A Perfect Cup of Tea

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.

15 thoughts on “A Perfect Cup of Tea

  1. I typically make cups of tea individually rather than a whole pot because, well, it’s just me.

    How I do it: I put a mug of water in the microwave, then drop a tea bag in. After it steeps for a few minutes, I remove the tea bag before drinking. I drink my tea black.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you know how dangerous heating water in the microwave is? I discovered by accident years ago, after heating up a cup of hot chocolate. You can “super-heat” the liquid – the temperature below the surface can go above 100C – it’s not until you break the surface that you discover what has happened. By pure luck the milk separated in the hot chocolate, so I tipped it away – as I tipped it into the sink, it fired back out of the plughole with a jet of steam, and sprayed everywhere.


  2. You’re an absolute duffer, and thank you very much for teaching us the art of tea making, English style. ☺️ In Australia, we make tea pretty much the same ways. The one difference between my method and yours, though, is that I usually put the bag in the cup, add water and then take the string between my thumb and pointer and…‘dip, dip, dip.’ I once made a cup of tea for a lady who asked for ‘fifty dips’. Of course I laughed at her funny joke, until I noticed her serious face hadn’t changed. I’ve been very careful with the sensitive tea drinkers of the world ever since. 😂😉x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Only expensive teabags come with strings attached over here. We do get different shape teabags from time to time though – circular ones, pyramid ones – all gimmicks as far as I’m concerned.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You learned nothing at Twinings about tea? Maybe they’re all coffee drinkers… 🙂

    I have some questions but instead of bombarding you here, I’ll just write a post on my blog tomorrow and ponder there. You are hereby cordially invited to come on over at your convenience and chime in. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My experience is that the better teas I buy are only available in loose leaf whereas the less good ones are usually sold as tea bags. Thus my loose leaf tea is much better than the one I get from tea bags, but only (or at least primarily) because it is a different type of tea…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I always make tea in the mug — mainly because it’s usually just me drinking the tea. Where I differ from your method is that I crush the tea bag against the side of the mug to squeeze out as much flavour as possible and I don’t add the milk until after I’ve removed the tea bag.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I only make one cup of tea at a time and am definitely not a connoisseur of proper ways and flavors. 😉 With coffee, I tend to pour the cream in prior only because then I don’t have to waste a spoon to stir it. lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. An informative and entertaining post, Jonathan, You made me smile “you know nothing John Snow.” Interesting on the temperature change and the ceramics. Also interesting on the Twinings connection. By the way, I am not a tea drinker…..you likely have a coffee story brewing:)


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