As I made my tea tonight, I thought about how just a little bit of thinking about a little annoyance was able to make my life a little better.

Here’s how I make tea at home: I make hot water by running cold water into a Pyrex measuring cup, putting the cup in the microwave, and setting the microwave to run on High for 2:40. When the microwave dings, I pour the hot water into my thermal mug, add sugar and a teabag, and steep for a few minutes. When the steeping is done, I drop the teabag into the garbage and put three ice cubes into the mug. I now have tea that steeped at a high temperature but is ready to drink immediately. The thermal mug keeps it at a drinkable temperature for an hour or more.


You can probably guess that I arrived at the three-ice-cube solution by trial and error. I started with two ice cubes and found it didn’t cool the tea enough. Three was just right.1

But how did I arrive at 2:40 for the microwaving time? Am I that anal about the temperature of the water? It’s not about the temperature. Almost any time beyond 2:30 will make the water hot enough. In fact, for months—maybe even a year—after we got this microwave, I set the time to 2:45 and the tea was just fine. But there was that little annoyance.

The annoyance came from the turntable in the microwave and the handle on the measuring cup. I’d put the cup in with the handle pointing out, and 2:45 later I’d open the door and the handle was around to the other side. The cup was too hot to grab elsewhere, so I had to snake my hand around to the back to reach the handle. Not a big deal, but after months of doing it I finally realized that this wasn’t just some unlucky streak. The position of the handle when the microwave turned off wasn’t random, it was determined by the speed of the turntable (which I had no control over, but was constant) and the time I set (which I had complete control over).

I wasn’t unluckly; I was stupid. The next time I made tea I tried 2:40, and the handle was right where I wanted it. A minor victory, to be sure, but a victory I get to repeat every day.

It’s so easy to go along putting up with small irritants that are ultimately our own fault. I’m sure there are plenty of other thoughtless things I do that create irritations for me. But there’s one less than there used to be.

  1. That’s right: three shall be the number of the ice cubes and the number of the ice cubes shall be three. Five is right out. 

38 Responses to “2:40”

  1. Herbie says:

    Microwave turntables spin at the rate of 1 revolution every 10 seconds.

  2. Matthew Flint says:

    You could have put the cup in the microwave with the handle facing away from you, then it would face the right way when the time is up…

  3. Peter says:

    You could also just get a hot water boiler and calibrate it to a certain temperature. Many Asian households have them.

  4. Jan-Christoph Borchardt says:

    You’re not stupid, the microwave is badly designed. A proper microwave designer would know that the best position to get something out of the microwave is how it was put in, and take care that regardless of microwaving time, the turntable would always stop in the position it started.

  5. Andrew says:

    Funnily enough, the microwave that we inherited stops the heat at the end of the timer, but continues the turntable revolution until it’s back at the starting origin before beeping to indicate it’s finished.

    I’m not one to heat a jug of water in the microwave though, so the feature is actually a little annoying.

  6. Mitt Romney's Dog says:

    First world problem.

  7. Carl says:

    One of the things one learns from living abroad is that different countries have different sets of appliances that are considered “standard.” The microwave, for instance, has great penetration in the U.S. but mixed penetration in other nations. In Japan, as one might expect, a rice cooker is considered a standard appliance. But the rice cooker is not the only non-standard standard appliance in Japan. You will also find in nearly every Japanese home a hot water dispenser. In America, there is a small following for “Mrs. Tea”-style water heaters, but the Japanese ones make the American ones look foolish. (On the other hand, so far as I can tell, the drip coffee pot does not have much penetration in Japan.) Instead of hitting a switch to heat up water in a few minutes, a Japanese hot water dispenser will keep several liters of water at a temperature ready to make tea or other hot drinks. Fancier models have more features like on/off timers and so forth.

    All of which is to say I recently purchased an “Aroma”-brand water heater,\* and I’m very happy with it. No more waiting on the microwave for me. I just fill up the tank every night and there will be hot water waiting for me all day the next day.

    \* Similar to this, possibly the same model: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00509XT3Q/

  8. Carl says:

    Wow, a lot of commenters posted while I was writing my comment. Looks like the Marco surge. Maybe it’s time to close the comments?

  9. J says:

    My 1990’s Sanyo Microwave has a “boomerang turntable”, meaning the turntable always returns to its starting point. It turns for a few seconds after the oven stops, until a micro-switch, driven by a cam on the shaft, is tripped.

    The period or revolution happens to be exactly 12 seconds. (Has a synchronous motor?) I know this because any multiple of 12 seconds means the turntable stops immediately.

  10. Sharon Sharalike says:

    +1 for the standalone water heater. They are very common in Thailand. I had never seen one before, but now it will always be standard equipment for any kitchen of mine.

    It just sits there quietly and keeps the water at 140F, available at the push of a button.

    And here’s a tip: It makes prefect ice cubes. Takes longer to freeze, of course, but the quality of the cube is much higher. No cracks or air bubbles, and no splintering when twisting the tray. (found this by accident, as I had no purified water handy, and straight tap water is not such a good idea.)

  11. Georgios says:

    Oh, the Holy Tea of Antioch!

  12. marzzbar says:

    Congratulations, your life is about 0.0045% better.

  13. Uncle Demotivator says:

    How about putting your cup in different position, so it will be in the right one after 2:45?

  14. Rafi says:

    I loves this. I feel like I do this all the time, especially on my computer (create a new alias in bash, for instance, or learn how to do something new on a Mac, or learn how to write something more concisely in Python). I usually don’t celebrate these as victories though. But now thanks to this post, hopefully I will celebrate these more often.

  15. Rafi 2.0 says:

    loved* this. Apparently I can’t spell at 4 in the morning.

  16. Yann Esposito says:

    Hi, I loved the spirit behind this small victory.

    I like to believe drinking tea is very different to drinking coffee. I generally make my water at about 85°C (depends of the tea). Infuse it for the exact good time (about 2min to 3min depends of the tea). I would never put ice cube in it.

    What I love in drinking tea, is that it is long. If I drink my tea in less than 30 minutes then this is far too short. When I drink tea I take my time. It is long, and I appreciate every second of the ritual.

    If your goal is to reach efficiency of time preparation. You should try to drink cold tea. Very enjoyable, but very different. Put your tea inside a cold bottle of water during the night. In the morning remove the tea bag and drink during the day.

  17. hihi says:

    Indeed a first world problem, I am happy you finally found a solution.

  18. Binarytales says:

    Next time try setting the time for 2:44. The handle should be pretty much in the same position but you will save yourself a second or 2 in moving hand position to dial in the 0.

    If you drink tea anything like my girlfriend does then those seconds could add up to a few minutes over the course of a year.

  19. Borneo Ranger says:

    What a fucking waste of space. Your life must be so shitty.

  20. DS says:

    How do you handle the temperature differences of the water depending the season? For my tea, I have to let it about 50% longer in the microwave during winter…

  21. Gridlok says:

    Tea is made with boiling water! Get a kettle! That’s the trouble with hot water urns, it’s hot, not boiling.

    Microwaves are indeed apparently made so any 10 second multiple results in properly presented item. However, this is only true for 60Hz countries. Here we have 50Hz, which causes trouble.

  22. Prax says:

    Flawless troll. 10/10

  23. Wade says:

    I supposed 2:40 was derived from some sort of water molecule vibration stoner reference.

  24. Dave H says:

    To the commenters discussing water heaters that keep water at 140°F for making tea: As a Brit I should point out that water for tea should be boiled. It’s been speculated that the reason tea is less popular than coffee in America is down to this.

  25. john conroy says:

    I find that rituals like this, where you are on auto-pilot and don’s have to think about what you’re doing, are very effective for working out problems e.g. coding problems. What makes it better is that its down-time. So you’re resting AND working.

  26. Mikael says:

    To the boilers: your intentions are good, but please realize you’re talking only about black tea. With more fragile teas, you have to be careful, because the proper temperature depends even between different green teas, and between different brewings.

  27. Viveka says:

    No, taking time to appreciate small things is not a “first world problem”. There is something deeply wrong with that phrase, and perhaps this is a perfect example. Tea is universal. In the third world, people drink tea, and take time to get it right; there is happiness, their lives are not utterly without light, hope or pleasure. I expect you know this, but still, that is what is wrong with the phrase. It really is all right to consider beauty, to take time to enjoy life and live it thoughtfully, even though the world is split by an awful schism between nations that exploit and those that are exploited.

  28. Flavin says:

    Do you prewarm your thermal mug? I guess it doesn’t matter since you don’t care about the exact temperature of the water during steeping.

  29. Fluffels says:

    Ctrl+F for “kettle.”

    One result.

    Whelp, I’m out of here.

  30. Peter Amling says:

    I just read your post and could not believe how similar your routine is to mine. I make coffee instead of tea using the same pyrex glass in the microwave and have a custom time of 2:15 which gets it to the desired temperature. I then add one ice cube after brewing in my AeroPress. Kudos!

  31. mark says:

    why do you put the cup in the middle of the turntable? place it, handle facing the door, on the edge of the turntable. Handle will alway face out, the only variable will be the “clockface” position of the mug (1, 3, 6, 9 o’clock - etc)

    you may even be able to heat the water more efficiently.. a column of water rotating on its axis (in the middle of the turntable) probably doesn’t heat as evenly as the same column revolving around the axis.

  32. ian says:

    The glaring problem to me with this post is: Your supposed to put the tea in the cup before the water.

  33. Mike Evans says:

    I set up an experiment. My handle is strategically placed and my water boiled in 50 seconds. Teabag Olympics here I come.


  34. Carl says:

    Wow, these comments are really terrible. I can’t believe you haven’t closed them yet.

    Anyway, to those worried about the temperature of my water heater: there’s a switch to choose between 210ºF, 185ºF, and 150ºF. I keep it on 185º, so that I can drink the tea without having to wait for it to cool and because this is close to the temperature recommended for making coffee with an Aeropress.

    If you do write a follow up post Dr. D, you should do one on whether there’s any difference between pouring the water on the tea or dunking the tea in the water. British people seem weirdly insistent that there is.

  35. Aaron says:


    My microwave turntable has a 10-second period as well. My wife thinks I’m nuts to always microwave in multiples of 10.

    Preach it, brother!

  36. Arthur Laidlaw says:

    Please buy a kettle.

  37. Jeff Blake says:

    I don’t think the point of this article is about making tea… at least that’s what I got from it

  38. Dr. Drang says:

    Jeff just won the comment thread, so I’m closing it up. Thanks to all our contestants for playing.