The Art of the Cuppa

Saturday 8 February 2014 by

Tea, The President's Hat, Laptop, Cuppa

1200 Words on Tea

We Brits are known for a few things: Shakespeare, The Beatles, red double decker buses, Piers Morgan (sorry America).

But nothing stands taller or prouder than our national love of tea.

Tea, for the modern Briton, is no laughing matter! It is the lifeblood of businesses and a pillar of the community in times of crisis and celebration. Like our accents, tea is a unique undertaking with regional variances, nuances and meanings. But nothing divides friends, families and colleagues like a poorly made cuppa.

Tea Malfeasances, Transgressions and Offenses

If you don’t drink tea, then you may be forgiven for showcasing your utter ignorance on how to make the national beverage. But professing ignorance will only save so many times.

If you are guilty of any of these crimes, please stop immediately:

  1. Scummy tea. Nothing says ‘I dislike you intensely’ more than an offering of scummy tea. Hard water areas such as London are prone to this happening. (Read this if you want to know why tea scum forms).
  2. One Teabag, Two Cups. Let’s get one thing straight… unless you’re making tea for a small child this is NEVER acceptable in polite society, in fact, it’s not even acceptable around impolite society, so just don’t do it! One person + one cup = one bag. It isn’t rocket science.
  3. Not asking how people take their tea. Nothing makes me have a British fit more than a cup of tea that I can’t drink but, I really lose my rag when people just assume I take two sugars and milk. (I REALLY don’t).
  4. Dirty, uncleansed kettles. Clean your kettle every once in a while because it will make your tea, nay all of your hot drinks taste better.

What Brand of Tea Should I Use?

Some people believe that only expensive, branded teas will do, because they are made with a higher quality of leaf and therefore produce a better cuppa.

For others, a 99p box isn’t any different from one that costs £3.79. And if the consumer watchdog shows are true, then they may have a point.

Tea may once have been elitist, but I believe you should buy what you like: Twinings, PG Tips, Yorkshire Tea or a supermarket’s own brand. It’s your money and your choice.

If you follow my steps to a better cuppa, then even the cheapest tea will be improved.

Milk or Lemon

This is truly a personal preference. Some taste great with milk, but others are more delicate in flavour and require lemon. Or you can choose to have neither.

The old argument regarding how one should serve tea was recently made famous in Ron Howard’s 2006 film of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. When Langdon (Tom Hanks) arrives at the home of eccentric scholar Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) he is given a series of questions in order to enter the premises:

Sir Leigh Teabing: “First, shall I serve coffee or tea?”
Robert Langdon: “Tea, of course.”
Sir Leigh Teabing: “Correct. Next question, Milk or Lemon?”
Robert Langdon: “That would depend on the tea now.”

*FYI – Teabing served Earl Grey which is traditionally served with lemon. (I prefer milk).*

Milk in first or last?

If ever there was a question more likely to stir up a storm in a teacup, then it’s this one.

Putting the milk in last was considered to be the correct thing to do in refined social circles, but the reason for this is often forgotten. Debretts

Tea became popular in Britain during the 17th Century and poor-quality cups made from cheap china were inclined to crack when hot tea was poured into them, and putting the milk in first helped to prevent this.

When stronger and therefore, more expensive materials came into use, this was no longer a necessary precaution. Therefore, putting the milk in last became a way of flaunting that one had fine, expensive china on the table.

So how does this relate to our 21st Century tastes?

Milk first. The fat in the milk emulsifies in a different way when the tea is poured, which does change the flavour of the tea, giving it a more even, creamier flavour. It also cools the tea slightly to a more acceptable drinking temperature.

Milk last. It is easier to judge the correct amount of milk to add once you have seen the strength and colour of the tea.

How to Make Tea: Bags v. Loose Leaf

Tea is like a well-designed, but idiosyncratic bomb: mess up the steps or get the timing wrong and you are left with nothing more than a cup of dirty dishwater staining your china. But every household deals with tea differently: strong, weak, milk, lemon… how we enjoy it is very personal.

According to Fortnum & Mason, the perfect serving of tea starts with knowing one’s leaf. Black, green, white, Darjeeling, Assam, Earl and Lady Grey… the names associated with the different varieties of tea are vast and we all have our favourites (Earl Grey in case you’re about to put the kettle on).

… different leaves require different treatment. Some need boiling water, some slightly cooler water, and all need to be infused for a different length of time. However, if we are talking about a traditional black tea, the process goes something like this:

1. Warm the teapot by rinsing it out with hot water.
2. Fill the kettle with fresh water from the tap. Water that has been boiled already will affect the taste of the tea.
3. Put into the teapot one rounded teaspoon (or caddy spoon) of tealeaves for each person and one extra spoonful ‘for the pot’.
4. Turn off the kettle (or remove it from the stove) just before the water boils and pour into the pot. It doesn’t need to be stirred.
5. Leave to infuse for three to five minutes, depending on taste. Serve, using a tea strainer.

Most people do not have time to faff about with loose tea during the day. Nevertheless, even doing it the ‘easy’ way can go wrong if prepared incorrectly. So here are my tips to a good cup of tea using teabags

  1. Run the cold tap a little for a short while. This ensures the water is nicely aerated (oxygenated). Fill your kettle with fresh, cold water. If you live in a hard water area you may find it necessary to fill, swill and empty the kettle several times to remove excess limescale. I have found this step is necessary for communal kettles at work.
  2. Boil the kettle and prepare your mug by placing it on the counter.
  3. Warm the mug first by swilling boiling water around it inside it. This will keep your tea hotter for longer.
  4. Pop in a one teabag per mug. The brand, style and flavour of the teabags you use are entirely personal.
  5. I suggest pouring the very hot water from a good height. I have no scientific evidence to back this, but the tea always tastes good! Tea should be served piping hot.
  6. If desired, add sugar and stir anti-clockwise (very important step here).
  7. Pour in milk to achieve desired strength and colour.
  8. Enjoy with a biscuit (or three).

Now go and make a cuppa with your new found knowledge.

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