Add Salt To Your Tea

Tea experts weigh in on the latest internet controversy.

Because tea is so beloved around the globe, there are countless discussions about the best way to prepare it. But one serving suggestion by a professor of chemistry at Bryn Mawr College has gotten a whole bunch of people salty on the internet, because it involves adding an unconventional ingredient to your cup: salt. The public is so riled up by this idea that even the U.S. Embassy office in the UK felt the need to weigh in on social media.


The benefit of adding salt to your tea

Michelle Francl, professor of chemistry at Bryn Mawr College, says that in order to improve your tea bag brew, you should add a pinch of salt to your cup, then squeeze the tea bag thoroughly to get the best flavor out of it. The information is included in Francl's new book, Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea.


The BBC interviewed Francl about why she recommends putting this unconventional ingredient in one's mug. Francl explained that salt blocks the receptor that gives tea its bitter taste.

However, the quantity of salt is what's important: You should use an almost imperceptible amount, so little that you can't actually taste it in the final brew. "It is not like adding sugar," Francl said. "I think people are afraid they will be able to taste the salt."

People really do seem afraid, since snarky replies to the serving suggestion poured in on all sides.

I reached out to tea expert, journalist, and old friend Max Falkowitz, who recently launched a Substack tea-centric newsletter called Leafhopper, to ask him about this practice.


"I haven't tried salt in tea myself but I think it's a fine idea," Falkowitz said. "The inclusion of salt in tea brewing dates back at least as far as Lu Yu, one of the most influential writers in the history of Chinese tea culture."

So this suggestion isn't new, not by a long shot. "In less babyish beverage circles like coffee and cocktails, the inclusion of a few drops of saline is increasingly common as a means of reducing bitterness," Falkowitz explained. "You can try this yourself by sprinkling salt on grapefruit."

When it comes down to it, he says, "Tea is a beautiful, expansive drink that can be brewed in all kinds of ways. There's no single canonical method to make it, and those who insist that there is betray the smallness of their own tea practice."

The U.S. Embassy stepped in for some cheeky damage control

Even the government had something to say about salting one's tea. In a social media post designed to look like a press release, the U.S. Embassy office in London said, "We want to ensure 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."


But if you think the post was serious, it concludes with this statement: "The U.S. Embassy will continue to make tea in the proper way—by microwaving it." That last dig was a reference to the time an American TikTok user claimed that microwaving tea water was the best way to prepare it, causing consternation in the UK.

Microwaving the tea water is something that Francl highly recommends against: "You end up getting tea scum forming on the surface, and that scum contains some of the antioxidants and taste compounds," she says.

So, to recap: adding tiny bit of salt to your tea is a good idea, but microwaving the water isn't. Got it? Normally I'm someone who drinks tea plain, but next time I have a cup, I think I'll try reaching for the salt shaker. Then I'll tell my British friends all about it with an air of science-backed glee.