Most Americans see tea making as a process of heating water and adding a tea bag. Those who are tea connoisseurs out there in the world, have a different version of tea making. It’s an art of sorts. I worked with an English woman who insisted I learn to make tea the proper way. I soon realized that while she was particular, if I told her I made it the way she wanted me to then she thought the tea was perfect. If I told her differently, she hated the tea and made me remake it. On more than one occasion I gave her the same cup of tea back. That made me wonder if there really was a difference.
When you add milk and sugar to your tea, you lose the body of the drink so in that case, I would say there is no difference. But if you drink it straight, you notice right away that there is such a thing as a bad cup.
Over the years, I have worked to wean myself off of cream and sugar for my daily tea. I’ve discovered that improper brewing can lead to a terribly bitter cup of tea. I’ve also learned that some teas you leave the bag in the water.
Herbal teas, more often than not, do not get bitter the same way black tea does. It makes herbal tea more forgiving and flexible but herbal teas don’t always have the same blank slate that goes well with cream and sugar.
With all that, you need to start with what sort of experience you want out of your tea. Do you want something more traditionally English or something relaxing and wholesome? I find that some gloomy days really require chai tea – a blend of black tea and spices. We make it from scratch on the stove. Some days I want something decadent so I reach for a flavored black tea to serve with cream and sugar. Other days, I want something that feels good for my body or just warms and comforts me. Those days are herbal tea days – orange, peppermint or another fruity tea.
To brew black tea, start with fresh cold water and bring it to a boil. I use a tea kettle on my stove, or now I use my kuerig. I refuse to use the microwave to make tea. That might make me a purist but it just grosses me out. I do tolerate it when someone nicely makes me tea with microwaved water but I prefer my water to be boiled on the stove. I do have an electric kettle at work which works wonderfully as well.
If brewing a pot of tea, have your pot and bags ready along with a cozy or heavy towel. The number of tea bags you use will depend on how much tea you want to make and the strength. I rarely use more than two bags for a pot and am more likely to use just one. Just before the water comes to a boil, rinse your tea pot out with hot water to prevent the boiling water from shocking the cold ceramic. Add the tea bags to the empty pot. I like to tie them to handle. Pour in the boiling water, place the lid and cover with the cozy or towel. Let sit for 3-5 minutes.
You can use loose tea and just spoon it into your pot and strain out while pouring. I often strain my tea even if I use bags just in case the tea escapes.
For herbal teas, it is recommended that you not bring the water to a complete boil. I sometimes do this but not always. It all depends on if I remember to catch the water early. I haven’t noticed a difference in the tea. However, the boiling water may damage the health properties of the tea – I honestly don’t know.
To serve the tea, lay a tea strainer over the cup and pour the tea through it. Stop before it gets too full.
I have a small confession to make. The picture at the top of this post is lovely and they way I always picture my tea parties – even the ones I have alone. There’s something elegant in those dainty china cups but it’s not the reality.