The perfect cup of 3103

I came across ISO 3103 when I was taking a look at Wikipedia’s Unusual articles at the weekend. ISO 3103 is ISO’s standardised method for brewing tea. There could hardly be a more inappropriate thing to standardise.

Because no matter what, only you can make the perfect cup of tea. Invariably, if somebody else makes me a cup of tea it tastes absolutely disgusting — and many people seem to say this. There is only one way to make decent tea, and that is my way.

People must assume that when I say that I take no milk and no sugar that I must want my tea to taste like compost. One person actually said this. She thought that because I took no milk or sugar that I must have wanted it really strong, so the tea bag was left in the mug for absolutely ages.

Yuk. No way. I keep the bag in my mug for a very short length of time — maybe five seconds. I just pour the water, swish the bag around a bit and take the bag straight out. A minimum of fuss and effort: this makes the perfect cup of tea for me.

I don’t mind milk in my tea, but it does seem a little bit pointless to me. It just ‘waters (milks) it down’ and makes it taste more like milk than tea. And it apparently takes away the lauded health benefits of drinking tea.

Some people have suggested that I put sugar in my tea. This is because I probably need to put on weight because I no longer fit any of my trousers, and I even bought smaller trousers and I don’t even properly fit them! A couple of years ago I was 10½ stone; nowadays I hover between 9 and 9½. I don’t know why really. I shovel food down my gullet like nobody’s business.

Nevertheless, some people have even made comments about how thin I look now. There is also the astonishing fact that I actually lost weight over Christmas. I explained this as being down to the fact that “junk food travels through faster”.

Sugar in my tea could fatten me up and allow me to reduce my clothing budget, so the theory goes. But I can hardly think of anything that tastes more disgusting than sugary tea. (Sugary coffee is not so bad, but I still much prefer my coffee completely untainted.) If I were to regularly put sugar in my tea, I would probably die of disgust before experiencing any fatty benefits.

Those ISO busybodies are not the only people suggesting a standard way to make tea. For instance, Scaryduck reckons:

Tea should be stewed for at least half an hour before serving, preferably in a mug last washed up in 1973 with full-fat milk and six sugars. Tea which breaks several international conventions against chemical weapons but we do not care. Anything else is a betrayal of British values.

And who could forget a few years back when the Royal Society of Chemistry suggested their own “perfect” cup of tea? (Link to PDF file.) Leader of the Tea Party, Tony Benn, approved:

He sniffed. He sipped. He pondered. “It’s very tasty, I must say,” he said. He sipped again. “Oh, it’s delicious.”

Update: Entirely coincidentally, this from Gordon McLean.


  1. The way you make tea is utterly disgusting. Only my way is correct. My flatmates makes disgusting tea as well. So, of course, does every coffee shop I’ve ever come across, which is why I only buy coffee from them.

  2. There is no way to make perfect tea. The only good thing to do with tea is pour it away and replace with coffee (if daytime) or hot chocolate (if evening). Anything else is heresy.

  3. Standardised tea is an interesting concept – one the good people of Hagen Daz tried while I was working in one of their little cafe booths (in a cinema).

    I spent most of my time making teas and coffee, you’d think it would be all ice cream but really it wasn’t – it was the only place in the cinema to get a decent cup of tea/coffee.

    Anyway back to the point – tea. I’ve always prided myself on making a decent cup of tea and have NEVER had a complaint despite making several thousand in just one summer.

    The reason I’ve never had a complaint is because I make tea to YOUR specification – I ask the person I’m making it for how THEY want it.

    Personally I’m with you – no milk, no sugar in tea or coffee.