I unashamedly admit to being a tea granny. I start my day with a pot of tea and drink two cups. Do I make the perfect cup of tea? I think, after all these years, I have the formula down pretty much pat. But I have been foxed by awful water (I always take tea with me on my travels but sometimes the local water is unpleasant). And I have taken to carrying a china mug with me (see below for why).
To make the perfect cup of tea, always start with a clean pot that has never been used for coffee or any other strong beverage. (This is my biggest beef with airline tea – it’s invariably in a pot previously used for coffee).
Being of British background, I would add that a china or thin-edged cup is essential. I will swear that tea tastes better in a china cup! Never buy tea from a take-out spot that puts it in a foam cup.
Silver tea pots aside, I prefer my tea made in a simple ceramic or china tea pot. Many purists will debate this, but I find that metal surfaces leach their own flavour into the tea. After all, tea contains tannic acid.
I’m not a snob. I drink bagged tea but I’m careful to choose good quality teas. I have used tea balls for loose tea but here again, you run the risk of a metallic taste if the quality of the metal is poor. I often use a Teefilter bag (paper) when using loose tea as it’s easier to lift the whole thing out and prevent the tea from stewing. Note that bagged tea is usually composed of broken leaves so they require a lot less time to brew than whole leaves.
How to make the perfect cup of tea
- Boil fresh cold water.
- Add a little of the boiled water to the pot. Swirl to warm the pot, empty, then add tea and more boiling water. Note, in a chat with Sam Twining of Twining’s Tea, he affirmed this as a good way to do it because by the time you swirl the water and empty the pot, the hot water in the kettle is just off the boil, ideal for tea making.
- How long you steep the tea is up to you but if you know the variety of tea, you can get guidance on what’s optimum. Many fine restaurants in Britain now use a small coffee press (never before used for coffee!!!) for serving tea. The guest can watch the water darken, the tea leaves unfurl; then press down and pour the brewed tea.
- Tea should be served with milk or lemon (not cream or non-dairy creamer). Sugar is optional.
- There are two schools as to whether milk should be added before or after the tea is poured into the cup. It may not be as genteel, but I favour the latter since it lets me control exactly how strong I want my cup to be.
Did you know you can cook with tea? Check here.
A quick Menu of Basic Tea Types:
All tea comes from the same plant – Camelia sinensis – but their country of origin and their handling makes a big difference.
White teas: These are picked from the first spring buds and may even have some down on the leaves. They are kept out of sunlight to prevent them from becoming green. These are slightly fermented and usually have a delicate flavour and aroma. They also have a very high level of polyphenols.
Pu-Erh: These teas from China age beautifully and not uncommonly may be as much as 50 years old! Chinese researchers believe this deliciously earthy tea lowers cholesterol.
Keemun: A black Chinese tea with a fruity flavour; a key part of an English Breakfast tea blend.
Macha: Japanese green tea powder made from gyokuro leaves which have been steamed and dried.
Sencha: Japanese green leaf tea with a robust, grassy flavour and mild aroma.
Lapsang Souchong: An acquired taste, this smoky flavoured tea is withered over pine or cedar fires, pan-fried, rolled and oxidized before being fully dried in bamboo baskets over burning pine.
Oolong: The leaves are wilted, bruised and dried. Oolongs lie between green and black teas in that they are partly fermented. The flavour is not as grassy as green tea and a great oolong will have many nuances of flavour.
Darjeeling: A highly prized tea from India with a floral aroma and somewhat astringent, tannic characteristics, and a spiciness often referred to by tea connoisseurs as muscatel.