The chemist who told us to put salt in our tea explains why she did it

Chemistry is unlike any other field. It places a great deal of emphasis on reactions to achieve a scientifically valid outcome. Even after nearly 40 years of working in the discipline, I could not have anticipated what happened this week.

My new book, The Chemistry of Tea, would attract some attention. After all, millions of people love a cup of tea, including Americans like myself. I didn’t expect to ignite a firestorm across the Atlantic Ocean because of a handful of grains of salt.

Although it may seem absurd, adding a pinch to tea to reduce bitterness has its roots in science. The salt ion interacts with a chemical mechanism that produces bitterness.

I am a tea lover, and the love for tea in Britain warms my heart as much as my favorite mug. This is a special relationship with a lot of history. It’s obvious that I did not intend to cause the largest beverage scandal since my fellow Americans went overboard 250 years ago in Boston – but I have enjoyed the reactions to this global storm.

It’s not every day that a scientist is the inspiration for a tweet going viral from the US Embassy in London. I liked the tongue-in-cheek trolling, especially the closer to the microwave. The British ambassador to the United States also got involved, and the media seized upon a few pages from a 240-page book.

It has also been gratifying to see how my tips have been received by chemists, as well as the general public. Since I have been a tea lover my whole life, Steeped was a project that I took on with passion, and it has truly been a labor of love.

I spent three years researching tea, reading over 500 articles, and testing out hundreds of years of advice on how to make a better cup. I have spent three years researching tea, trying to answer age-old questions such as whether it is addictive and how sugar and spices can affect the taste of tea. And how much a teapot makes a difference. It has been a fascinating journey, and I’ve learned a lot.

It is amusing to me that for some people, tradition always wins out over science. Some people, such as the presenters of Good Morning Britain, might not accept the tips. In their eyes, they are guilty of the worst of tea crimes, being from the US.

I’m joking, but I do hope that the skeptics will give science a try. They might be pleasantly surprised because I have seen the difference my research has made in my life. As the UK Royal Society of Chemistry, which commissioned this publication, can attest, science is science no matter where you are.

I wanted to create a piece that would not only look at the fascinating chemistry of a cup of tea but also present the research in such a way as to help people see the world in the same way that scientists do. It’s important to me because chemistry is a powerful tool that can and does do so much good around the globe.

Science can make the world better and be a catalyst for real change. I want to see more young people channeling their talents in STEM fields, tackling much bigger challenges than making the perfect cup of tea.

It is easy for people to overlook the importance of Chemistry, especially if they do not share the same passion as we do. This book will inspire those who are curious to come in and learn more. When they arrive, I’ll be there to welcome them with a warm cup of milk, a pinch of salt, and some tea.

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