So after our brief history of tea in England, welcome to the 21st century and a few words on how to have your tea, when to have it and, more importantly, where to get it in Part Two of London Perfect’s Guide to Tea. First, let’s talk about how to prepare the perfect cup of tea.
1. To begin with you need a kettle. Or if in dire straits, a pan in which to boil water.
NB Hot water from a coffee machine spout à la certain cafes isn’t good enough as the water’s too cold. I do wonder if that was the problem with Pepy’s first ambivalent cup in 1660; he let a barista make it.
2. The next thing you need is a warmed teapot i.e. a pot that’s held some hot water for a few minutes so when the boiling water finally gets there it doesn’t cool off too quickly. Please remember to get rid of warming water before adding tea and boiling water otherwise you’ll have the same problem as Pepy and my good self in certain coffee shops that do not bear mentioning.
3. After disposing of warming water, swiftly place loose leaves or tea bags in said tea pot. If you’re making one mug for yourself then most people go for the tea bag option, although feel free to go all fancy pants with a tea infuser if only loose leaf will do.
4. Pour boiling water into tea pot. Ridiculous tea cosy on top is optional but if you ‘ve knitted it yourself then it’s probably best to showcase your talents as often as possible. Leave the tea – cosy-less or not – for 3-5 minutes.
5. Pour from tea pot into porcelain receptacle of choice. Add milk first or last depending on preference and social pedigree. To determine, see London Perfect’s Guide to Tea: History.
6. If alone or amongst very close friends and families, feel free to dunk a biscuit in tea and revel in crumbly, soggy biscuit delight. YUM.
7. But back to your cup of tea…Enjoy!
So that’s a basic how-to with a black tea. The strength of the tea is also personal preference. Some chums of mine prefer to “kiss” the boiling water with a tea bag. Others like it so strong that you could stick a tea spoon up in it. This latter is what is known as quintessential Builder’s Tea.
Brands such as PG Tips and Tetley are the most well known purveyors of this beast of a cuppa and can be found in almost every shop in the land. My personal preference is a step up in quality and calibre (would you expect anything less from me, dear London Perfect readers?). Frankly if I don’t start my day with a vat of Yorkshire Tea, you may as well let the Rapture begin.
Yorkshire Tea is brilliant. Not only is it tasty and fair trade but the company even went on a mission to evangelise the US and get more Americans drinking tea. And save expat Brits from under par cuppas.
Another fair trade company is Clipper Tea. This is a small, family-run company from Dorset whose range of teas – from English Breakfast and Earl Grey to Green teas and herbal infusions – are rather good. I’m an absolute sucker for their packaging and these boxes make delightful, displayable and (for the eco minded amongst us) compostable gifts.
Next up, Twinings. In an earlier post my colleague, Laura, waxed lyrical about this caffeine-charged stuff of English legend and the Twinings HQ on the Strand. I shall say nothing more on this subject except its decaffeinated Earl Grey (are you reading this pregnant ladies?) is superlative. It actually tastes like the real stuff.
Oh my gosh. So special. This is the stuff you crack open on very rainy days or that long anticipated visit from a Royal. Chai, oolong, sincha, pouchong, darjeeling, Assam Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe … the names themselves are inscrutable, exotic and – weirdly – aromatic. Add to this the refined tea caddies in Fortnum’s elegant blue-green eau de nil and you’ve the most desirable and delicious tea with which to accompany your afternoon scone.
Here endeth the lesson. I think it’s about time to pop the kettle on. Don’t you? We’ll need a breather before we go on an Afternoon Tea Crawl amongst London’s most reputable purveyors of clotted cream and strawberry jam in the next installment of London Perfect’s Guide to Tea.
Zoë F. Willis is a London Perfect reservationist, writer and Londoner. Visit her blog Things Wot I Have Made to find out more about Zoë’s many creative talents!