How to make a perfect cup of tea - British style
Britain perfected the art of tea-making. Time for the USA to catch up?
By Vicky Nelson
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
An old friend from Britain stopped by for a visit the other day. This was his first trip to the States, and he enthused at length at everything he saw: the beautiful scenery, the vibrant cities, the warmth of the people. In fact, he told me, this would be a truly wonderful country ... if only (and here I had to prompt him to continue) "... if only you could learn how to make a proper cup of tea".
"OK, Mr Clever Tea Bag," I said, seeing that he was completely serious, "suppose you explain how you go about it." And he did.
"There are only two things you need to know about tea-making (said my friend). First, you have to boil the water - don't just heat it, boil it. Second, add the boiling water to the tea bag, not the other way round. The way you Americans do it - putting the water in the cup and adding the bag to it - is a recipe for disaster. Unless the water is at boiling point when it makes contact with the tea, the tea will never properly brew.
"Make sure the cup or pot is nice and hot before you start. If necessary, rinse it out with near-boiling water. And keep it covered while the tea is brewing.
"Leave the bag in the water for at least two minutes - longer if you like your tea strong. And for goodness sake, resist the temptation to dunk. Just leave the bag alone until the drink is ready."
Loose tea or bag?
I asked him whether loose tea leaves make a better brew than a tea bag. "Loose tea will always taste better," he said, "but, in my book, not so much better as to outweigh the convenience of the bag. What's more important is the type of tea that you choose.
"In Britain, the standard supermarket tea bag makes a much stronger and more robust brew than your American equivalent. The only tea bags I've found over here that approach the quality of our everyday blends are those marketed as English Breakfast. Unfortunately, these are more expensive and harder to find than standard tea bags.
"If you do use loose leaves, it's best to make the tea in a tea pot rather than directly in the cup. Use one teaspoon of leaves per person, plus one further teaspoon "for the pot". When the tea is ready, pour it into the cup through a wire strainer. If you can't find an authentic tea pot, use a small coffee pot, but don't use the same pot for both drinks - the flavors don't mix."
How do you take it?
Finally, I asked my friend whether British tea should be drunk with cream, and with sugar or honey.
"Most Britons drink tea with a little milk, but never with cream or the high-fat milk that Americans put in their coffee. Low-fat milk is a much better choice. But by all means drink it black if you prefer.
"Adding sugar to tea seems to be going out of fashion, although many people still do it. If you do add sugar," he finished, "make sure it is white sugar. Brown sugar might be OK in coffee, but somehow it never tastes right in tea. As for putting honey in tea, if you tried to do that in Britain, you'd be laughed out of the tea shop."
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