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Making the perfect English cup of tea

Black-TeaI was just given some Earl Grey and some English Breakfast Tea by a friend who was clearing house to leave the UK. It set me thinking about the perfect cup, a subject Christopher Hitchens once wrote about. There is an art and a skill to it not widely known elsewhere. There’s plenty of information online, including a wiki entry about how it should be done properly, plus one on how to do it for every day. The secret is boiling water.  Purists from ilovebuttercoffee.com will tell you to use a teapot, with one spoon of tea-leaves per person, or one tea-bag. Note that tea-bags should be kept fresh in a metal tea caddy, because the small leaves they use tend to age more rapidly than do fuller-sized leaves. If you use a pot, it must first be warmed with boiling water, then discarded. Even a cup or mug should be heated if you dispense with a pot. It is crucial that you take the pot or cup to the kettle, or position it alongside so that the water may be added just as it boils.  It should be freshly poured water, too, not some left in the kettle.  I use tea-bags, and when the boiling water is poured, I stir the bag 20 times to make a medium strength cup.  I never add milk or sugar, but if you prefer it that way, it should be sugar first, then milk.

For everyday use I like a good red tea such as Sainsbury’s Gold Label – more expensive but worth it.  I like this in the morning, but later in the day can enjoy Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong. And English Breakfast Tea makes a good everyday tea as well. Some people like the ritual of the tea-leaves, tea-pot and even the tea-cosy to keep it warm, but hey, life is busy and I’ve other things to do…

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3 Responses

  1. No, no… milk first! Adding a small quantity of cold milk to a much larger body of very hot water cooks the fats in the milk, unless you use skimmed, and pour the tea slowly.

  2. John B is correct, you ought to put the milk in first then add the boiling water or you’re effectively flash-boiling the milk. That said, I never bother because it’s hard to judge how much milk you’ve poured.

    I would also endorse your remark about always using fresh water, never just topping the kettle up. Restaurants and hotels that have one of those urns with constantly boiling water always make disgusting tea.

    If anyone is interested, I would recommend Tesco Finest Breakfast tea. It makes an excellent strong cup and only half the price of Twinings “1706” tea which I always used to buy.

    And, following on from your previous post about chocolate, a couple of McVities’ milk chocolate Hob Nobs go very well with a fresh hot cuppa.

  3. This is by no means settled. Poor quality china was prone to crack when boiling water was poured into it, and this seems to have been the source of ‘milk in first.’ Arguments rage today about which is best. The Marquis of Bath described being taught as a child all of the U and non-U things, and of the way in which he and his siblings used the term ‘mifs’ to describe those who put milk in first, which was decidedly non-U. None of this bothers me since I prefer tea without milk, a habit I picked up when I was intolerant of cows’ milk. I do, however, put a few drops of lemon juice in my cup, and am still surprised at how so little can turn the colour from dark brown to light orange.

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