Ways of Making a Good Cup of Tea Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Ways of Making a Good Cup of Tea

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A good pot of tea

Should the milk be added before or after the teabag? It's a debate that has raged wherever tea is made, from Aberdeen to Azerbaijan. Here are some opinions, with the 'milk-in-last' brigade at the helm.

White Tea (Tea with Milk)

You need a British Racing Green1 chunky china tea-pot, enough to hold about a pint of water (small but perfectly formed). Fill your pot with boiling hot water to warm the pot, then fill and boil the kettle again. While this is happening, take out three tea-bags, or even better 'prepare' (ie, ensure you have) three heaped teaspoons of fresh packet tea, one per cup and one for the pot. In this instance, we have two cups.

Once the kettle's boiled, empty out the water out of the teapot, put the tea into the pot and then cover vigorously with the new water. There's no hurry - allow this to brew for a few minutes. Let the flavour flood out, as the advert used to say. But not for too long, or you'll get a tannin attack2.

In each of two good strong cups/mugs, (none of this frilly bone china nonsense) put a half teaspoon of white sugar. Cover with tea from the pot (use a strainer if you used tea-leaves) and then dribble in a few spots of milk. And that's it. Ready for drinking.

Other Methods

Alternatively, you can use freshly drawn water - unless it's from a jug-type water filter (some purists will only use bottled water for their tea). The water with which you warm the pot doesn't have to be boiling, perhaps use a little water from the kettle just before it boils. The water should be at full boil when you pour it over the leaves, and always take the pot to the kettle, not the other way around. Depending on the type of tea used, infusing can take anything from two (for tea-bags) to five (for good quality loose tea) minutes. Keep your tea in a proper tea caddy3, or similar airtight container. Sugar to taste (optional). Add your milk - soya is an excellent choice, as an alternative to cow's milk.

Put the Milk in First

Now, putting the milk in first has the following advantages:

  • Saves having to wash up a spoon (unless you have sugar) as it...

  • ...produces a homogenous, homely, not-too-hot-not-too-cold, beverage, which...

  • ...makes it the nectar of the gods.

This third method involves a good tea such as South African Kwazulu or a good Indian tea such as Assam, a large pot (capable of containing one litre or a couple of pints), some boiling water, pottery mugs, a tea strainer and (essentially!) biscuits.

  • Put two-to-four heaped teaspoons of tea in the pot (depending on preference) and when the kettle boils, fill the pot with water that is still boiling. Cover the pot with a tea cosy4 and leave for between three and five minutes to allow the tea to brew.

  • Put a generous splash of semi-skimmed cow's milk in each mug and pour the tea through a metal strainer.

  • You can refill the teapot from the kettle without reboiling it to allow for a second cup. This is, however, frowned upon by experts.

  • Then sit down with tea and the biscuits of your choice and enjoy.

  • Optional extras include a newspaper, a crossword, a good book, the cat and cake instead of biscuits. The list is endless.

Black Tea (Without Milk)

What makes the perfect black tea? Well, for some, it's strong Earl Grey blend tea, made in the mug (as opposed to the teapot), brewed with a teaspoon for about 25 seconds.

  • Boil the kettle and pour some hot water into a cup - a very little hot water.

  • Dip a tea bag in and squish it against the side.

  • Get a tablespoon and ladle sugar in until it has absorbed the tea.

  • Get a can of nice squirty cream and squirt until the cream goes over the edge of the cup.

I use a 3/4 pint pot with a built-in plastic infuser. I take the infuser out, put a little boiling water in the pot, put the lid back on and leave it to warm. Meanwhile I reboil the kettle and put two teaspoons of loose tea in the infuser. Then I empty the pot, put the infuser in and fill with freshly boiled water, taking the pot to the kettle. I give the tea a quick stir, and leave to brew.
After 3-4 minutes I give it one more stir and remove the infuser. Then I serve (without milk or sugar) in small Chinese style porcelain cups (so the remaining tea stays hot in the pot). Lovely!

To Tea-bag or Not to Tea-bag?

The debate on whether loose tea should be used to make the perfect cup is another hotly-contested one...

For Loose Tea

The process of buying loose tea often appeals to people as buying them in quaint little shops gives you the opportunity to describe your likings to the person behind the counter, asking for their suggestions, who usually is more than willing to come up with tin after tin, opening the lids, allowing you to sniff appreciatively. Whereas in supermarkets, often the place where people buy tea-bags, does not offer the luxury of allowing customers to sniff and find their preferred tea flavour because they are packed in plastic with little or no scent.

I use one of those fancy pots with an infuser inside - perfect loose-leaf tea, no bits. You can prepare the infuser with tea whilst you're warming the pot.

Tea-bags do not really make a great cup of tea. You can always taste the bag and the tea inside them is dusty to allow it to brew more easily through the bag (smaller particle size = larger surface area).

For Tea-Bags

  • Some brands of tea bags are okay if you store them properly after having opened the plastic-packaged box - that is, in a tin. A tin will keep the aroma longer even in tea bags - dry tea bags are the worst thing there is.
  • Tea-bags are good if you are wanting to make a quick, single cup of tea.

Variations on the Classic Cuppa

There are many variations on the classic cup of tea. From travelling in North Africa, this Researcher found the local very ceremonial way of preparing the fabled 'thé  à la menthe' (green tea and mint):

  • Boil water
  • Rinse teapot (usually a metal teapot) with a little of the boiling water
  • Put leaves of green tea in teapot
  • Add some boiling water and immediately throw it away (to 'rinse the tea')
  • Repeat until the water coming out is almost colourless
  • Fill teapot and wait a few minutes
  • Add sugar (solid block of brown sugar if possible)
  • Add fresh mint leaves (generously)
  • Serve a glass of tea and pour it back on top of teapot
  • Repeat several times (this releases the aroma of the mint)
  • Then serve (traditionally in small glasses) and enjoy!

Let's hope that this entry has gone some way towards helping you to make a perfect cuppa. If it hasn't, why not consider coffee?

1The name given to the dark green hue that adorned early British racing cars.2Tannin can be found in tea and is used commercially to dye leather - over time, it'll have a good go at your tooth enamel.3Usually, a tin box, which, crucially, is cool, dry and airtight.4Think of a woolly hat for a teapot. That's a tea cosy.

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