One of the most common questions people ask is how does one make a proper cup of English Tea? The answer starts with the tea of course. Books upon books have been written about what makes a good quality tea. You can read more about tea on What Is Tea?
Here in the west the most popular consumed tea is Black Tea. Black tea is grown in Africa, China, India and Sri Lanka. It gets its flavor and color from the manner in which it is grown and how the leaves are processed into tea.
Once picked, Black Tea leaves are oxidized, resulting in higher levels of caffeine and tannins. Tannins, comes in many compounds, including tannic acid, that occurs naturally in the bark and fruit of various plants. Tannins are polyphenols (a type of natural alcohol) that can be used in photography, dyeing, in tanning leather, in clarifying wine and beer, and as an astringent in medicine. Tannins are also an important ingredient in tea.
Even though it is considered to be highly processed, Black tea still holds onto its antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, and essential oils which aid in digestion. All of these components together help to promote the health benefits of tea.
But these details are a fairly new part to understanding tea. Back in the day, people cared about the flavor and what was the best method to brew tea in order to maximize its body and taste. And that’s where making the proper tea comes into play. Let’s share some basic information that will help in understanding why tea is made in a certain way. And then we’ll go through a step by step process for making tea with a little more context behind the method.
The kettle is the first essential part to making your perfect English tea. Even if you’re making a single cup of tea. This isn’t the serving pot, but rather the kettle where you boil your water.
Some believe you must use an electric kettle to boil your water. Others insist on a stainless steel tea kettle placed on the stove top. Others require a copper or glass kettle. And some suggest a simple sauce pot will do.
But nearly everyone agrees the worst thing you can do is to start your tea off with microwaved hot water. The microwave process irradiates the water killing its natural minerals. Even if you use bottled water vs. tap water, you are still starting with minerals in your water. And they do help aid in the flavoring of your tea. So no microwaves!
I prefer a glass kettle simply because you can see the boiling take place. But a whistling kettle will work well for that purpose too. If you do use a whistling kettle I suggest stainless steel. And for an electric kettle, try this link to the English Tea Store.
Once the kettle has brought the water to a boil, you’re ready to transfer it to your serving pot. Keep in mind there’s a difference between a Coffee, Tea and Chocolate Pot. Make sure you’re using the right kind to brew the best tea.
Teapots are typically short and round. But if you find a tall pot you like, make sure it’s wide and round at the base. This extra space allows more room for the tea to move in the pot, which will promote the flavor of the tea leaves in the water.
The spout of a teapot is always in the center of the pot and its short in length. Presumably this makes it easier to clean the spout when tea leaves escape the grate and clog up spout. Eventually the grate gave way to cup strainers.
Your serving pot should be made of china or stoneware. Both of these clay formed serving pots help the water hold its heat. Glass and metal serving pots will allow the heat to escape more quickly through the sides of the pot.
Think about how warm a glass or metal pot is when you try to pick it up, compared to china or stoneware. It’s an easy experiment. If the outside of the pot is very warm, heat from the water is escaping quickly. The cooler the sides are, the more heat is being held within the pot.
There is much debate between loose tea vs. tea bags. Here in the states, the string and tag tea bag is 2.1 grams in size. The British style utilizes 3.1 gram size teabags and have 50% more tea. The larger teabags provide more room for the tea to brew. Because of this, American tea bags are considered to be inferior. Go figure.
The next thing to consider is that loose tea is not ground as fine as tea placed in tea bags. The British strongly suggest using loose tea. Additionally it should be brewed in the pot and never in the cup. This allows more room for the tea to move through the water to infuse the leaves more deeply and bring out more flavor. Even if you are using tea bags, they too should be brewed in the pot. That’s assuming everyone is having the same flavor of tea of course.
If you do use loose tea you will need a tea strainer. These come in two forms. One for the cup to catch the leaves from the pot. Or as a ball strainer used to seep the tea directly in the cup.
The cup strainer can be the preferred method and it also has an extra advantage. It forces the host to pour the tea properly, which is slowly. Pour to quickly and you run the chance of the tea leaves escaping the strainer and falling into the cup. Leaving your guest to fish out the leaves with a spoon. How ghastly!
The Tea ball has its benefits as well. It allows your guests to choose the type of tea they would like to consume. It’s easier for them to prepare a strong or mild brew based on their individual tastes. And tea balls come in a huge array of styles and designs that can add a playful or creative touch to your tea display.
Regardless of the method you choose, tea bag, cup or ball strainer; you must ensure you provide a place on the table for the unwanted remains. Cup strainers often come with their own tiny table tray. Not all ball strainers come in a similar set. And tea bags certain do not, so make sure you have a small saucer on the side for these items to be placed to protect your fine linen table cloth.
How to Brew English Tea
With all this knowledge, it’s finally time to make the proper pot of tea. Whether you’re serving tea for a number of guests or tea for one, you should always use a teapot. There are many beautiful Tea For One sets to choose from.
- Start with freshly drawn water.
Re-heated water or water that has stood for a time loses its oxygenation. This prevents the full flavor of the tea from being released.
- Use Loose Leaf Tea.
Loose leaf tea brewed in a teapot makes the best tasting tea.
- Boil The Water In A Kettle.
Be sure to use boiling water to make the tea. Water which is “off the boil” does not allow the tea to brew properly.
- Use A China or Stoneware Serving Pot.
The serving pot should hold as much heat as possible. China or stoneware are ideal for this.
- Warm the Serving pot first.
Pour about 1/2 cup of boiling water into the Serving Pot and swish it around to warm up the pot. Discard this water in a prepared cup or bowl on the table. This helps the brewing process by maintaining the brewing temperature for longer, to extract more flavor from the tea.
- Tea Plus the Pot.
It’s recommended that one teaspoon of loose tea per person, plus one for the pot be used to brew the perfect cup of tea.
- Brewing for 3-5 minutes.
It’s the prefect seeping time. Shorter times will not reveal the full flavor or quality of the tea. Longer brewing times will pull out the Tannin will start to be extracted from the tea leaves creating a much bitter flavor.
- NEVER Stir the pot.
Once the tea is in the boiling water there’s no need to help it along. Hot water has its own ebb and flow. Let it do the work and it will infuse the tea properly in the water.
- Using Tea Bags.
The same directions apply as for loose tea. One teabag per person, plus one for the pot. You will get best results brewing in a pot. If you brew in a cup, select one teabag and brew it for a much shorter time, 1 – 2 minutes is plenty.
Don’t forget your Proper Etiquette at the table. Even if it’s only you for tea, you can have a more enjoyable moments if you dote on yourself with respect and etiquette.