A long time reader of my blog has asked if I might describe how I make a cup of tea. Apparently being English introduces some kind of hoodoo into the process – some magic or other that the wider world think they might be missing. It’s probably worth pointing out immediately that tea originates in China – not England. We have numerous sayings that reference it’s heritage – perhaps the most famous of which is “for all the tea in china” (invariably used when describing your opposition to something – ‘you wouldn’t get me to do that for all the tea in china’).
I’m going to describe several methods of making a cup of tea, and dispell some myths along the way. I suppose this might be interesting for some people, and no doubt some tea snobs will crawl out of the woodwork and proclaim their version of “you know nothing John Snow” in my general direction.
So. First method. You put a number of teabags in a teapot, and pour boiling water onto them. The number of teabags is generally less than the number of cups you’re making. Growing up, we would always make a pot for four of us – and would put three teabags in. The tea is supposed to brew for a few minutes before being poured – you can accelerate this process by either moving the teapot in a circular motion, or stick spoon inside it and give the teabags a stir. After a minute or two, you can pour the tea into a cup and add milk, sugar, or whatever else.
Here’s the first myth. Tea snobs will tell you that the milk has to be poured into the cup first, before the tea. This is utter rubbish – it doesn’t affect the taste. There is a historical reason for it though – for many years the ceramics used to make teacups was not stable enough to survive the temperature change when boiling water was poured into them – they can and did crack on a regular basis – therefore if you added milk first, it prevented the shock to the cup.
Second method – the tea snob method. You buy loose leaf tea, and put it in the teapot. You add boiling water – exactly as you might with teabags – and then pour the brewed tea into a cup through a tea strainer – a small sieve that prevents tea leaves from reaching the cup. Your average tea snob will swear blind that tea made from loose leaf tea tastes better. It doesn’t. I’ve tested this in a blind test with friends in the past – nobody could tell which was which.
Third method – my method. You put a teabag in your cup, pour boiling water into the cup, give it a stir for a few seconds, then add milk to make it the right sort of colour, then fish the teabag out with the same spoon you stirred it with. At this point your average tea snob is recoiling in horror, and making disparaging comments about your upbringing. Here’s the thing though – I used to work with somebody that always insisted on making tea in a teapot – who swore that the difference was obvious, and that tea made in a cup was almost undrinkable. I humored him for a while, and used a teapot, but then gave up and made him tea in the cup. I even asked him once or twice if his tea was ok – and received glowing feedback.
So there you have it – the “English” way of making tea – which I suspect is exactly the same as everybody elses way. It’s probably worth mentioning that nearly all tea consumed over here is “black” tea – or “builders tea”. You can of course get hold of lots of other blends of tea – among them Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Green tea, Oolong tea, Redbush tea, and so on.
Final piece of trivia – once upon a time I worked on a big project for Twinings, designing and building their new product development system. I learned nothing about tea while working for them.