Orwell, and the Humanism of Making Tea

What Orwell probably didn’t realise when he sat down to write his rules for making tea was that he was contributing to the humanistic philosophy of the cuppa. Would it be Aristotelian tea? Platonic tea? Socratic tea? No, that’s quite silly. But still, it’s true that his article was somewhat essentially humanistic: in ways I love and would rather pretentiously advocate. What do I mean? Is Mark really comparing making tea to humanism? I believe he is.

The Good Book by Professor A.C. Grayling – whom I’ve had the good fortune to meet – lays down a huge volume of what the author calls “secular laws”. That is to say, humanist values that dispense of divine instruction, and as a corollary they dispense with the sense of predetermined “absolute” laws. Religious critics always claim that without supernatural justification for universal laws, they can’t hold as fact: objectivity, and therefore any moral purpose to law, falls apart to blurry subjectivity. Readers of this blog will know, full well, that I hate this process; there are objectively moral laws that ought to operate in this world, as the Good Book attempts to illustrate. As a basic starting point, these might include: no murder, no rape, no pedophilia, no racial/sexual discrimination. We don’t need God for this.

Now Orwell, in writing his rules for tea, is doing the same. Writing on the presupposition that there are no agreed laws for tea making – given the absence of an almighty, omnipotent, omniscient Tea Father – he tries to establish an empirical science behind how one should travel from leaf to drink (e.g. “the water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact”). As it happens, most of his rules do the trick.

I’m not so convinced about the Ceylonese vs Chinese debate, but it’s true the milk should be added to the tea, rather than the other way around; that there should be no sugar, ever; boiling water; made in small amounts; no strainers. In other words, appreciate your tea. And read Orwell’s rules.

Just don’t name a blog after it. (That’s my job.)

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5 Comments on “Orwell, and the Humanism of Making Tea”

  1. And then those uppity Yankees went and started drinking coffee…. hmmmm

    • Mark says:

      “Rules for making coffee” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it – that is true!

      • Are you kidding? Puh-leeeze
        1- get dressed, make sure you look good
        2- start the BMW remotely
        3- find a friend you know is awake, call them
        4- make them listen to you getting in the car
        5- talk all the way to Starbucks
        6- make rude faces at the barrista in the drive through as if to say ‘can’t you see I’m on the phone’
        7- tip 13 cents on a $5 coffee
        8- bitch to work mates how it sucked, and Tim Hortons is better

  2. Mine’s a green tea, thanks. With just a hint of Orwell on the side.

  3. […] regret having to abuse Orwell two days in a row, but defenses of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and, depressingly, Western leftist circles, echo of […]


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