Tea Physics

Close-up on a cup of tea

Tea is a popular beverage around the world, and nearly everyone has their own method for making the perfect cup. Perhaps unsurprisingly, scientists have studied tea physics as well. One such study used both experiments and numerical simulations to study tea infusion from teabags. The authors looked at round, two-dimensional teabags in two configurations – one in which the bag was left still during infusion and one in which the bag was dunked up and down in the water.

In the static case, as the hot water leeches solutes out of the tea leaves, it forms a buoyant convection current. In this case, the convection is driven by solute concentration, not temperature. The convection creates a re-circulation in the cup that helps slowly distribute the tea solutes.

The dunking method, unsurprisingly, distributes tea solutes much faster. In addition to stirring the cup’s contents, dunking helps drive flow through the tea leaves, releasing solutes faster. Although the authors study the two methods in detail, they decline to pass judgement on what method is “the best”. (Photo credit: T. Foster, source; research credit: G. Lian and C. Astill; submitted by Marc A.)

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