Christopher Hitchens Is Correct: To Make Tea, Boil Water

I applaud Christopher Hitchens’

tea-making instructions

, including his tactful decision to give Yoko Ono a grace period before correcting the


she had published in the New York Times in John Lennon’s name. Tea goes in first.

Please do not allow Hitchens’ contrarian reputation, Englishness, ideological fervor, or disparagement of teabags to distract you from his essential message:

the water must be boiling


This is not about being finicky or snobbish. The boiling-water rule applies at every level of quality. A cheapo Lipton teabag needs and deserves fully boiling water every bit as much as a handful of top-grade single-plantation Assam does. A cup of black tea made with less-than-boiling water is like a hamburger that’s still cold in the middle. Whether it’s a McDonald’s burger or a gourmet burger is beside the point.

(There are different rules for green tea, but unless you’re using loose leaves and you want to be super-fussy—prewarmed tea vessel, water a careful fraction off boiling, steep for 50 seconds, etc.—boiling water is fine for that, too. Too hot is better than too cool.)

Part of the blame belongs to the whistling tea kettle, an invention designed to punish people for doing the right thing. The piercing noise it makes is the sound of water being hot enough to make tea with. The normal human response is to rush to the kitchen, get the annoying thing off the burner to shut it up, and then find a mug and some tea. But the moment the noise subsides, the water is no longer warm enough. If you’re stuck with one, keep it shrieking all the way, and apologize to everyone around you after the water has been poured.