How to Make the Perfect Cup of British Tea

(CNN) – In June 2020, the British put their differences aside to condemn brazen aggression against their country.

An American expat known only as “Michelle” had published a TikTok guide on how to make “British tea”. A collective moan could be heard from Land’s End to John O’Groats as Michelle and her daughter shot a cup of water in the microwave, added a free frosting, half an udder’s worth of milk – and then briefly flashed a tea bag on the resulting slope .

It was the most disrespectful disregard for Anglo-American conventions since a group of dubiously dressed Bostonians tossed a load of loose sheets of paper into the harbor.

But why are we British so weirdly interested in this humble brown liquid?

A little bit of history: the unbritish nature of tea through and through

Tea is the most British of all time until you take two seconds to google it. It’s grown in China, India, Africa, Sri Lanka, of course … the list goes on, but aside from a few tiny producers, the UK doesn’t make it.

The largest tea drinking nation in the world per capita? Turkey. The tea bag? Dreamed of by an American.

The English spy James Bond loathes a cup of coffee so much that he shoots a sexist / howling tirade in the novel “Goldfinger”: “I don’t drink tea. I hate it. It’s mud. It’s also one of the main reasons for the downfall.” of the British Empire. Be a good girl and make me some coffee. ”

The British had their first affair with tea thanks to a Portuguese woman; Katharina von Braganza came to England in 1662 and made her favorite drink an indispensable fashion accessory among the obsequious aristocrats. (Royalty has swallowed the stuff since then, with Twinings being Elizabeth II’s label of choice.)

The East India Company quickly caught on to this trend and monopolized the trade in Indian-grown leaves, often made through contract labor. The high taxes led to widespread smuggling, not to mention this whole Boston Tea Party escapade.

In 1784, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger decided to introduce the Commutation Act, which cut tea taxes from 119% to 12.5%. Suddenly, the caffeinated thirst quencher wasn’t the few for many – and was subsequently carried by brisk clipper ships (another American invention), an explosion of Sri Lankan plantations, and a moderation movement that would be loud if just portrayed as a small glass of beer.

Benefits of tea

But tea really won people’s hearts for doing them good. Thanks to the boiled water, it warded off cholera – not to mention the British weather. Sweetened with milk and sugar, it invigorates and energizes the workers. Served as high tea with bread and cheese, it became an integral part of working class life – a frugal substitute for dinner.

The high tea was then spiced up by Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford. “She began having tea and sandwiches between lunch and dinner in the 1840s, and began one of our finest traditions,” says Bekki Clover, Training Excellence Manager at Bettys, a chain of tea rooms that have served Yorkshire for over a century served. “Soon her friends joined the Duchess, and in Edwardian times afternoon tea, served on the finest china and silverware, was the epitome of elegant conviviality.”The tea has never stopped flowing since then. Mad Hatters celebrated with it. Scholarly chimpanzees urged us to drink more of it. Novelists claimed it was the magic key to unleashing their imaginations. The doctor said it was “just the thing” to heal the synapses – presumably after a busy day fighting Daleks. Speaking of TV shows, the UK is still regularly getting electricity from France to run millions of kettles for nationwide breweries during commercial breaks. You must think we’re crazy.

Making Tea Properly: The Art (and Science) of the Perfect Cup

Michelle from TikTok is trolling us by the way. Check out their crazy recipe for “British Eggs” (strikingly similar to British Tea) and you will understand. But while the microwave stunt proved that the British worship tea as much as David Attenborough, it also pointed to a flaw in the Matrix – no one can agree on how to actually make it.

Water temperature

Mrs. Beeton (essentially the Victorian Nigella Lawson) insisted that tea was brewed in an earthen pot of boiling water and could benefit from a pinch of soda carbonate. George Orwell wrote an entire essay, “A Nice Cup of Tea,” which unrolls 11 key brewing rules (tea bags, he groans, “lock up” the leaves).

Kate Halloran, tea innovation manager at Taylors, says if you use a jug the first thing to do is to warm it up by briefly swirling it in boiling water.

Everyone has their own tea ritual. But can we use science to give us a definitive answer?

Brewing time

Dr. Stuart Farrimond has spent years researching what makes a good cup of coffee, and he knows all the crimes we are guilty of.

A great sin does not incubate long enough. Farrimond’s advice is to pour just boiled water into a mug with a tea bag and then do something else for five minutes to allow it to brew completely. You will thank yourself shortly.

“After the waiting time, you will find that the flavored tea is also in the optimal temperature range to enjoy all the aromas,” says Farrimond, “There are more than 30,000 taste molecules in tea that all take time to develop. “(By the way, don’t try to cheat by squeezing the bag: you will end up with a bitter brew.)

A longer shelf life for the bag not only means more flavor is released, it also means more antioxidants and a stronger shot of caffeine. “A 30-second brew contains 35 milligrams of caffeine, while a five-minute brew gives you 50 milligrams of caffeine,” says Farrimond.

In addition, the drink has cooled down to around 37 ° C (body temperature) – ideal for slurping.

Tea bag or loose leaf?

But should we even use a tea bag? “Loose leaf tea will likely give you the full flavor as the best quality leaves are traditionally retained for it,” explains Farrimond. “Since over 95% of the tea consumed in the UK comes from tea bags, my research has focused on tea bag tea.”

Any mainstream tea bag will do the job, though Yorkshire Tea, Twinings, PG Tips and the relative newcomer Teapigs are pioneers when it comes to UK taste buds.

Correct vessels

A porcelain mug or cup is ideal for serving your brew; A big no-go, warns Farrimond, is a styrofoam cup – like the one you get at football games and street cafes. The synthetic material of these substances wipes up taste molecules and makes the tea bland. Foam caused by hard water also plays with the nuances of the tea. If you are in an area with hard water, using a filter is a must. Special tea bags with hard water are also worth considering.

Then there are factors that the average tea drinker would not think about. Even the color of your vessel can affect the taste; For example, your brain associates a red cup with berries and ripeness – making you think the tea is sweeter than it really is. Overall, the more you like your cup or mug, the more you are likely to drink from it. Protect your favorite porcelain with your life.

The milk question

And * this * milk question? “Hotly debated,” says Farrimond. “The story goes that milk was traditionally added first to protect the fine bone china from breaking when the hot tea was poured.” However, he recommends adding milk second, especially when brewing from a tea bag in a single cup: “It takes longer for the tea to brew properly.

“It’s also easier to judge how much you’re adding so you can adjust the milkyness to your liking,” adds Farrimond.

The truth is, of course, the perfect cup of tea is the one that gives you the most pleasure. The most important thing as a British person is that once you have decided how to drink your tea, you must die on this hill.

Where can you have tea in the UK?

High tea has more or less disappeared from the British way of life, but its posh cousin, afternoon tea, lives on as an occasional treat. And while many tearooms like Betty’s still offer tea a la Duchess of Bedford, the genre has experimented a lot lately.

In the Coed-Y-Mwstwr Hotel In Wales, afternoon tea is served with miniature fish and chips and lamb kofta as standard. The Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh got creative with a touch of Harry Potter wizardry during the pandemic, offering delivery of golden snitch cakes and assorted hats to select local zip codes. At the W London, Drag queens serve Darjeeling once a month with a side dish of edible glitter balls.In fact, it has been suggested that plain old black tea may not be exciting enough for the modern drinker – perhaps one reason Yorkshire Tea launched a “Jam & Toast” brew in 2020. But Kate Halloran of Taylors – the company behind Yorkshire Tea’s Blends – finds reports of the demise of the ordinary cup of tea exaggerated: “Millions of people enjoy a traditional brew as an important part of their day,” she says, “so I don’t think so it goes out of style. “

In this complicated age, it may be time to return to the basic joys of a cup of tea. Sip one at Bridge Cafe in the London suburb of Acton, where defeated contestants from the UK version of The Apprentice come to drown their worries. Or sip it from a bottle as you roam Jane Austen’s land (tea appears in many of her books, and she personally bought the family’s supplies direct from Twinings to avoid substandard batches contaminated with arsenic) .

For the most filling brew you don’t need to travel further than your own kettle: “For me,” says Halloran, “it’s best to drink a cup of tea at home, either while watching football or curled up with a good book. “

Remember to give the tea bag five minutes. And stay away from the microwave.

Will Noble is the editor of Londonist, a website all about London. The book “Londonist Drinks” contains a chapter on tea drinking in the capital.

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