I hesitated to even write this post.
Making a cup of tea is a sacred British ritual, and discussing how to brew ‘a proper cup of tea’ is bound to cause controversy.
Even moreso here, because as you may have noticed, I’m American.
I’ve always enjoyed drinking tea, but never thought much about the process of making it. Mug, tea bag, hot water, done. But since moving to England, I’ve learned it’s a complex subject where every person has a different opinion on what constitutes a proper cuppa. This was first brought to my attention at work, where you are socially obligated (peer pressured?) to offer everyone a cup of tea when you make one for yourself. Now the confusion begins. Leave the tea bag in the mug or take it out? Acceptable brewing time? Brew a pot of tea or individual mugs? And the biggest question … add the milk to the cup first? Or add the tea first, and the milk after?
I kid you not, these were actual criticisms and discussions around the office kitchen.
In an attempt to learn how to make a proper cup of tea, I turned to my vintage library. According to Mrs. Beeton (1861) “There is very little art in making good tea; if the water is boiling, and there is no sparing of the fragrant leaf, the beverage will almost invariably be good.” See, that’s what I thought too … but apparently most British people today differ.
How to make a proper cup of tea
You should always brew tea in a teapot, and pour it into a cup after brewing.
Put your kettle on to boil. Put some warm water in the teapot for 3-4 minutes to warm up the teapot prior to brewing.
Empty the teapot of the water, and add the tea. Normally the amount is 1 teabag per cup, or 1 tsp. of loose tea per cup. If using loose tea, you may want to place it in a tea strainer so it can be easily removed after brewing.
Now fill the teapot with water that has just come off the boil.
Let the tea brew for 5 minutes.
Serve the tea immediately. Or, if you’ll have tea leftover, remove the tea bags / tea strainer, or transfer the brewed tea into another, warmed container to avoid overbrewing. Brewing the tea for too long extracts too many tannins and makes the tea bitter.
(There is controversy about whether to add tea or milk to your cup first. Everyone seems adamant that their way is the correct way! The only logical explaniation I can find is that if you are brewing a single cup of tea with a tea bag, then you should always add the water first to brew the tea, and later add the milk. If you add the milk first it will lower the temperature of the liquid and stop it from brewing properly.)
How do you brew a proper cup of tea??