How to make—and have—a cup of the tea

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Recently, in April 2020, I achieved a World Rank # 5 on the MNIST problem. The initial announcement can be found here [^], and a further status update, here [^].

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The harbinger of the monsoon:

The pre-monsoon showers are here in Pune!

After a spurt of showers and then some drizzle late last night, it’s been a wonderful morning and noon here. No rains, but a sky that is fully covered and still remains diffusely bright-ish. A beautiful sight, and a perrrrfect weather!

I won’t post a snap though, because I am of the opinion that the camera cannot capture or store the weather, and as a consequence, neither can a photo have the capacity to communicate the same. … As they say in the States, your mileage might vary. But let me get back to the main topic now.

… I am also of the opinion that Indians don’t know how to make a cup of tea. They come equipped with a thorough lack of the knowledge on this count. Their lack of this knowledge is especially evident when they attempt to make cups of tea in a single go (i.e. where the number cups is greater than one).

The correct procedure says that the number of cups should be exactly one. There also are other vital points. In the interest of promoting good general education, I shall now provide some details concerning the correct procedure.


How to make, and have, a cup of tea:

1. Take about 250 ml of water in a microwave-safe bowl.

2. Place the bowl in the microwave oven, and heat for about 90 to 120 seconds on the high power setting. (The exact time depends on the power rating of the oven.)

3. Take your smart phone, and set a timer for about 120 to 150 seconds, depending on the kind and quality of the tea-leaves that you have. In no case should the time duration be greater than 180 seconds. Set the time on the timer and keep ready, but do not start it as yet.

4. Once the heating of the water is over, open the microwave door. As a precautionary measure, gently tap on the side of the bowl to make sure that any incipient steam bubbles get released.

5. Remove the bowl from the oven, place it on the kitchen table, and immediately add one teaspoonful of some good quality tea-leaves to the hot water. Cover the bowl immediately, preferably with a ceramic plate (i.e. saucer which is called बशी “bashee” in Marathi, a part of the famous (Marathi) कप-बशी i.e. cup-and-saucer). Now, immediately tap the cellphone app to start the timer.

6. As the tea passively brews for about 120–180 seconds, take another bowl, and add about 10 ml (2 teaspoonfuls) of milk in it. Heat the milk in the microwave oven. Keep it aside. Wash the tea-strainer, and keep it aside.

7. Take the cup, and add 2–4 gm (half of the amount of a flat-filled teaspoonful) sugar into it.

8. Once the alarm on the smart-phone goes off, remove the cover. Ideally, at this moment, the tea-leaves should still be found in the process of settling down, and so, there should be a thin layer of tea-leaves still covering the top surface of the water. (If all the tea leaves have settled, it probably means that you didn’t strictly observe the timer. In such a case, go back to step no. 1, and begin repeating the lesson again.)

9. Take in the smell of the tea. Savour it for up to 5 seconds, but not for any time longer than that.

10. Strain the brew into the cup. Marvel at the colour while straining, and may be for 2 seconds after straining, but not more.

10. Add one to two spoonful of the already warmed milk to the cup, depending on your taste. In no case should it exceed two teaspoonfuls. You can even skip the milk entirely, but a small amount, just to slightly offset the native bitterness of the brew (but not completely nullify it) is part of the best practice. Now, your cup of tea is ready, but a few more steps remain.

11. Take the cup of tea, and immediately proceed to your favourite place in the balcony of your home.

12. Once in the balcony, look up at the sky. Take in the view in for less than 10 seconds. This step is mandatory; it cannot be skipped. Looking around or below can be performed too, but it is optional. If done, the looking around should be completed within 5 seconds.

13. Be seated at your favourite spot in the balcony. Remind yourself about your ownership of your piece of the sky. Simultaneously, breath in the flavours of the tea.

14. At this stage of the procedure, the tea is warmer than the lukewarm, but cooler than the uncomfortably hot. So, you can proceed to drinking. Accordingly, take the first, gentle, seep. Even as you take it in, do look up at the piece of the sky—the same one which you own, and which you have just surveyed, but once again. [Yes, this is a part of the procedure.]

15. Let your mind unroll as you continue to take your sips at a leisurely pace, savouring the flavours at each sip and the after-tastes they leave. Thus savour the tea, and also the gentle wavelets that arise in the sea of your mind.

16. Once the cup is over, ponder over the still lingering after-taste of the tea for a little interval of time. The length of this interval is left unspecified.

17. Once done, tidy up your mind a bit, and proceed back to the kitchen. Throw the leaves into the waste-bin for the “wet” waste. Wash your cup, saucer, spoon, and put them back in their place. Put the sugar and tea containers back on the shelf.

18. Put the remaining quantity of milk in the bowl back into the main container for the milk. Place the container back in the fridge. Wash the bowl used for heating the milk and put it back in its place.

19. The procedure is over.


Further notes on the procedure:

All of the above steps are necessary. None is optional.

Needless to add, but in the interests of clarity, the brewing must always be passive. No supply of heat can be permissible while the brewing is in progress. Else, whatever be the resulting product, it is not tea.

Once the tea is ready (or better, once after you finish having it), it is perfectly OK to put the remaining small quantity of milk back into the main vessel holding the milk. (Women have a habit of looking askance when you do it—mixing the remaining quantity of milk back in. If the look seems potent enough to spoil the mood, tell them that both the empirical evidence, as well as the heat and mass transfer analysis, suggests that it is perfect to mix a small quantity of warm milk to the cold milk in the main household container.)

Any small detail still missing from the procedure is to be supplied using common sense, but only after ensuring that the general tone and tenor of the given description has been adhered to. Ditto, for any other minor variations such as having no milk (for people with digestive problems with milk), no sugar (if your doctor has advised you to avoid it), etc. However, under no circumstance should more milk or sugar be added; else, the resulting product is not tea. You may substitute a small quantity of milk-powder in place of the fresh milk, provided that it is from Amul or Nestle factories in India. (No other brand is permissible. No non-dairy “creamer” is permitted. No cream (of whatever kind) is permitted. If you use such, then the resulting product is not tea.)

Other than milk and sugar, all other ingredients are strictly prohibited. The list of the prohibited items includes using honey in place of sugar, spices like ginger (whether fresh or in the dried and powdered form), lemon, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, चाय मसाला (“masalaa for `tea”’), or anything else. Use them in other recipes, if you want. But not when you make tea.

The tea is always had from the cup, and never after pouring it in the saucer (Marathi: बशी). The only use for the बशी (saucer) is to act as the cover during the passive brewing. Anything you seep or gulp after pouring it into the saucer is not tea—no matter how it was made.

The tea is never had with any other food item(s) such as biscuits. In the interests of clarity, we provide a more pronounced version of this essential prohibition: If you dunk something into the volume of a cup while it also holds tea, then it no longer remains tea. (Realize, whether you also eat the dunked thing, whether a part of the dunked thing suddenly breaks off and then begins drowning right in front of your eyes, the precise place where it gets settled down, how much fraction of it can be retrieved using what shaped spoon and how, etc., are mere details that are completely immaterial here. It is the principle which counts. The tea must remain tea. If you dunk anything into the cup, then whether it touches the tea in the cup or not, then the cup ceases to hold tea; whatever it is that the cup holds, it is not tea.

However, if you must compulsively dunk something or the other in a cup of tea, and thereby unalterably transform the tea into a non-tea, then it is advisable to use खारी (“khaari”s, see here [^]) but no biscuits, freshly toasted toasts, bakery toasts, नानकटाई (“naankaTaai”), cake, or any such a thing. As to the “khaari”’s: Realize, these would still make a non-tea out of the tea. However, in their case, the product remains at a large but finite distance in the tea-space from the tea. All other items take the tea to infinity in the tea-space, where its tea-ness approaches zero.

Any other procedure such as the Chinese way of having the tea, the Japanese tea ceremony, or the British tea ritual, are all strictly prohibited. Just because a procedure is elaborate and praised highly by many does not mean that what it results in is tea.

Tea is not only for the monsoon season. It also is not only for a particular time of the day or the night. However, Indians associate tea with the monsoon. Thus the topicality, the very timeliness, of this advisory.

It is strictly forbidden to drink tea while in the company of other people. (Pets, however, are permitted.) If you drink tea along with other people, then even if it was tea just after brewing (as outlined in the aforementioned procedure), once in the presence of other people, it transforms into a non-tea almost instantaneously. To drink tea, you must be alone. An addendum in the interest of clarification: While in company, you may enjoy any liquid which uses the same moniker, viz., “tea.” However, such a liquid is not actually the tea. Having a cup of tea requires complete and strict adherence to the procedure given previously.

It is also forbidden to drink such the cup of tea at any place other than in the balcony of your home. In particular, you cannot have the tea in your office. If your home does not have a balcony, find a convenient place near a window. If your home does not have a window, then regardless of where you are, imagine you being in a balcony (and at your favourite place in it), and then proceed to step no. 12 onwards.

Enjoy your cup of the tea!


A song is not a part of the procedure of making—or having—a cup of the tea. More accurately: Your actually (i.e. materially) playing a song does not form a specified part of the procedure. Ideally, however, you should not play any song at the time of having a cup of tea. Instead, a song should lightly descend on your mind—if it chooses to. But don’t force anything. Forcing the mind is prohibited in the procedure. It turns the tea into a non-tea.

Now, if at home, go, enjoy your cup of the tea (or plan to do so once you are back home). In the meanwhile, I am working on the Python scripts for simulating the H atom in a box, and I should be back in a few days’ time, may be even just today or tomorrow. Until then, take care, and bye for now.