Tea, being the magical all-purpose beverage that it is, has been an everyday part of my life since birth. In fact, I still have what I’ve always referred to as “my birth teapot,” purchased by my mother and her mother in honour of the blessed event. (Is that something all good Englishwomen do?) My mother drank a lot of tea, and I drink it a minimum of four times a day.
My grandmother Elizabeth (from the Lake District) drank tea around the clock, including once in the middle of every night. Her mother Mary Ann was, I’m told, constantly putting the kettle on. These are my basic qualifications for being The Resident Tea Snob!
Any self-respecting Britophile (not just Anglophile) needs to know how to make what my mum always called “a proper cup of tea.” It is nearly impossible to get such a thing in the U.S. without doing it yourself.
Most restaurants give you a tiny stainless steel pot of water that has been warmed, not boiled, on one of the burners of their coffee maker, along with a teabag of uncertain quality for you to dunk into the tepid water. The result is so insipid that people who have never had properly made tea think they don’t like tea.
Though I enjoy many types of herbal infusions, they are not tea; they are tisanes. I sometimes enjoy a green tea or oolong or some of the specialty teas that have recently come to the fore. But when I say “a proper cup of tea,” that means a good black tea, such as Darjeeling, Earl Grey or English breakfast–organic, if possible. I usually prefer loose teas, but occasionally use teabags.
You will need a tea kettle and a ceramic teapot, both of a capacity to make the quantity you desire. I have a 4-quart kettle and a 3-quart teapot for large crowds, but I most often use a smaller kettle and one of my average-size teapots. One needs to know the precise capacity of one’s teapot to ensure that the tea is of the proper strength.
To make a proper pot of black tea, just before a kettle of freshly drawn water comes to the boil, warm the teapot with hot water, empty it, add one teaspoon of tea leaves for each 8 ounces of water. Immediately (that’s why the teapot is on the stove in the photo above) pour in the freshly boiling water, let it stand for 5 minutes, stir, and then strain into cups.
If you prefer to use a tea ball, be sure it is large enough to allow the tea leaves to unfurl. Serve with sugar or sugar cubes, thin slices (not wedges) of lemon and a small pitcher of milk (never cream).
That’s all there is to it. I know there is a how-to video on this site in which we are directed to put just one little teabag into the teapot because “the tea’s strength comes from the length of the brew time, never extra tea bags.” Well, I say Piffle! Use one teaspoon of loose tea or one teabag for each 8 ounces of water.
If it’s a very strong tea, make that 10 ounces of water. But one teabag in a full-size teapot will not make proper tea no matter how long you brew it!
Jean at Delightful Repast is a freelance writer who writes mostly about food, tea, weddings and etiquette for numerous publications. A lifelong tea aficionado, Jean has proposed being The Resident Tea Snob at Smitten by Britain. Read her guest posts here.
(Copyright 2011 Jean at Delightful Repast delightfulrepast.com)