It's been a rough news week, and it's only Thursday. Fortunately, though, today's raging controversy is about tea. Is it OK to microwave it? Is it better to microwave it? Australian research says yes, while tea aficionados worldwide recoil in horror.
On the left: regular green tea. On the right: microwave boosted. Not that you can tell from the picture.
The claim, broadcast on ABC Radio Sydney, is that you can extract slightly more antioxidants (specifically catechins) if you pop the tea in the microwave while it's steeping. Quan Vuong and his team at the University of Newcastle in Australia have been comparing different ways of steeping green tea, and in a 2012 paper they describe a method that gets you more of the good stuff than your typical method, but is still practical to do at home. The news article gets the procedure a little mixed up, but here is what the scientific paper describes:
- Boil water, and pour it over your tea bag. Steep at least 30 seconds.
- Put the cup (with teabag) into the microwave for one minute at half power, or whatever power setting will get you 500 watts.
- When you remove the tea bag, dunk it up and down 10 times and then squeeze it out.
The idea is to help people get the health benefits of green tea, without having to guzzle five or more cups a day. Regular brewing can extract 62 per cent of the tea leaves' catechins and 76 per cent of the caffeine. The microwave boost gets you up to 80 and 92 per cent. That isn't a huge difference, but hey, it's something.
So how does it taste? I brewed two cups of plain green tea, letting one steep for three minutes and doing the microwave protocol, which took about three minutes anyway. I dunked and squeezed both tea bags as I removed them.
They tasted almost identical, although I could detect a little more of a bitter and astringent taste in the one that had been microwaved. Vuong and crew write in their paper that tea brewed this way can be a little stronger, so you may want to use a flavoured green tea instead of a plain one, to cover up any tastes you don't like.
One problem: I don't love green tea. And a lot of the British outlets reporting on this study are probably with me on that. Black tea is probably what they're thinking of. So I brewed some more tea for science, this time a mango-chilli flavoured black tea. Again, they were similar but the microwaved tea was slightly more bitter and astringent. It also had more of the chilli flavouring, which was nice.
If you are fussy about how you prepare your black tea, you probably know that steeping it too long can make it bitter. Flavour-wise, this technique is just a quicker way to steep it too long. That said, it isn't bad. If you're already the kind of person who steeps a teabag for more than five minutes, or who might even use the same teabag more than once (which my favourite fancy café actually recommends, so spare me the "how dare you"), you'll like this just fine.