The best tea ain’t microwaved

You can all stop sending me that story about how microwaving tea is the best way to brew and extract health benefits. I read it when it came via Google Alerts and then my boyfriend sent me the New Daily version of the article and then all the secondary articles started popping up via Lifehacker and even the New York Post, and everyone tagged me/sent one to me in case I missed it.  And now I feel like I have to respond.

But ICYMI, here’s the original radio piece on Food for Thought and in case you’re scientifically inclined, here’s the original 2012 paper by Dr Quan Vuong, ‘Improved extraction of green tea components from teabags using the microwave oven‘ (as with most academic papers, it is behind a paywall).

tl:dr: Dr Vuong says the way to optimise the catechins, caffeine and theanine in tea is to put a teabag* in a mug of boiled water, then zap it for 30 seconds at about 500 watts. Leave to sit for one minute before drinking.

*If the teabag has a metal staple, remove it before placing it in the microwave.

So I want to clarify a few things here…

Science, not tea appreciation

The first is that I don’t doubt that the good doctor’s method really does extract the most catechins from tea (about 80% compared to 60% via steeping it for 20+ minutes, he reckons). He’s a scientist, I trust his experiments and measurements are sound.

But let’s not forget that Dr Vuong’s research was designed to make it convenient for tea drinkers to get more health benefits out of their cuppa, not for tea appreciation. It was also aimed at the lowest common denominator: the teabaggers.

There’s no way on this earth that tea connoisseurs would believe that this is the best way to brew tea for taste and body and complexity, especially if you’re not starting with premium tea. Dr Vuong’s paper is not for tea connoisseurs, it is for those people who drink tea for (and perhaps only for) its health benefits, so I’d like to see less hrrmphing in the media from tea lovers about this. Tea appreciation is not the only reason people drink tea.

A short lesson on semantics

I also believe there is a grammatical error that could have been corrected to disambiguate the concept of ‘best’ in terms of brewing.

The headline of Amanda Hoh’s article is: ‘Microwaving tea the best way to brew and extract health benefits. This implies that microwaving tea is the best way to brew and that microwaving tea is the best way to extract health benefits.

I believe it should read ‘Microwaving tea the best way to brew to extract health benefits’, which is a small change that makes a big difference. This better connects microwaving as the best brewing method for a purpose (to extract health benefits) rather than two concepts connected by microwaving. Unfortunately a lot of the secondary articles seem to have missed this point and seem to recommend microwaving as the best way to brew tea FULL STOP. Wrong!

What I will say about brewing is that tea responds differently to a range of infusion methods and that the way the leaves have been processed will determine the ‘best’ way to extract aroma, taste, length, body, strength etc. Different methods will favour different aspects of the tea’s profile and what you consider the ‘best’ may simply be a matter of taste.

I’d also like to add that I thought to do the experiment but realised, after reading what the article actually said, the folly of it. Also I don’t have teabags.