There are few things capable of dividing a country more than a debate about how to make the best cup of tea. Milk first, or last? How long do you leave the tea bag in? Crucially, how much milk do you take? 

Most of us can agree on one thing: that using a microwave instead of a kettle to heat your water is sacrilegious. But now, new research suggests that the microwave might just be the key to making the perfect cuppa. 

In an article published in AIP Advances, a group of Chinese researchers claims that the secret to perfecting microwave tea is getting the mug right. 

Many of us know that making tea this way is just not right, but the scientists give us the language to explain why this is exactly and emphatically true. 

When heating liquid over a stove, for example, the water is heated from below. Once that hot water heats up, it moves to the top, allowing cooler water to be heated – a process you might remember from Junior Cert science as convection. 

When you're using a microwave, however, it's not the same. When you heat a cup of water, the entire cup is warming up too, so the convection process doesn't happen. Because of this, the liquid at the top of the cup ends up being much hotter than the liquid at the bottom, the researchers from the University of Electronic Science & Technology of China explain. 

They solved this problem by making a special container with a silver-plated upper section. They write that the silver plating guides the waves, blocking the heating and allowing water to heat the same way it would over a stove.

And if the idea of putting metal in a microwave wakes up the Home Economics student in you, fear not. All you need, the researchers say, is a container with finely tuned geometry. 

"The metal edge, which is prone to ignition, is located at weak field strength, where it can completely avoid ignition, so it is still safe", says Baoqing Zeng, one of the authors on the paper. They say this kind of design is already in use in microwave steam pots and rice cookers. 

Now, unfortunately, this doesn't work for heating up leftover spaghetti or curry. The researchers are hard at work coming up with design solutions to overcome that hurdle.

In the meantime those of you with a taste for microwave coffee and a silver-plated mug with finely tuned geometry can enjoy your cuppa in peace, knowing you might have been right all along.