Food Science

Should You Be Microwaving Your Tea? Science Says So.

April 12, 2017

Last month, David Tennant’s character in the British drama Broadchurch placed a cup of tea in a microwave. It was apparently quite a controversial gesture, as evinced by the reaction it sparked in many alarmed viewers who were unable to process the fact that there are some humans who warm their tea in microwaves. But this chatter—some may call it an incident—has sparked a renewed interest in a study conducted five years ago, with findings that suggest Tennant’s character wasn’t so crazy after all.

In 2012, Dr. Quan Vuong, a food scientist at Australia’s University of Newcastle, conducted multiple experiments that concluded microwaving black and green tea may be the most surefire way to activate its most desired chemical compounds—certainly more than the traditional stovetop method would yield. In the study, published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, Dr. Vuong determined that the microwave method coaxes out 80% of the tea's natural catechins (antioxidants) and 92% of its caffeine content, compared to the measly 62% and 76%, respectively, gained from steeping tea leaves in kettle-boiled water for two to three minutes.

Vuong's suggested method for heating tea? Put warm water in a cup with your tea bag, heat the cup in the microwave for 30 seconds on half power, let it sit for a minute, and sip. I should note that aggregated reports of his study spreading across the internet over the past 24 hours have declined to mention how the water gets warm in that first step. Peeking at the study's abstract, though, suggests that the water must have already been boiled before it's put in the microwave. Likweise, though other outlets have referred to black tea in addition to green tea, this particular study refers only to green tea.

Vuong is something of a microwave scholar; just last year, he determined that sticking lemon pomace in a 480-watt microwave for five minutes amplified its phenolic content and antioxidant activity significantly, and he's got a body of work all about microwave-assisted heating and what it does to certain foods. If you’re interested, dive in to the rest of his research. As for his findings about tea, he’s assumed a somewhat radical position to go along with his chemical claims. Vuong's argued that sticking it in the microwave makes for a tastier cup of tea. More nutritious, okay. But delicious? I don’t know, doctor. Not so fast.

Shop the Story

Do you microwave your tea? Let us know in the comments.


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • paizley
  • Rhetta Jack
    Rhetta Jack
  • Laura Dembowski
    Laura Dembowski
  • zeldie
  • carol
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


paizley October 3, 2017
I start with cold tap water and tea bag. I know my microwave so for a standard size mug, 1 minute 20 secs is perfect. My tea never boils and as the water is heating up, the extraction of the tea is beginning as well. I find with a couple of dunks of the tea bag after removing from the MW that it's ready to drink. Stronger tea would require more steeping, larger mugs longer time. I have been doing this for over 30 years. Loose tea in a MW proof teapot works well also. I'm half-Japanese and have no problem making tea in the MW.
Rhetta J. April 18, 2017
I have been making tea all my life with all methods and using the microwave for tea brewing for at least 25 years. Tastes great but watch the cup handle, sometimes they get really hot.
paizley October 3, 2017
Depends on what your cup is made of. I use mugs from Japan and they never get hot! I had a beautiful one from Italy that became ridiculously hot. I don't use it anymore for MW things but it's great for mixingup and serving a nice homemade salad dressing in. A lot depends on the glaze used.
paizley October 3, 2017
*mixing up
Handles don't hot
Laura D. April 16, 2017
I always warm the water for my tea in the microwave, then I steep and rewarm if necessary. It works great and is quick with no clean up!
zeldie April 15, 2017
Gross. Tea bag in warm water?🤢🤢🤢 If you want delicious tea with full benefits get loose tea leaves. Get lovely glass teapot from food 52 w glass tea cups. Boil water. Let boil subside. Put tea leaves or herbal tea in lovely glass pot. Watch leaves open and steep to gorgeous golden colors. Add honey. Or maple syrup. Lemon or lime. Pour through strainer. Put lovely glass on coaster. Sit in lovely armchair and sip delicious tea.
carol April 15, 2017
Can you really tell the difference? I dunno --I'm a coffee drinker myself and would roll over with disgust if someone suggested I make my coffee with microwaved water. It's all about the ritual in the end, isn't it?
K April 15, 2017
So what about my method: make tea in the usual way, set it down, lose track of it, find it after a bit, and then reheat it in the microwave? LOL!
Havenmysay April 15, 2017
Firstly microwave are dangerous the mass hasn't figured it out though. And shame on that doctor for recommending such a thing when I know for sure he read the journals if medicine that talks about daily use of microwaves.
Water is worse if injested after being heated in the microwave. Search for yourselves Google microwave and your health or better yet see an Iradologist they'll be able to tell you about microwave radiation in your body from drinking tea nuked.
Shannon R. August 29, 2017
Finally someone who know the truth about what microwaves do to our foods. Don't use them if you care seriously about your health.
Jacqueline J. April 15, 2017
I need that first cup really badly, so I have always nuked my tea with hot tap water and a minute in the microwave. Now I can chastise my critics!
Janis M. April 15, 2017
I have been microwaving my tea for years! Tastes great! And happy to know it's effective ...
Eunice B. April 15, 2017
The issue is that many tea bags have a staple in the top of the bag holding in the contents. Metal should not be microwaved. How does the doctor deal with this?
Greg O. April 15, 2017
The amount of metal in a tea-bag staple is not enough to cause any troubles especially if the staple is submerged in the water.

What is troubling is that the temperature of the pre-warmed water is not defined, nor is the wattage of the microwave. Most American microwaves are in the 1000-1500 watt range.

30 seconds at half power in even the most powerful of microwaves is not going to heat the water (or anything else) much.
Jane D. April 15, 2017
first, the staple is so small that it will not affect, nor be affected by, microwaves.
second, if the staple is submerged in water, there is no issue at all.

the instructions for the microwave i have now say that i can submerge a metal tea ball in a non-metal pot of water (as long as i submerge the metal chain as well and don't hook it over the edge of the pot) and microwave as usual. as long is the metal is in water, no harm is done.
paizley October 3, 2017
I microwave tea balls all the time! Works great
E April 13, 2017
I dunno. Do I vastly prefer other ways of making a good cup of tea? Duh. But at the office without a kettle or if a friend offers me tea, and they heat the water in the's perfectly serviceable. I'm not going to use excellent tea though for microwaved tea but a little prepackaged green tea or chamomile out of the office microwave holds up.
Carla F. April 12, 2017
While I don't necessarily dispute his findings, I do take issue with the premise. I make tea to maximize flavor--if I want anti-oxidants or caffeine, I go with other choices. And as the adult child of a British mother, I can definitively state that the microwave will NOT produce a decent cuppa.
mrslarkin April 12, 2017
Oh heck no.
Molly B. April 12, 2017
Weirdly, this is exactly how I make breakfast tea at my office. The filtered hot water is never quite hot enough to get a good steep, so I pop the whole cup in the microwave for about fifteen seconds before adding a little milk and sugar. No idea whether it's actually a tastier cup than the ones I brew on the weekend with water from my electric kettle, but I'm definitely tempted to do a side by side tasting next Saturday.
Whiteantlers April 12, 2017