When Prof. Michelle Francl released her new book about the chemistry of tea, she had no idea about the instant notoriety she would receive! Michelle was a guest for a Vatican Observatory Full Moon meetup on Tue. Jan. 23. 2024; she mentioned that almost immediately after the book was released, she was interviewed by several news agencies including the BBC and NPR.
The book, Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea – “explores the chemistry behind different styles of tea, from green teas to pu-erh. It tackles the age-old question of when, or even whether, to add milk. And it puts the chemistry to use with advice on how to brew a better cup.”
In our meetup, Prof. Francl explained that adding a TINY bit of salt to your tea can reduce its bitter taste; ions in the salt act as a blocker to taste receptors. This concept is apparently so alien to British tea drinkers, that words like “rancor” and “unthinkable” were used in various articles and posts!
Even the American Embassy in London chimed in with a (tongue-in-cheek) social media post reassuring Britain that Prof. Francl’s advice is “not official U.S. policy.”
What I took away from our discussion with Prof. Francl is that I’ve been making tea completely wrong my entire life! I’m also not an avid tea drinker, so I didn’t feel any “rancor” towards her suggestions – it was more like “Huh! OK, cool – you’re the scientist!” I’ve already taken her advice when I make my mother-in-law’s morning tea – I’m pre-heating the mug, using boiling water (not using the microwave), adding a tiny pinch of salt, and not reusing the teabag.