Salt in tea? US Embassy steps in after American professor advises adding pinch of salt for a perfect brew

Stock image of milk being poured into a cup of tea, with a spoonful of salt and thinking emoji added
Photo credit: Photo illustration - Getty Images

An American academic has found herself in hot water after sharing her tips for crafting the ultimate cup of tea - but her advice has not been to everyone's taste.

The suggestion that has particularly stirred debate is that adding a pinch of salt - yes, salt - to your brew can help reduce bitterness; and Brits aren't having a bar of it.

Michelle Francl, a professor of chemistry at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, also suggested adding a drop of lemon juice to help remove the 'scum' that can develop on top of the water. Milk and sugar, sure - but salt and lemon? Not everyone's cup of tea.

The US Embassy in London has since issued a statement on Wednesday (local time) firmly rejecting Professor Francl's advice, which she said she drew from analysing multiple studies and ancient texts dating back more than 1000 years.

Her tips for the perfect cuppa have made headlines following the release of her new book, Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea, with Francl claiming her research led her to discovering "how to make the very best cup of tea".

"You get some awful cups of tea in the US. It's horrific. I grew up in the Midwest, which is deep coffee-drinking country, but tea has always been my preferred drink - and I have invested a lot of time into studying it," she said. 

"But even after all these years of drinking tea and researching chemistry, I learned new things about what is in my cup and how to make the very best cup of tea." 

So, why the pinch of salt? Francl claims the sodium helps to block a chemical reaction that leads to a bitter taste. Additionally, squeezing the teabags can reduce "sour-tasting tannins", she said.

But Britain has not taken too kindly to the American professor's advice, with the US Embassy sharing their statement on social media in response to Francl's "outrageous proposal". 

"Today's media reports of an American professor's recipe for the perfect cup of tea has landed our special bond with the United Kingdom in hot water," said the official statement on X (formerly known as Twitter).

"Tea is the elixir of camaraderie, a sacred bond that unites our nations. We cannot stand idly by as such an outrageous proposal threatens the very foundation of our special relationship.  

"Therefore we want to assure the good people of the UK that the unthinkable notion of adding salt to Britain's national drink is not official United States policy. And never will be. 

"Let us unite in our steeped solidarity and show the world that when it comes to tea, we stand as one." 

But the final line indicated the Embassy firmly had its tongue in cheek, with the statement concluding: "The US Embassy will continue to make tea in the proper way - by microwaving it."

Close-up shot of a pouring milk in a hot tea. - stock photo
The US Embassy was more than a little salty over the suggestion. Photo credit: Getty Images

The UK government also added their two cents, taking to X to issue the following statement: "We appreciate our Special Relationship, however, we must disagree wholeheartedly... Tea can only be made using a kettle."

Two of Francl's less controversial tips were to use a tea bag only once and to add milk - warm, not cold - after pouring the tea to prevent curdling.

A storm in a teacup, indeed.