press-association-100299.html Press Association (UK)

October 1, 1999


By Cahal Milmo, PA News
    British standards watchdogs were today unmasked as the world's top wafflers after producing a 5,000-word guide to making an ordinary cup of tea.  The British Standards Institute beat a host of wordy opponents to win one of 10 Ig
Nobels - an American spoof on the Nobel prizes for scientific and artistic
excellence announced yesterday.  A panel of Harvard University academics
unveiled the snappily-titled "BS 6008: Method for Preparation of a Liquor of
Tea" as its unanimous choice for the literary award at a parallel ceremony in
Massachusetts.  The six-page work, which lays out in mind-boggling detail how to
brew the definitive British cuppa, was selected after meeting the key Ig Nobel
criteria of being a feat that "cannot or should not be reproduced".  Bosses at
the London-based body, whose Washington representative was symbolically pelted
with dry tea bags as he accepted the gong, reacted to the doubtful honour with a good grace.  Spokesman Steve Tyler told PA News: "We are delighted to have been
recognised for what is the very important task of setting out the standards
required to produce a proper cup of tea.  "We do not take these matters lightly.
A group of experts was convened to decide on the procedures necessary to make
the perfect brew and explaining the results to the world is a task that needs to
be done in the fullest detail." The prize-winning BSI 6008, drawn up to set a
standard for professional tea testers and also known as ISO 3103 to global tea
fanatics, lays down the law on brewing up right down to the type of vessel to be
used.   It states that the industry-standard pot must be "of white porcelain or
glazed earthenware, with its edge partly serrated and provided with a lid, the
skirt of which fits loosely inside".  Accompanying scale drawings show how "a small hole to allow air to enter when the liquor is being poured" is required
before adding: "Tests for sensory perceptions are not to be rushed".

   The standard, which accompanies BSI treatises BS 6325: Glossary of Terms
Relating to Black Tea and BS 5987: Methods for Sampling Tea, includes some
restrictions that many tea drinkers will find hard to swallow.  Sugar is not
approved for formal sampling while milk is only an optional extra for use in
improving taste.  The instructions state: "While the addition of milk is not
essential, it does sometimes help to accentuate differences in flavour and
colour." The BSI's tea manifesto was not the only contribution to beverage
science from Britain to be honoured at the Ig Nobels, with Bristol University
lecturer Len Fisher receiving a prize for his work on soggy biscuits.  Physics
researcher Mr Fisher was in Boston to receive his award for finding the best
technique to dunk a biscuit in a cup of tea or coffee before it reduces to a
sticky mess and naming the most suitable brands.  The editor of the
tongue-in-cheek scientific journal which decides the awards said that, as well
as providing a light-hearted look at research, they were also a deterrent
against waffle.  Mark Abrahams, editor or Annals of Improbable Research, told the ceremony: "If you didn't win an Ig Nobel tonight - and especially if you did
- better luck next year." Among the other winners were Canadian academic Steve
Penfold, who picked up the sociology prize for his PhD on doughnut shops, and
Japanese private detective Takeshi Makino, who won the chemistry section for developing an infidelity detection spray for men's underpants.