22 November 2011
A Truly British Cup Of Tea
Taking all the information in my previous blog, here is my stab at how to make a cracking cup of tea:
1. Fill the kettle with freshly-drawn cold water which is well mixed with oxygen (boiled water has lost much of oxygen). Oxygen is vital to bring out the taste and aroma. When drawing from the tap, let the water run a bit first, so you do not get the slightly flat and stale water that is hanging around in the tap near the end of the faucet.
2. Ceramic, china or earthenware teapots are the best for making teas - they keep warmer for longer and do not taint the organic tea. Never ever bleach the teapot, even though some older books suggest adding bicarbonate of soda.
3. Fill the tea-pot with boiling water to warm the tea-pot and so prevent the brew from cooling too quickly then pour out as more water comes to the boil and add the tea leaves. Alternatively, quarter fill the tea pot with water, then place into a microwave and heat at full power for 1 minute, then pour out as the water in the kettle comes to the boil and add the tea leaves. If you are making a mug of tea, you should warm the mug in the same way as you would warm the teapot; in fact, it is even more important, since mugs usually have no lids so loose heat even more rapidly than a tea-pot with lid. The art is timing the heating of the teapot with the spooning in of the tea leaves and the pouring over of the freshly boiled water; I tend to premeasure the tea leaves into a ramekin so you can just tip them all in at the right moment rather than hurredly measuring them out at the crucial moment and missing the pot with some of the leaves in the panic.
4. For a 1136ml or traditional quart-sized tea pot, add 6 heaped teaspoons or 15g (½oz) of loose leaf tea to the pot; this equates to 1 heaped teaspoon per mug plus 1 for the pot, where a quart-sized tea pot does 5 mugs. For a 225ml mug (i.e. a mug with volume of 1 cup), add a heaped teaspoon or 2.6g to the permanent tea filter. A teaspoon roughly equates to a teabag, which is usually 2.5 - 3.0g, with the higher average weight compensating for the slowing down of infusion caused by the tea bag filter paper itself.
5. As for the tea, books and whole businesses are based on getting the right teas for the tea drinker. In a nutshell, tea leaves are the best, rather than tea bags. Orthodox teas are better than CTC style teas. Blended teas, like an English Breakfast or Irish Breakfast, are also great as they provide consistency of general flavour and colour profile, enabling you to leave the problems of blending the appropriate flavours to others with more time on their hands. However, if you get the chance to blend your own teas, have a crack at it as it is not as hard as most tea businesses will tell you; see my blogs on blending breakfast teas. I, also, change the leaf size depending on the time of day, so would go for a small leafed blend of 2 - 3mm in the morning, but let the tea leaves increase in size as the day goes on to around 6 - 7mm; this gives me strength and colour in the morning, then more floweriness and flavour as the day progresses and my taste buds are able to understand the subtleties in tea; later in the afternoon, I switch to lighter teas like a Darjeeling, China or Ceylon tea and by late afternoon, I veer towards Darjeeling or green teas.
6. Fill the kettle with more freshly-drawn cold water, pour away the warm water in tea-pot just as the water is coming to the boil. Add the tea leaves. Pour the new water into the pot as it boils, because off-the-boil water makes very dull tea. At this stage, the water will be in the range of 96 - 98C (205 - 210F).
7. Give the tea leaves a quick stir with a warmed teaspoon.
8. Infuse for 3 - 5 minutes. A quick brew never gets the full flavour from the organic tea leaves, whereas a long brew is astringent. This part depends a lot on the type of tea leaves you are using as well as your own tea flavour preferences, i.e. I like a stronger brew, but use a tea blend with little astringency in the brew, so can steep for 5 minutes, but others recommend 3 - 4 minutes. At the end of the brew, the temperature of the infusion should be in the range of 70 - 80C (160 - 175F), and ideally at the top end of the range.
9. Add 25 - 30ml (1 fl oz) of milk per 225ml mug (a mug with volume of 1 cup). Make sure the milk is at room temperature then add it first (not second), because milk does not superheat as much if added at this stage, so keeping the taste and mouth feel of the milk right. It must be real milk and should at least be semi-skimmed in standard, never homogenised, and if using classic milk, the cream should be poured off the top into a jug to leave the milk below. Others, for example Tony Benn and George Orwell, say add milk afterwards because you can regulate the amount of milk you add much better that way. There is no answer to this core disagreement amongst tea drinkers and never the twain shall meet, i.e. it is really just a matter of taste and habit.
10. Leave to cool until the tea is around 60 - 65C (140 - 150F), then start to drink, but do not slurp as it is uncouth. Do not leave until the tea becomes too cold, with an upper limit of 17½ minutes, and lower temperature limit of 50C (122F).
11. Sit back, relax and enjoy! The best place is where no-one will hassle you and annoy you, so you can have a little bit of peace.
Please note this is my template for making a good old cup of strong black tea and does not work for green or white teas, nor more delicate Darjeelings or oolongs. Therefore, you should use it as a template and through practise learn how to make your cup of tea, as yours will always be the best, since it will take into account your favourite type of tea, your local water and your own taste preferences. In other words, there is no perfect way of making tea, but there are some no-nos, and, as in most walks of life, practise makes perfect.