This topic is for everyone who wants to excel at making tea. This is inspired by a post by my friend Hilary over on Facebook.
Now tea is an ancient drink which was brought over to England when we ruled over India and had begun trading with China. It is a wonderful variety of plant and makes a distinct, refreshing drink. It really doesn’t matter how close to perfection you get as long as YOU enjoy it, but this is a little blog on how to go about aiming for perfection. There are numerous varieties available to try out and if you don’t particularly like the drink made from the tea plant you can always hunt out fruit or herbal teas, or as I think should be called, tissanes.
Anyway, on to business. First off you need to decide if you want to try loose tea or the easier option of a tea bag. If you opt for loose tea you really need to also have a teapot and a caddy in which to keep your tea leaves plus a tea strainer unless you wish to also venture into tasseography (that’s tea leaf reading by the way). For the first time tea brewer I recommend going for a tea bag as you then only need a mug or preferably cup and saucer but a mug will do to start with.
So, first things first, the humble tea bag is a muslin bag with a blend of tea inside which you pop into your mug or teapot or teacup. Some teabags even come with a piece of string and cardboard tag telling you the variety or blend, be careful to keep the cardboard tag outside the cup, when I use these I wrap the string around the handle so the tag is secured and the bag is in the cup. You must be careful when purchasing your tea bags to make sure that the ones you buy are suitable for the type of water you have in your region, most stores in England and Britain already have that sorted with their suppliers so you can just go along and pick a brand. I live in Yorkshire so I prefer to pick up Yorkshire Tea as it is specifically blended for the water here. The local shop also supplies a Lancashire tea which does not suit the water but you can’t break some people of their habits when they move location. So now you should have your chosen tea, loose or bag, and a mug/cup/teapot. Next up is the debate on milk first or after.
Actually this really only matters if you are using teacups as adding milk first stops the tannin in the tea from staining your fine bone china tea set. If you are using a teapot and cups then add the milk first. When using a bag and mug put the milk in last (bags in a teapot the first applies).
Adding milk to tea is optional and for some teas you really should just use a slice of lemon. Sweetening is also optional. I had friends who made tea in their traditional way by adding mounds of sugar to the teapot along with the loose tea AND milk. **shudders** I advise any first time tea drinkers to use a tea bag and that way you can add milk and sugar gradually to suit your own tastes.
Getting into Hot Water
This is key to getting the tea just right and easing the progress of brewing. Water for tea MUST reach 100 degrees Celsius at sea level. This sounds very complicated but you want a good rolling boil in the water to produce a good amount of free oxygen to “let the flavour flood out” as the Tetley tea folk say. You know when the water is the right temperature because as soon as the water hits the tea leaves the water becomes stained quite a deep brown though this deep colour lessens with some teas and the volume of water added. If the water is not hot enough you can sometimes see clear unstained water in the cup and the brewing process never really has a chance.
OK so we’re not actually brewing tea to make it alcoholic but a decent cuppa deserves a decent cheer. Most brand name tea will give you advice on how long to leave the teabag in the cup for the brewing process before taking it out to spread on your roses (tea leaves make a good fertiliser and insect repellent for your treasured blooms.) Most of the ones I use recommend leaving the bag for 3 minutes. I also drink herbal and fruit tissanes and they recommend a minimum of 5 minutes. It is actually all down to your preference. I like tea that can support a teaspoon in an upright position with nothing but tannin holding it upright. I also like milder and paler teas like Earl Grey blend or Chai. Take baby steps until you get a tea you enjoy. Experimentation is key to making the perfect cuppa for yourself and for fellow tea drinking friends as you will get to know how long to brew the tea depending on how strong or weak your friends like it. Now, add milk a little at a time and you will see that your basic black tea blend will now turn from brown to golden orange. I add lots of milk as I don’t like scalding hot tea and I do enjoy that creamier aspect. This creamy taste is improved even further if you add milk to the cup before pouring tea from a teapot but doesn’t work with teabags as it instantly reduces the temperature of the water hitting the tea so you don’t get the brewing going properly. I also go against family tradition and add a half spoon of sugar. Now all you need to do is grab a biscuit *A drink’s too wet without one” (Rich Tea advert) and sit on a comfy chair with your feet up and enjoy the simple luxury that is tea 🙂
NOTE: don’t add milk to fruit or herbal teas/tissanes as it will curdle and sweeten with a clover honey for maximum flavour.