Friday, January 26, 2024

Salt in tea?

Via the New York Times, this news from friend of the blog Michelle Francl's new book: 

Can a simple cup of tea stir a dispute between two mighty countries on opposite sides of the Atlantic? Just ask the ragtag group of patriots who crudely disguised themselves and hurled chests of tea into Boston Harbor.

For a new book, an academic took a look at papers and texts covering more than 1,000 years to try to determine the best way to make a cuppa.

The conclusions of this author, Michelle Francl, a chemistry professor at Bryn Mawr College, included the expected (use tea bags only once) and the interesting (add warm milk after pouring the tea to prevent curdling).

But at least one of the recommendations was incendiary. Professor Francl advised adding a pinch of salt. Salt!

The theory is that sodium makes the tea taste less bitter.

Once again, in case you missed it: Salt. In your tea.

Professor Francl hastens to say she doesn’t dump a shakerful in every cup. The main reason to add salt is that it can rescue tea if the bag has been left too long in the water. “The sodium blocks the bitter receptors,” she said. “The tea tastes smoother and less bitter.” She advises adding just a pinch: “so little that you can’t taste the saltiness of it.”

If you read further, you'll see that a number of UK-based publications rather choked on this suggestion. I can't say I blame them for being bothered, but I think it makes a lot of sense from a chemistry perspective. I don't think I'll try it (I mostly don't drink tea enough to notice the bitter taste? And if I did, I'd think I'd just make a fresh cup. But who knows?) 


  1. I have no idea, but I would think the line between blocking the bitter receptor and setting off the salty receptor is razor thin. I am not a tea or coffee drinker but when I would go camping with my Dad (also a chemist) for the weekend he would throw the egg shells from the morning breakfast into the coffee pot. He said it was to cut down on the bitterness. He kept the same pot of coffee near the fire all weekend just adding more water, coffee grounds and egg shells as necessary. By Sunday evening the bottom of the pot was a black sludge with coffee grounds and thin egg shell bits.

  2. I use a pinch of salt for my pourover coffee - maybe 1/8 t for 2 cups. Doesn't taste salty, but does seem to cut the bitterness a bit (makes Folger's palatable, doesn't help as much with Counter Culture). Alton Brown says use 1/2 t of salt per cup of water for coffee, which is ca. 1%. Seawater is 3% salt.

    Everyone raised right knows that tea is to be drunk with enough sugar to make your teeth hurt, over ice.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20