How to make the perfect cup of tea
Tea. The mere utterance of the word evokes tremors of emotion, an ambrosia whose bitterness belies the sweetness it bestows upon one’s heart and soul.
As Shakespeare once wrote:
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
Haters will say this was Juliet talking about Romeo, but historians now know the inspiration behind these words was tea.
As an Englishman, my bond with tea is ingrained within my DNA and I am bound by a duty to my Queen, my country and my very being to champion the virtues of tea and uphold the foundations of brewing. These aspirations have fuelled an agonising period of consideration, culminating in a definitive answer to one of life’s most challenging questions; How to make the perfect cup of tea.
History of tea
Sure drinking tea may have started in China a few thousand years ago, and perhaps they can lay claim to inventing it, but was it really tea? I think you’ll find that under the ‘Twinings Act 1715’, tea is officially stated as being a “hot beverage formed by brewing tea leaves in boiling water, with the addition of milk and optional sugar”. As far as I know the Chinese never added milk, so from a legal perspective, it was more of a ‘herbal broth’ than official tea.
The real history of tea begins in England, originally an exclusive drink for royalty and the rich elite, by the mid 18th century it was the national drink and became perfected by adding milk, sugar and an occasional hobnob.
It’s incredibly hard to describe how much we were hooked by tea. We literally went to war over this sweet brown silk. We needed tea so badly that we happily pumped China full of opium just to keep a steady flow arriving.
Our king banned tea at one point and we just laughed in his face and kept supping. Our Government put a 120% duty on the stuff and the whole country just turned to smuggling it in, like a nationwide band of Davos Seaworths.
We even have a time of day - teatime - dedicated to it, and then decided even that wasn’t enough so we made up “elevenses” too.
There are no alternatives. Tea is tea and everything else is not tea. This handy graphic will help to explain:
Making the perfect cup
The human race has thrived on waves of curiosity, the questions we’ve sought to answer have driven us to places only we have dreamed possible. Imagination is the preview of tomorrow’s reality, we are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.
Well I dreamed of the perfect cup of tea and my curiosity has led to this momentous discovery that I am willing to share in a step-by-step guide for the advancement of humanity.
Step 1 - Preparation
Teabag or teapot?
The first dilemma I faced was to teapot or not to teapot. Let’s be absolutely clear about this, there is nothing inherently wrong with using a teapot, but it’s what we English call a “bit of a faff” and by definition a perfect cup of tea can’t be a bit of a faff.
It’s like having a full English breakfast every day. It sounds great and it’s certainly tasty, but it won’t be long before you’re just having a bit of toast and fobbing the rest off because it’s too much of an effort.
There was no doubt in my mind, unless you’re over 80 or in a seaside cafe getting it made for you, teabags are the only way forward.
A crucial element and one which took me several years of trial and error to come up with an indisputable list which I am happy to share with you all today:
The perfect cup of tea demands Yorkshire tea or Twinings Everyday. The two were so evenly matched that I could not choose between them, but I what became abundantly clear is that every other teabag is an affront to human decency and to be avoided at all costs.
A word on some other ‘tea’ varieties:
Earl Grey? - Tastes like your Nan was using the cup for her Pot Pourri
Green Tea? - Like sucking on a branch your dog just fetched from the river
Herbal Teas? - Not even tea. They must be bribing trading standards to turn a blind eye
Cup or Mug?
Mug all the way. Not too big, not too small, and no novelty rubbish, this is serious business.
1 lump or two?
The perfect tea has exactly 1.5 teaspoons of sugar. Even if you’re diabetic you should be adhering to this standard, perfection often requires sacrifice.
Step 2 - “The boil”
Fill up a kettle, switch it on, wait for it to boil…….Not rocket science.
Step 3 - “The pour”
Your mug should now contain a Yorkshire or Twinings teabag, 1.5 teaspoons of sugar and nothing else.
“Oh but wait” I hear you cry, “what about putting the milk in first?”. Well, let me explain;
Firstly, you disgust me. Secondly, what has tea ever done to you to deserve such cruelty? Put a teabag into cold milk and it suffocates, resulting in a weak, bland mess. Take a long hard look in the mirror and don’t come back until you’ve truly understood the error of your ways.
Now, pour the freshly boiled water directly onto your teabag and sugar until it fills approximately 4/5ths of the mug. The teabag should puff up and float to the top, like a little life vest of hope floating on a sea of yumminess.
Step 4 - “The stir”
With a teaspoon, gently push the bag back to the bottom of the cup and stir 5 times, and 5 times only, in a clockwise direction. There’s no need to overdo it at this point. I like to call this stage “teabag foreplay”, a gentle build-up that helps to make the final result magical.
Step 5 - “Patience”
Easy now. Let that badboy brew. You can utilise this time constructively, but I prefer to talk to my tea, give it some inspirational quotes and ask it how it’s day has been. Bond with your tea and your tea will bond with you.
Step 6 - “The twist”
M. Night. Shalaman eat your heart out. After only 3 minutes of brewing, add some milk (semi-skimmed of course) into the cup.
Why? It’s simple. Tea needs to be brewed for exactly 5 minutes to reach perfection, but brewing the bag alone in the water for too long leaves a scummy film that looks like a mechanic dipped his finger in it. The way to avoid this is revolutionary, add milk after 3 minutes, stir gently then let it brew for a further 2 minutes.
How much milk?
Possibly the single most debated topic in tea history. Everyone will have their own opinion on this, but remember, facts don’t care about your opinions. The below is factually how much milk should be used and anyone who disagrees should be treated with the contempt they deserve:
Step 7 - “….Fin”
Like a parent picking up their newborn child for the very first time, scoop the teabag out from the mug after the total 5 minutes have elapsed.
Look at your tea, just look at it. Be proud of yourself because you just created perfection. If you want to weep a little here you go right ahead, we won’t judge. I bet Michaelangelo wept when he finished his statue of David too.
When you’ve composed yourself, take that first sip and let your life be changed forever.
….…But wait, we’re not done yet.
I want to tell you a story about an old work colleague of mine called Dave. Dave was notorious for making the worst tea known to man and there was a very simple explanation for this, Dave just did not want to make tea. Like every Englishman, he enjoyed drinking tea, but he hated making it, and that hate was projected into his tea. In contrast, another colleague called Paul enjoyed making tea, and by the love of God did that man make good tea.
You see the secret ingredient to making perfect tea is……Love.
You have to ask yourself, "why am I making this tea?" Are you making the tea because you have to? Do you find the act of brewing a chore? Would you rather people asked for a black coffee instead?
If the answer to any of these questions is "yes", your tea will be as bitter as your soul. But if the answer to that question is "I'm making this tea because I love tea, and I love sharing the joy of tea", then you will approach it with the care and consideration needed to produce perfect tea.
Here at the Creative Global office we love tea. For it is only through loving tea, that tea will love us back.