred it into 15-20 pieces by hand, and dry it between layers of kitchen roll.  Again, we are limiting the addition of moisture.  I don’t rate supermarket pre-shredded mozzarella, which is supplied very dry, even if you sometimes see a similar product being used in pizzeria videos on YouTube.  You gotta wonder what effect the anti-caking agent (eg. potato starch) will have on your pizza, including flavour effects as the cheese caramelizes.

In terms of cooking, you can either cook your pizza full blast in a domestic oven – yes 260ºC is just fine, or if you have one cook it in a wood-fired brick oven for best results at 310ºC – 500ºC.  For best results use a baking stone which needn’t cost more than £10. The function of the stone is to simulate the pizza oven hearth, which stores so much heat that it can cause a steam burst, which gives you “oven spring”.  The water in the dough gets turned into steam in the first few moments of contact with the cooking surface, causing the dough, and therefore the cornichione to expand rapidly.  The electric pizza ovens in most pizza shops and even artesan pizzerias seem to be set at 310ºC, but  you do get far better results above 450ºC in my opinion.

So let’s take a look at a finished product cooking in my wood-fired oven:

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Then also worthwhile looking at a finished product:

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Happy pizza baking!

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Heating the Mug – The science of achieving the right temperature in mug-brewed tea

Tea-making behaviour has changed in the West, from loose leaf tea brewed in pre-heated pots, to “tea” bags brewed in mugs.  But in this movement to convenience, has the flavour been lost in methodology?

From adverts for brand tea bags to instructive videos on YouTube, self-styled exemplars fail to recognize the essential loss of consistency in the transition between the pre-heated pot to the mug.

Brewing tea is not nothing more than the addition of once boiling water to a location near the tea.  Mass marketing suggesting this method might be adequate contributes to an experience of modern life that is rubbish, meaningless and unsatisfactory – with an £84bn transnational encouraging human beings to irrationally follow a half-wit knitted monkey ted.   “Knat’s piss”, I hear my long-gone grandma call from her dining room table in 1985, deriding the product of a near miss between tea and nearly hot water in her broad Lancashire accent. Do not follow the monkey, though because others do, Unilever’s shares have risen about 4-fold over 15 years.

You must plan to enjoy your tea, and plan to spend the time and effort on making and savouring a good cuppa is a revolutionary act!

Making tea in a china mug is also a scientific endeavour. If you spend 40 minutes drinking tea each day, not uncommon here in the UK – you may spend 3 years of your life engaged in this pursuit. If your method of brewing the cuppa is lacking, this might mean you end up sipping an unsatisfactory beverage for 1000 days of your existence. It might seem like a sentence: but it need not be, and this brief article might just be your get out of jail free card.

Lamenting the lack of flavour in the cups of tea I was drinking at home, compared to at some cafés, I did an experiment with my digital catering thermometer.  A tenner ensures the 3 years of my life spent drinking tea will be more than satisfactory, but a pleasure.

According to Lifehacker, black tea should be steeped at 90.5 – 96ºC. Though the water in your electric kettle may be close to 100ºC at peak, it cools rapidly, and the temperature drops of significantly when poured into a much cooler receptacle like a cup or a mug. The colder and heavier the mug, the larger the thermal mass which will suck the energy from your boiling water, potentially leaving your tea brewing water tepid.  But just how much does the water cool, and will it affect the quality of your cuppa?

The first part of my experiment simulated what happens when I made a cup of tea by simply pouring freshly boiled water onto a tea bag in a cupboard cooled mug, but without the bag: the water was rapidly cooled by the colder mug to 83.5ºC, and fell quickly. However, after allowing the mug to equilibrate with the “boiling” water for 30 seconds, then discarding the hot water, and replacing with another mug full of freshly boiled water – I achieved a temperature of 93ºC. Within 60 seconds, and certainly at 120 seconds, this produces a much more satisfactory cup of tea than tea made in a cupboard-cold mug.  Try it for yourself.

Therefore the remedy for a post-“heated-pot teapot” world is “heating the cup”.  Let this be your manifesto for the moment. Dispense with revolting half-brew. And tea-up for the revolution!

NB. If you are a heretic, and you add the milk to your mug first, an acceptable variation is to microwave the tea bag in the milk for 20 seconds prior to adding the boiling water.  This is a rapid route to “builders” tea, which in addition facilitates the extraction of certain fat soluble flavour compounds from the tea.

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