Many people are unsure of how to brew tea properly. Using the right water temperature, quantity of tea and length of brewing time will ensure perfection for every cup....
Perfection, of course, is different for each of us.....
Some people prefer a weaker cup of tea and others prefer it so strong that you can stand the spoon up in it.
Many people in England will make themselves a cup of tea by simply putting a teabag in a mug, adding hot water and thoroughly mashing the teabag against the side of the mug with a teaspoon to pull out as much strength as possible.
You can warm your teapot using hot water from the kettle, or very hot tap water. Simply fill the teapot roughly half full and put the lid on the pot. You can tip the water out again just before the kettle boils for making the tea.
Tip any old water out and fill the kettle with fresh water. Fresh water makes a better brew than previously boiled water.
Also, if the water from your tap tastes bad, this will not help the flavour of your tea. Where I live, the water tastes horribly of chlorine. I use filtered water to make my tea. It's a crying shame really, since the water outside city limits is the most beautiful fresh mountain water you could wish for.....
When the water first reaches a full boil, it is at 95-100 degrees C. This is the point at which tea should be made. Don't leave your kettle to continue boiling, or the temperature reaches over 100 and becomes over-boiled and rather flat.
When I was growing up, I remember being told that boiling water should be poured onto tea, and I think most English people make their tea this way.
More delicate tea such as first flush darjeeling should be brewed before the water comes to a full boil. Use tea where the bubbles are the first rolling bubbles - known as Rope of Pearls in China, which describes it rather well. The temperature will be 90-95 degrees C at this point which is great for more delicate black tea.
I have given full details on how to brew a cup of green tea, which is quite different to making black tea.
This means waiting until your guests arrive before you put the water on for the tea. This is also why you should tip old water from the kettle before you fill it with fresh water.
Teabags are great for convenience, and until fairly recently, I used them often myself. But there is no doubt that using loose tea leaves is the best way to brew tea. If you do use teabags, make sure they are fastened with a staple rather than glued together round the edges. Remember that the glue goes into your tea too!
Often the tea leaves used in cheap teabags are inferior, or they have been cut in manufacture, which impairs the flavour. Also, the tea leaves do not have the space to unfurl in a teabag.
Try using a tea infuser in a teapot to make the perfect cup of tea. You can fill the infuser with the right amount of tea leaves, and you can remove it from the pot when the tea is fully brewed.
But you must use a large infuser. Tea balls are often too small. There must be plenty of room for the tea leaves to expand and for the water to circulate around the leaves.
Generally speaking, you need one teaspoon of black tea leaves per cup. In my averaged size teapot, I usually use 4 teaspoons of tea leaves in an infuser to make a good pot of tea.
I grew up being told to use one teaspoon of tea per person, plus one for the pot. Not bad advice....
In many tea houses in England, the tea is made quite strongly in the pot and it is served with a pot of boiled water alongside it. The tea is left in the pot. In my opinion, this is incorrect.
No tea can stand being brewed for too long without becoming bitter. Except herbal tea, of course. Which is not tea.
The best way to serve tea is to remove the tea leaves or bags from the pot after the correct brewing time for the tea, and to serve the water alongside the tea for those who prefer a weaker cup.
If you want your tea to be stronger, you need to add more tea rather than brew it for longer.
Black tea should be brewed for up to five minutes. Any longer, and you run the risk of the tea tasting bitter.
First Flush Darjeeling tea should only be brewed for 3 minutes, as with green tea.
Well. That really depends on your personal preference.
In some countries, the milk, water, tea and sugar are all put together in a pan and heated up together on the stove.
This is not wrong. We just don't do it that way in England. It is rather nice though. It's how we used to drink the tea sometimes in Kenya, and it's often made this way in India.
Some say it was to stop low quality china teacups from cracking.
Some say it was to scald the milk and kill any bacteria.
Some say it tastes creamier to add the milk first.
Some say that well-off people poured tea first to show off their superior china.
Who knows. Maybe they're all right.
I love the comments that I read on the Guardian Newspaper website on the subject.
So. Does it really matter anyway?
No. I don't think it does.
For modern day afternoon tea, perhaps the best thing to do is to allow people to decide for themselves.
One point definitely worth mentioning however, is that if you use an alternative to cow's milk - particularly soy milk, the milk should really be added after the tea. If you put soy milk in first and then pour over hot tea, the milk often separates and rises to the top in unattractive blobs......
For that matter, perhaps your guest would prefer no milk, but lemon and perhaps honey.