Tonight was tea time in our household and it was, in a word, wonderful.
I have been long lamenting the fact that Washington, and potentially the whole of the United States of America, don’t have real tea. When I buy tea (even brands I buy at home) and pour a cup expecting to have a wonderful beverage I actually end up drinking liquid dirt. This is not an exaggeration. Liquid dirt.
An avid tea drinker and lover such as myself has to find a way to deal with such a travesty as this so I ordered tea online from David’s Tea which sells wonderful loose tea. The only problem with ordering tea is that it’s pricey. I would love to buy a box of forty or so tea bags for a few dollars so I can drink five cups a day and not feel bad about it. Alas, I did not think this would ever be a possibility for me, at least not as long as I was in Washington. I began researching teas, British teas to be exact. For who if not the British would know the really good brands? Who if not the British would know how to make a proper “cuppa” as they say? Well my friends, the British told me about a popular tea called PG Tips. I watched the advert and immediately wanted to order some
Wonderful isn’t it?
I had made up my mind to finish the few cups of David’s Tea that I have left and wait for my siblings to arrive with a fresh supply when Ryan and I were in Safeway and low and behold…
Oh Dear God.
Now before we get into drinking this tea I feel I have to give you a brief introduction on the making and drinking of black tea, a subject which I have a lot of experience in and have done thorough research. I personally find that George Orwell’s 1946 article “A Nice Cup of Tea” is the perfect place to start. So let me copy paste…
If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
- First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
- Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
- Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
- Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
- Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
- Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
- Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
- Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
- Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
- Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
- Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.
These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.
On boiling the water
Cold water. Boil it once. Pour immediately into a teapot (If you are making tea for just yourself a mug is acceptable) Left over water in the kettle from last time? Throw that shit away.
This is never cleaned.
- Your friend thinks it would be a great idea to make cocktails in it? Throw it away.
- Sick in it? Throw it away
- Cleaned with anything other than just hot water? Throw it away.
Your teapot should have a tea cosy, it is frowned upon if this is not chequered or floral. Bonus points if it matches your tea towels.
Regarding the tea cosy: it is entirely acceptable, if not required, that you put it on your head and refer yourself as the Bishop. (Thanks to iamtheparty)
As pointed out ‘warming the pot’ is a common practice whereby a small amount of boiled water is added to the tea pot prior to the teabags and swirled around. This is to make sure the tea is piping hot. In my opinion this is not strictly necessary but comes under the banner of ‘cocking about’.
Teacups and saucers are only used to impress people that you do not want to come to your house. Use a mug.
- Mugs should be large, clean and most importantly yours
- Not your Dad’s
- Not one that you found at the back of the cupboard at your office kitchen, even if it is the only one that does not smell like off milk.
- It must be your own mug. There are many like it but this one is yours. You do not use it at 3am when you feel the need for bathroom tap water. You do not use it to keep your stationary in. You do not permit anyone else to use it. This mug is for tea and tea alone.
On Brands of Tea
Most people have a preference to which tea brand they like. Personally I’m a big fan of Yorkshire tea. PG tips, in my opinion, are of the devil. If someone were to hand me a cup of it, I would drink it. I’m British anything else would be impolite. We will cover etiquette later.Students Red label tea from Sainsbury’s is fantastic for its cost.
On Tea Leaves
Some people have got the time to make loose leaf tea. Well done you. How was art school? I also like loose leaf tea. I drink it when I have nothing better to do or am at a tea shop and have the leisure time to deal with loose leaf. On the whole though, teabags will suffice. Yes they will. Stop it.
One teabag per person and one for the pot. Do not deviate from this method. You do not know better. Again taste varies for the strength of your tea. It is vital, VITAL that you do not over brew the tea. Some of the naturally stronger teas like Yorkshire should not be brewed for long as they will become bitter.
- Don’t go and have a piss.
- Don’t go and chat up that lovely bird in Finance.
- Don’t play Angry Birds.
- STAY. THE. FUCK. THERE.
If you have used a teapot, after a minute use a spoon to stir a few times. Brewing time should be around 4 minutes. Pour a little out into your mug to check the strength. If it is the colour of a dark ale such as Otter then the tea is at a good strength.
If you have used a mug stirring regularly is fine. A good indicator of when your tea has reached a good strength is that you can only see the top 1/2 inch of the teabag due to the darkness of your beverage.
People vary in their taste for strong tea. While brewing strength is important milk will also lower the strength of your tea. Add it slowly, preferably from a small jug rather than from an ungainly 6 pint milk bottle. You do not want to make a mess, that would be unseemly. Some people say that you must add milk first before adding tea. Some people also believe that pluto isn’t a planet. Fuck those people. I have found that it makes very little difference. Much in the same way that if you were dropped into hot liquid you would scream the same amount as if you had boiling liquid poured onto you.
This component is widely debated. Some will take enough sugar to cause diabetes within a two mile radius. The great undecided populous will take somewhere between the most infuriating of measures (just a little bit) and what they call 3 teaspoons, which, due to the ever changing laws of science could mean practically any amount. Those enlightened few will ask for no sugar. This, apart from being a lot easier to measure, is also the most refreshing way to enjoy tea. I have yet to come across anyone who drinks tea with sugar to be anything less than abhorrent. Of course I say all this in jest. Drink tea as you like it. I would encourage you to try it without sugar for one week. If you remain stoically unaffected then you may return to your faux tea with my faux blessing.
There is an exception. If someone has just heard some distressing news (like their aunt has just been severely injured by a swan), then sweet tea is the most appropriate prescription. Also, if you are an OAP, you are allowed to drink tea as sweet as you like with complete impunity. (Thanks Anon_is_a_Meme)
Digestives or hobnobs. Rich teas are a sick joke and are a trap for those of you who dunk biscuits in your tea. If you must have chocolate coated biscuits then choose a dark chocolate variety, these will leave less chocolate on your fingers.
- Tea is a social drink, before you make it enquire as to whether anyone else would like one in the vicinity.
- Drink at your leisure, coffee is for abusing when deadlines approach
- Biscuits should be served on a side plate
- If you make any mess while making tea clear up after yourself
- It is always best to throw any boiled water and any unused tea away after using the kettle and teapot
Another great article on tea I think.
Now to Me, Ryan and our cuppa.
I was beyond excited when I saw the PG Tips on the shelf. Couldn’t grab a box fast enough! We brought it home and wonder of wonders, miracles of miracles (you know the song!) Ryan said “so are we trying the tea?”. I, dear readers, was beside myself. Are we trying the tea? You bet we are! Just let me get down my white tea cups and tea themed spoons!
Ryan takes sweetener, I am personally against adding sugar to tea. (Note the spoons mom!)
Pouring Ryan’s water
Fun fact about hot water and tea… different teas require different temperatures of boiled water. For example, if the water is too hot when you make green tea the tea leaves burn and you get that bitter taste – it’s not part of the tea’s taste you’re just making it wrong! Also, if you let any tea sit too long it will become bitter.
When the tea has brewed lift the bag out don’t squeeze it or else you will have bitter tea.
The perfect cuppa!
And the taste? Beautiful. Wonderful. Enlightening. My life instantly and exponentially improved. I am a better person for this tea. My life has more meaning. I have faith in humanity. I am no longer drinking liquid dirt. Ryan had two cups. Need I go on?
To all you Canadians reading my blog, enjoy living in a country that believes in good tea. To all you Americans out there, fear not, while you’re country may make dirt for tea it does import some quality stuff.