The Great Tea Debate: To Microwave or Not?

Is it ever acceptable to make or reheat a cup of tea in the microwave? Even in the name of science? . Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock

In the tea world, the process of brewing a proper cup is practically considered sacred. Techniques and methods, both elaborate and simple, are passed down from generation to generation. And while the definition of a perfect cuppa tea may vary, one aspect was not up for debate: Never microwave the tea.

That is, until recently, when the British TV series "Broadchurch" received some serious backlash from tea enthusiasts in the U.K. when one of its characters put a cup of tea in the microwave. Actor David Tennant, who plays Detective Inspector Alec Hardy in the drama, poured a mug from a cold teapot and reheated it in the office microwave. The outcry was swift:

Here's where science comes in

Cup in microwave
A 2012 study found that microwaving tea brought out more of the health benefits in green and black tea. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

On the opposite side of the globe, ABC Radio in Australia picked up the discussion and added to the brewing debate a 2012 study from Dr. Quan Vuong, a food scientist at the University of Newcastle who has spent years researching how to extract "bioactive compounds with antioxidant capacities" from natural products, according to ABC.

In the 2012 study, Vuong found a way to extract the most health benefits from green and black tea and, in his opinion, achieve the best taste. (Tea traditionalists, are you sitting down?) He says to put hot water in a cup with a teabag, microwave it for 30 seconds on half power and let it sit for one minute.

"He found [this] method activated 80 percent of the caffeine, theanine and polyphenol compounds," ABC reports. (Polyphenol compounds are antioxidants that can prevent heart disease, some cancers and diabetes. Theanine is an amino acid found in plants that can calm anxiety and lower blood pressure. And while caffeine can be addicting, it also can help you focus.) Without the help of a microwave, only about 62 percent of those three components were extracted.

Vuong told ABC that the method applies to herbal and loose-leaf teas, and the health benefits are equivalent to drinking more than three cups a day.

His research gives vindication to those who reheat their cups of tea without shame:

Where do you fall within the microwaving tea debate? Is it a sacrilege? No big deal?