The art and pleasures of taking tea

Have you ever wondered how to make the perfect cup of tea, or perhaps what might be the best quentessentially English fayre to accompany your afternoon tea?  That most English of traditions afternoon tea is what we do best, and what we are known for across the globe.

The art of tea drinking in this country goes back to Cromwell’s Protectorate when we were officially ‘between kings’.  Puritans were suspicious of its’ efficacious qualities so it was marketed as a medicinal draught.  It was advertised in the London Gazette as ‘That excellent and by all physitians approved China drink, called by the Chineans Tcha, by other nations Tay alias Tea.’  Puritans remained unimpressed, and it was not until the restoration of the Merry Monarch Charles II that it really caught on.

In the 1840s the custom of taking tea at 4.00pm was  introduced by the Duchess of Bedford who found the time between lunch and dinner left her feeling rather depleted, she plucked up courage and asked her cook to provide a tray of tea. The practice caught on and by the late 1800s many ladies were taking afternoon tea with their friends.  More elaborate china ware made by companies such as Spode, coupled with equally appetising cakes and other comestibles ensured that the practice of taking tea in the afternoon was widely adopted by the English, and to this day it is what we as a nation our known for (amongst other things of course!)

So now back to my original question – how do you make a good cup of tea?  The question of milk or tea first has long vexed me.  I myself was an early adopter of milk first – but recently I have tried making tea by putting the tea first  with amazing results.  What tea to use? Do we use tea bags or leaves? Do we warm the pot first?  How long should the tea stew? Perplexing questions. Then there is the rise and rise of  herbal tea – wonderful evocative flavours of all manner of herbs spices and fruits can waft from our teacups and mugs to refresh us. My all time favourite tea is Indian Chai which for me is a cross between a drink and a food because it tastes so hot and spicy and sweet unyet it is refreshing at the same time.

OK so there is a definitive way of making a cuppa and this is it…you can of course deviate from the norm…it’s a free country after all.

  1. Empty the kettle and fill with freshly drawn water
  2. When the kettle has nearly boiled draw a generous measure of hot water into your bone china or earthenware tea pot
  3. Swirl said water in a circular motion around the tea pot, and then pour it away
  4. Dole out one heaped teaspoon of tea leaves per person, and one for the pot
  5. When the kettle is at a galloping boil (but has not boiled for long) pour the water into the pot on top of the tea leaves
  6. Allow the tea to stand and brew for between 3-6 minutes depending on how strong you like your tea
  7. Give the tea a good stir and then pour into the tea cup (bone china preferred) – use a strainer to catch the leaves
  8. If you take your tea with milk you should add it to the cup cold and fresh BEFORE pouring the tea

So there you have it – leaves not bags – milk before tea – brew for 3-6 minutes -bone china a must…however variations on a theme is the essence of tea making, and my preference would be for a tea bag and a mug. Quick simple easy….

Next post will focus on what to eat with your afternoon tea…hurrah I LOVE this bit!

PS I am posting a link to an interesting article about tea with a nifty little quiz…have fun!


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